community management, Getting Started, nonprofit resources

Keeping It Real: Personal Boundaries in Online Community Management at SXSW

5 Comments 18 March 2012

I had the privilege of joining three seasoned social media community managers on the “Personal/Personnel Policy: Social Media Boundaries” panel at South By Southwest this year. Vanessa Rhinesmith (Director of Outreach at Start Some Good), Jess Main (Director of Operations at National Center for Media Engagement), Amy Sample Ward (Membership Director at NTEN) and I presented examples of how we have negotiated the boundary between personal and professional involvement in social media.

There are a few themes that organizations and their online community managers face when executing social media strategies:

  • How should the social media manager convey the personality of the organization without “muddying” organizational branding?
  • To what degree should the organization’s employees acknowledge that they work for the company within their personal social media profiles?
  • How should an organization capture and share the knowledge the social media manager has about the community?
  • What happens when the organization relies on one staff person for its social media engagement, and that person has little or no guidance?
  • What happens when the loyalty of the online community is more with individual staff than the organization?

The panel offered a wide variety of examples of these situations, and our engaged audience asked even more questions. Much of the discussion was captured in the numerous tweets by audience members (displayed within the Storify story, below). Jess Main wrote an excellent synopsis of the key takeaways from our session in a blog post. Her takeaways are:

1. Don’t be afraid of the customer service aspect of engaging online.

2. Plan for the future of your social media presence.

3. Create a guidelines document for how people representing your organization should communicate in social media. (The National Center for Media Engagement has published a Social Media Handbook that includes guidelines for creating social media policies.)

4. Share social media account information internally to assist with knowledge-sharing.

5. Don’t be afraid to say “no”to personal friend requests and follows.

I’ve created a Storify story out of the tweets from the session, when is embedded below. Thank you to a great group of participants during the session, including @NTEN, @Kate_Voth, @mosylu, @wiscTW, @carissaO, @ccampbel, @oxfam, and @ageekmom.

Other resources:

Amy Sample Ward captured more discussion highlights in a Storify story published here.

A list of social media boundaries resources and session notes will be permanently stored in a Google document at



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

Follow Debra

Subscribe via email




© 2020 Social Media Strategy for Mission-Driven Organizations.

Site by Arrow Root Media