A couple months back, I had the pleasure of attending the Online Community Unconference. One thing that really struck me was how many people, many relatively new to community as a job function, struggled to understand how to balance working in social media with a certain desire to keep at least some part of their life private. Being new to the industry, the social media douchebaggery apparently dictates that you can’t be successful in social media unless you open up every aspect of your life and career and personality to the entire world. Anything less is the mark of the uncommitted.
The answer to the question of privacy vs. openness isn’t about what’s “right” or “wrong” according to the wonks and pundits. The answer is what you and the community work with decide on together. Whether this decision is an open discussion or an unspoken agreement, the answer comes out of Honest Negotiation.
It’s very likely that the community you work with doesn’t expect you to tell them what you had for dinner last night or to give them your bank account number. It’s easy to get caught up in discussions about transparency and openness, only to start to believe that if you don’t share this level of detail you’re somehow failing.
But community work needs to come with boundaries. When my daughter was born, I dialed back on a lot of the personal information sharing I’d done prior to her birth. Never once did anyone say anything about it. I’ve heard many female community managers tell me that that they use a pseudonym rather than their real name because they wanted that level of protection. I’ve know many community builders who purposely don’t live their lives in the public eye.
These aren’t wrong decisions. They’re the right decisions for the people involved. The trick to maintaining a comfortable level of privacy while also being a successful social media/community worker is to be upfront about the decisions you make, when and how you need to be. Using a pseudonym in a community with very little personal sharing (such as a question/answer based tech support forum) probably doesn’t require you to talk about the fact you’re using that pseudonym. While other communities where you know people personally through online and offline activities (such as a crafting community group) may require you to share your boundaries as part of a profile or open discussion.
My point here is simple: Do what’s right for you and your community. Find the place that makes you feel comfortable and safe. If you don’t have those two things, your work as a community manager will absolutely suffer. And giving up comfort and safety in the hopes of being a better community manager rarely works out that way.