Pretty Simple: web, digital, social

I’ve been wrestling with a problem for ages now, and despite several discussions and debates, still haven’t reached a conclusion. The problem can be summed up as follows:

Should you use your existing personal Facebook account for work purposes, or set up a separate professional profile?

By “work purposes” I mean acting in an official capacity, such as administering an official Facebook Page. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume everyone we’re talking about already has a personal Facebook account. I realise not everyone is on Facebook, but if you’re not, this isn’t such a problem (although you arguably shouldn’t be in charge of a professional Facebook presence without experience of the platform!).

Are two separate profiles better than one?

Why two profiles?

There are quite a few reasons why having separate work and personal profiles would be beneficial:

  • It allows you to keep work and home life separate, so that you’re not getting emails from your work’s Page in your personal inbox at the weekend or on holiday
  • It avoids the risk of accidentally posting a personal update to a work Page
  • It keeps the public away from your personal profile
  • If you leave your job, it’s simply a case of deleting your work account, rather than trying to unpick all of the professional associations with your personal account
  • Any requirement for an employee to use a personal social media account for work purposes could be a breach of human rights

Additionally, some professions have strict guidelines about the use of social media and Facebook.

The Scottish Social Services Council states:

“Friending” or allowing a person who uses services or their carer to be your online friend or follower is not acceptable for a registered social service worker as it creates a personal relationship outside of your workplace. And it leaves both workers and people who use services open to allegations from comments they might post.

(update – the SSSC tell me that they plan to review their guidance and will be consulting on this later in the year)

Whilst the General Teaching Council for Scotland says:

only use official channels of communication e.g. GLOW and work e-mail addresses


firmly decline student-initiated ‘friend’ requests from pupils and do not
instigate any yourself.

Both are clear, then, that it is inappropriate to have contact with clients or pupils through personal social media accounts or e-mail. So any official use of Facebook to communicate with these groups is hampered – any official Page administrated by one or more personal accounts, linked to personal email addresses, poses a risk. And for the above professions, a serious breach of the guidance could result in disciplinary procedures and potentially being struck off their registers, ending your career.

So it seems fairly obvious – have two accounts and keep your work and home life separate.

Facebook doesn’t agree

However, having two accounts is against Facebook’s terms:

You will not create more than one personal account.

Rule 4.2 of Facebook’s terms

And, although unlikely, I know of people who have had one or both accounts suspended as a result, leaving Pages floating without an admin and clearly impacting the individual’s personal life as well as their work.

(A third option is to create a “false” identity but again it’s clearly against Facebook’s terms and I’ve heard of accounts getting shut down for this too)

This is a contradiction that seems impossible to solve, and I’m yet to find a decent compromise. Sadly the conclusion seems to be that you either break the rules somewhere, or end up not doing Facebook at all. None of these is really acceptable, and the best solution I can think of would be for Facebook to relax its rules.

What’s the answer? Are you facing the same problem? How are you getting around it? Or, if you’re just ignoring the rules, how have you justified that? Please leave a comment below and help me solve this riddle!

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28 Responses to A Facebook dilemma – one account or two?

  1. I tried running 2 Facebook accounts and gave up after a few weeks.

    For me, Facebook is for friends & family.

    Twitter is for everyone.

    • James says:

      Thanks James. The challenge is that we increasingly need to be using Facebook as organisations, purely because it’s what many customers want us to use. My organisation, a local authority, has had direct requests from young service users saying they want us to communicate with them via Facebook. They don’t want letters or even e-mails. This becomes especially powerful for connecting with “hard to reach” groups or maintaining connect with care leavers, for example.

  2. Matt says:

    More recent changes to Facebook mean that this should be less of a problem. I am admin to several Facebook pages, but using the right settings means that no-one sees who the admin is. All posts I make are in the name of the page, rather than my own name, so there is no need for a separate account.

    • James says:

      Hi Matt. Agree that it’s easy enough to hide the admins of a page but there’s still the problem that you’ll get updates to your home email address, and there’s the risk that you might post something as your personal profile by accident (or worse, that someone takes advantage when you leave yourself logged in on a shared PC – I see that all the time with friends who have mischievous kids!).

  3. Matt says:

    That is true – but both are easily preventable. The first by not posting anything inappropriate ever, the second by logging out every time. Both good ‘rules’ to live by anyway!

  4. Hi James
    This is a dilemma we pondered over for some time and I’m not sure the solution is perfect.
    Your spot on with the Facebook Ts and Cs issue and we decided we couldn’t risk getting the whole domain blocked. So, we’ve not got multiple or anonymous accounts.
    However, it does mean staff using personal accounts. This creates a data protection issue as staff are effectively using a personal account for official business. That breaks our email policies and may fall foul of dp. (We have enough trouble getting members to comply with the email policy.)
    For now we’re struggling along. Staff are not forced to use their personal address unless they want to. And, if staff don’t use FB for personal use then they can set up an account with a work email.
    This is, I believe, an issue that FB should understand and act upon. But, I doubt it’s of much concern.
    It does help that admins will not be identifiable and I think that’s put those that are admins at ease, for the time being. Who knows what FB will do in the future.
    We have had a more sticky issue which I can talk to you about privately. Drop me an email.
    So, one account (with caveats.
    May not help, but we’re all in the same boat.

  5. Dan Slee says:

    Hi James,

    What James said for two personal Facebook profiles.

    Many, many, many for Facebook pages for an organisation:

  6. Great post! The difficulty with this is that everybody has a different standard about where the boundaries between work and home life are. The other issue is that sometimes some of our work people are also our friends and/or live in the county we work for – it’s impossible to have one answer on what everyone should do when we’re all so different.

    My organisation’s approach is to trust staff to be sensible and use the tools the way they think is best with the offer of guidance on sorting out privacy settings and online self-awareness.

    I’m with Matt – I also think Facebook make being a page admin easier to keep everything separate. (I find with Twitter and Facebook that using different apps for work and personal makes it harder to post from the wrong account – e.g. Hootsuite for work/Echofon for personal).

    However, I sometimes use my personal profile account to get into groups/pages and join discussions on behalf of the council I work for – I think a real person in a debate can be more palatable than a page which is anonymous. Obviously I am open that I’m an employee speaking on behalf of the organisation – being clear about that is in our staff guidelines.

    That’s my choice though and I’m confident that nobody can see my profile details unless I’ve allowed them to do so by accepting a friend request and I aim that everything I post to friends that could be shared is not going to come back to haunt me.

    Personally, I’ll be looking at doing this stuff via a page more often as I imagine that my friends and family get the hump that I interact more with strangers than them! I’ll be making sure that page has my name on it and is a friendly human face to the council.

    I’m not sure any of that answers the question, sorry! This blog rocks by the way.

  7. Ben Proctor says:

    This is an interesting conundrum.

    It seems to me that you agree to the terms of service when you sign up for an account. So whatever solution is agreed must be in line with those.

    I recognise what Pete says about data protection and email accounts. These don’t seem to be insurmountable but should be addressed.

    A useful analogy might be to think of cars. Many people in local government (and other organisations obv.) use their own cars on the business of the authority. This is established practice and risk is managed through agreements and rules between the authority and the member of staff. I have had contracts which required me to “Own, maintain and insure a car and make it available for the authority’s use”.

    Something similar is probably possible with facebook (and other) accounts.

    I agree with Matt that most of the risk can be mitigated through the new admin settings.

    We might have agreements that say. Profiles can be used to set up and administer pages. The authority owns the page, the individual owns the profile. The individual provides the profile for the authority’s use in this regard.

    Two areas remain outstanding. I’ve got some thoughts here.

    interaction within groups which can only be done via profiles. Not easy but the number of occasions upon which the authority *requires* a formal presence in a group are probably small.
    friends. This seems easier to me. You should only make friends with people who are your personal friends, you should always avoid a conflict of interest with your professional role, you should never give the impression that people are “friending” the authority or someone acting in their official role on behalf of the authority.

    My natural inclination is towards the trust, open and “don’t be daft” approach but I do think some rules: agreed and negotiated with staff and customers can be helpful.

    • James says:

      Thanks Helen and Ben, really useful input. Interesting that there are already conflicts of opinion just in these few comments – you can imagine what the conversation is like here, especially in a social work context!

      Staff guidelines and rules seem to be key – I like your idea of negotiating these with staff and customers, Ben. And as you say, Helen, trust is vital.

  8. I used to administer a Facebook account used by one of our transport projects. I used a separate work account to do this. I didn’t want to risk personal posts accidentally turning up on the work account. There are too many scenarios where this could go wrong and it’s worse if you have Facebook on a mobile device. What if you have immature friends who take your phone when you go to the loo and update what they assume is your personal status for a laugh lose it with the profile logged in ?

    I broke the T&Cs, but I’d rather do that than risk being disciplined for an accidental message.

    Thankfully, I no longer have this issue as I deleted my personal Facebook and only use my work profile for research.

    • James says:

      Ah Ciaran, so you’re one of the golden few who have successfully managed to eschew the personal use of Facebook and are keeping it strictly business. Good for you!

      The mobile point is valid although easily avoided by locking your phone – especially if you’ve got friends like yours! :P

      But you’re right, it can easily go wrong, by accident or otherwise. I myself have mis-posted to a wrong account several times. Never anything serious, but SO easy to do.

  9. John Fox says:

    I’m with James Cattell, namely Facebook is for friends and family.

    However that doesn’t really overcome the essential issue here. Unless FB change their terms and conditions of use, one runs the risk of being castigated or even barred if you run two accounts.

    Therefore perhaps the most pragmatic solution would be to ensure that your personal security settings are locked down so that you can separate personal life from professional life.

    Its no secret that I’m gay, so I don’t mind sharing with you that I’ve set up categories of friends on my Facebook profiles according to whether they are gay or not. Each is categorised simply as ‘gay’ or ‘non-gay’.

    Its not that I don’t want straight friends to see anything gay, rather I don’t see a) that they’ll be especially thrilled to see some of the less than flattering, even derogatory, remarks that certain ‘friends’ or ‘pages’ are in the habit of making. Or perhaps its because I know that some of my friends are tolerant of my sexual preference but that said, I don’t see that they should be force fed information of interest to gay men. This is about my being sensitive to individual preferences and wishing to avoid causing offence, albeit inadvertently.

    Beyond those two straightforward categories I use further tailoring according to individual friends. II have them for employers (eg Salford City Council), geographies (eg Orkney) and events (eg Island Gov Camp).

    Thus Sweyn Hunter, for example’ is categorised as ‘non-gay’, ‘Orkney’ and ‘Island Gov Camp’.

    If I publish something on my profile and it is set to ‘public’ then all my friends, friends of friends and anyone who cares to look can see it. But this use of categorisation means that I can set an item, be it text, photograph, status update, whatever, to ‘gay’ and immediately anyone who is not friended in that category will not be able to see that posting either on my profile or in their news feed.

    The only maintenance required for keeping this working is to ensure a) that new friends added are categorised and b) you select the circulation category when publishing content on Facebook.

    • James says:

      Thanks John, a really important point there about controlling what you share, and with who. I was delighted when Facebook followed Google+ in adding the ability to share to specific groups. I guess the trick is to ensure that staff who are using Facebook professionally as well as socially know how to do all of this, and ensuring that guidance is kept up to date when FB decide to change the rules again!

  10. James says:

    In a timely story on the BBC website, Facebook has reported that it believes it has over 83 million “fake users”, of which “duplicate accounts” make up the majority. To me, this seems like a problem entirely of their own making. By sticking to a “one account per person” policy, they have not only made life hard for users, but also misled their advertisers.

  11. Dave Briggs says:

    Is the answer just to create pages that aren’t connected to a profile? You can do it from the FB homepage, if you’re logged out. Link in the bottom right of the page – “Create a Page for a celebrity, band or business.”

    Might even be worth creating a page like this for yourself, in a professional capacity, as well as for the Council, or individual services.

    • James says:

      Sadly I don’t think this is possible, Dave. When you attempt it, after you select the type of page and click “Get Started”, it asks you to sign in with an existing account or register for a new one.

  12. Dave Briggs says:

    Gah! Never got that far. That’s a real shame.

  13. Sean says:

    What does FB do?

    I know there is a FB Facebook page. How man admins does it have and how do they do it?

    Is there another FB somewhere? If so, are they breaking their own rule?


    • James says:

      Interesting question. I’m often asked “what do the big companies do?” but to be honest it’s not really relevant – we can’t direct our staff to break the rules just because we suspect others are doing it!

  14. Bruce Ryan says:

    Why not take their words at face value? You will not create more than one personal account does not exclude the possibility of another non-personal, i.e. business account.

    • James says:

      Interesting point! I have a nagging feeling that I’ve seen them explicitly say you can’t do that, although I can’t find anything at the moment. That would definitely solve the problem for a lot of people, and it’d be great if they said that was OK. Will do some more digging – thanks Bruce.

  15. Danny says:

    It’s entirely possible to have one account for both. You can sort your Facebook connections into lists and ensure that only certain “friends” can see certain content.

  16. Julie Shrive says:

    If against their rules why then has Facebook created 2 accounts when needed to edit e mail as Virgin had cancelled all blueyonder account s because of poor connectivity & design faults .My original account is now a friend ???!!! Where is person who addresses discretionary issues ? This is not acceptable as not accessing many other sites too because apple security acts me against whatever the computer.

  17. Matt S says:

    Old post but this is relevant for me right now. I need to make a decision which account to keep. I don’t use my 2nd account for promotional reasons, but I keep my ‘work friends’ and my ‘personal friends’ separate. Struggling with how to proceed.

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