The case for a personal social media policy


Friday, March 08, 2019

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AT the recent Emerge conference, during Naomi Garrick's presentation, a woman asked questions on balancing her personal and professional brand online. What should she post? What is too much?

It was clear that understanding how to navigate social media can be challenging. As a social media strategist, I thought it would be a great opportunity to give my two cents on a topic I'm often asked about.

I have listed a social media policy as an essential document that any company should have once they have staff that use social media on their behalf. Today, I would like to propose that as a personal brand — “The brand of You” — it would also be advised to do the same.

Similar to a company policy, this pre thought-out document (whether written or just in your head,) should clearly define your online actions.

What are some things that you will not do, share or post, unless it is clearly in line with your predefined values, outlook and personal brand?

Don't get me wrong. I am not supporting fakeness, especially as this is so prevalent online, but instead, careful reputation/identity management and authenticity. This is especially relevant as the current online space has become more complex, and to some extent, dangerous, both physically as well as to one's own reputation.

The challenge then, is how can you manage your identity — present your best self online — while remaining authentic, honest and true to what you feel defines you, while also remaining safe?

So let's start at the top.

What is your goal online? Is it that you are simply interacting with friends, is it a way to remain connected with friends and family in other countries? Or are you a business person with a side hustle? Are you a full-time entrepreneur? All these elements will determine a slightly different modus operandi online.

If you are employed at a company, there are certain things that you won't be able to post, even if you are not the social media manager. The fact that the public is aware of your association with the company limits your scope of participation. There are numerous incidents online where companies have fired individuals for behaviour or comments online that have nothing to do with work.


As an entrepreneur, educator and believer, I know my audience, I know that those who follow me will most likely share similar values. On social media, people associate with whom they like, know and trust. Those who work with me will potentially share these values too, or at least have a better understanding of who I am. I wouldn't want to share anything too divergent of my value system, as this could later turn away my ideal clients. So in this instance, my personal social media policy and how I fulfil that will have an effect on my business. Why? Because I am my business.

As a person using social media personally or even professionally, the policy can help you determine how much of your personal life you are willing to share. Will you post pictures of your family or children? Or is that a no-no for you? Maybe you decide to, but opt to hide their faces, and show them at play or from behind.

Showing a personal side on social media is always a good thing. However, never forget you get to decide how personal you choose to get. You can also find creative ways to do this to feel comfortable.

For instance, personally, I try never to post photos of myself in an exact location at the exact time. Even on my travels abroad, my photos tend to have a delay of at least a day or two. Why? I simply find it unsafe to post my exact location in real time. Sharing that I am currently at MegaMart, means that I am not home, not at work, etc.

An acquaintance of mine lost his car that way. He posted and shared that he was off on a four-day holiday in Ocho Rios. When he returned his car was gone. To this day he is adamant that he knows the culprit and the individual was an “insta-friend”.

Your personal policy could include the kind of language you will or won't use on your posts, the content you will or won't share. Based on my brand I don't use the “F” word. No matter how great the joke, I try not to repost that content. If it's really good, I might edit the word myself, by retyping the message, or scratching out the word. Otherwise, I may just have to pass on sharing.

I also never repost fights, dead bodies, accidents, or details of my intimate relationships. Please understand, I'm not judging those who do, but I am conscious of my potential audience (both known and hidden).

My personal brand is consistent with my actions in person. In general, I don't use foul language, so it would also follow that I maintain this on my social profiles.

Others online use the “F word” quite a bit, and it's fine and they have lots of followers and clients.

They are being authentic regarding who they are — as am I — and so should you.

It could include the definition of the posts and content you will share, but won't share publicly.

For my part, some posts I may share, but I'll do so privately – whether through a private message or in a private group, with trusted friends.

Bear in mind you are always being observed.

In a previous article I mentioned the “hidden or silent” audience. By now we realise that many individuals who observe us aren't necessarily followers and are often not active on our pages. Meaning they will never like, comment or share our posts. However, you are being observed. Make sure that what you are doing is in line with what you want to be shared, seen or connected with.


In executing the policy, you'll have to take active steps. Taking active steps may be that instead of taking that group photo of you and your girls in your bathing suits and insisting that it not be posted, opt not to be in that photo. If you feel comfortable in that position, feel free. However, if it goes against your personal brand, because you feel it may end up in the wrong context it's best to skip it.

Or, maybe you feel that the current online conversation is getting heated and has the potential that a comment could be misconstrued, resist the urge. Simply don't comment.

Your personal social media policy is not, and does not have to be static. Over time your policy can evolve. Maybe one day I will feel compelled to share my wonderful, loving relationship. Or as your children get older, you will feel more comfortable showing their faces. The policy is free to be changed, as long as it is in line with your true views, feelings and personal brand. Therefore, if you do not feel comfortable being online in a bathing suit, don't. If you change your mind a year from now – go for it!

Finally, the Internet is forever.

Nothing online ever really goes away. It can be screenshot, reshared, saved or retweeted. (Also most data when deleted remains on the platform's server for some time.) So think before you post. Is this something that I wouldn't want to be found later?

Kevin Hart's recent faux pas cost him a hosting gig at the Oscars. Some questionable Twitter posts he made in 2009 - 2010, were brought back to light in 2018. He explained that the Kevin Hart of 2009 is a different man from the Kevin Hart of today. However, through a tweet, he was still being held captive by a 140-character comment he made 10 years ago.

So think before you post, and when in doubt, simply don't.

I've said it time and time again, social media is a sharp knife. Used wisely it can cut and prepare something delicious, but used poorly you can lose a finger. It's not a tool to be afraid of, but to be strategically handled, and leveraged to promote your brand, share your world, connect with others and build community.

So be bold, be authentic and be wise as you share brand you!

Hanniffa Patterson is a social media strategist and can be contacted at .

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