Facebook’s terms of service make it quite clear: “You will not create more than one personal profile.”
And yet, managing separate Facebook accounts—one for personal friends and another for professional colleagues—is how plenty of communicators and other professionals have sought to keep up the barrier between those online personae.
Until recently, real estate journalist Amanda Marsh was keeping up with two accounts. She then dumped her business account, because it had become too much to handle, with the constant influx of e-mails and two ever-growing news feeds. She’s still trying to figure out how to keep things separate.
“If you tell a sort of inappropriate joke to a family member, [co-workers] will be able to see it,” she says. “There’s no way to block them from seeing that unless you’re diligent about going back and X-ing out your recent activity on your page, but that takes a long time.”
Is juggling accounts to avoid a potential faux pas worth the risk of losing what you’ve built on Facebook and the time you’ve put into building it? Opinions vary.
The spirit of the law
Some commenters on a MyRagan forum say they think using two accounts is a good idea, asserting that Facebook’s rule is more about blocking phishing scams than keeping users from maintaining a personal/professional divide.
Though Facebook allows users to group friends into categories, thereby enabling users to send status updates only to certain groups, setting up two accounts is just easier, says Tim O’Brien of Tim O’Brien PR.
“Facebook is notorious for changing its privacy settings policies, or even just the technical applications, so often that it would be up to you to discover what you thought was private is no longer,” he says. “To avoid all of that, and to ensure that from start to finish your social friends see the social you and your business colleagues see the professional you, it would be best to have two different pages, if permissible. “
Marsh says the privacy controls that Facebook does have are hard to understand, and they don’t allow for complete privacy. For instance, you can’t determine which of your friends may see which fan pages you like. Everyone sees everything.
Kate Hutchinson, marketing and social media manager for United Domains, says she inherited a second Facebook account from her employer.
“The main function is to be friends with fans from our fan page and keep them separate from my personal account,” she says. “I discovered a lot of people would ask me to be friends after I started managing the page. I like to keep work and personal separate, so I started answering the friend requests with the corporate account.”
Having a corporate-created account is a smart way to make sure the company retains control of its own fan page, Hutchinson says.
“I’ve read about companies who gave fan page management to an employee. Then when the employee left, they lost control over the fan page,” she says. “By having a neutral, company-owned account in the picture, I know that if I leave the company, I’m not destabilizing their Facebook presence.”
Kacie Broadhurst, social media analyst for the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, says that in her job she was in a similar situation to Hutchinson’s, which led to a grossly destabilized Facebook presence. Facebook deleted her business account, her personal account and the pavilion’s Facebook page.
“We never thought that they would do that,” she said. “One day I went to go log in, and it was gone.”
About a week later, Facebook granted Broadhurst access to the fan page again, admonishing her to add more administrators to the page so that a deleted administrator account wouldn’t mean a lost fan page.
Now, Broadhurst manages the pavilion’s fan page through her personal account, and she says it’s been fine. “Nobody that’s a fan of our page can see that it’s me doing it, which I was worried about, but I’m glad that that’s the case,” she says.
The only difficulty of managing through her personal account, Broadhurst says, might be sending private messages to fans of the page who aren’t her personal friends. But that hasn’t come up yet.
For Hutchinson, the most problematic part of managing two profiles is that she can’t keep both open in her browser, so she uses two.
“Occasionally, I’ll forget which browser I’m in, and there’s always the possibility that I might post something I intended for my personal account in the corporate account,” she says. “That’s happened, and happily I’ve always caught it for deleting before anyone noticed.”
Marsh says she often managed her separate Facebook profiles using her phone, which led to a lot of signing out and signing back in. “One is enough to handle, but to have two—with constant e-mails and having to check both to keep up with people—it was just becoming too much,” she says.
The bottom line
Facebook is a virtual party, says O’Brien, and there’s a big difference between a gathering of old high school friends and an office get-together.
“I’m not sure you can completely put a wall up between ‘work you’ and ‘social you,’ but just as you dress differently when you go to work and carry yourself a little more professionally at work, I’d recommend thinking similarly when posting to Facebook,” he says. “At the very least, everyone should make sure the one Facebook account they do have can withstand review by a client, co-worker or boss, because any one of those scenarios is very likely to happen at some point.”
Marsh puts it this way, if opting for a single account: “You really have to be diligent about what you like, what you post. If you really want to be yourself, you can’t be yourself as much.”
Broadhurst warns that you should take precautions if you decide to use separate personal and business accounts. At the very least, she says, have more than one administrator for your company fan page.