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Maintaining Professionalism on Facebook: Tips for Extension Agents
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Harder, Amy
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WC107 Maintaining Professionalism on Facebook: Tips for Extension Agents1Amy Harder, Hannah S. Carter, and Christy Chiarelli2 1. This document is WC107, one of a series of the Agricultural Education and Communication Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date April 2011. Visit the EDIS website at 2. A my Harder, assistant professor; Hannah S. Carter, assistant professor; and Christy Chiarelli, coordinator, Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or aliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim DeanOverviewFacebook has revolutionized the world in which we communicate. In just a few mouse clicks, you can access personal information, pictures, recent conversations, and much more about your Facebook friends. With these things in mind, it is important to carefully consider the implications of becoming a Facebook friend. Facebook is a social media tool that is intended to connect people with friends and others who work, study and live around them (, 2010). Originally launched in February 2004, Facebook currently has more than 500 million active users. It has become a true online community as users spend more than 700 billion minutes a month accessing the site (, 2010). A typical Facebook user has the following basic elements available on his or her Facebook page: Prole Picture is picture is selected by you and is the picture all of your Facebook friends see when they search for you. is picture can be changed as frequently as you deem necessary. Basic Information is information contains your name, birthday, place of employment, education, hometown, spouse, and various other optional information. Wall Posts Your wall is basically the home page of your site. Typically, all your Facebook activity shows up on your wall. is activity includesbut is not limited toinformation about when you post on another users wall, post pictures, update your status, and receive a post from another friend. Photos e photos tab is a place where you can upload images to Facebook. It is also important to note that you can be tagged in photos, meaning that someone else can upload a picture of you and tag you in it. e tagged photo will show up in your photos tab and on your wall. If it is a picture that you dont want identied to yourself, then you must untag yourself from the photo.ProfessionalismDue to the many personal elements of a Facebook page and the large number of Facebook users, it can be very dicult to have a page strictly for professional use. Once your friends know you are on Facebook, they will likely send a friend request. Furthermore, it can be dicult to monitor your wall and picture posts on a daily basis to ensure that only professional information is displayed. Many users nd themselves managing their Facebook pages so that it can be both professional and personal. However, it is recommended that if an Extension employee has a personal Facebook page, the personal page should be kept separate and distinct from any UF/IFAS Extension site or Facebook page. If you are a 4-H agent working with youth, you should not be friends with these youth on your


2personal Facebook page. If you want an online presence on Facebook that is a reection of your Extension work, create a professional Facebook page for yourself, a Facebook group, or a Facebook fan page. It is easy to create a Facebook group page or a Facebook fan page for an Extension program, such as a 4-H club. With a Facebook group page, you can control the membership and who can access it. ere are benets to creating this type of Facebook group: (a) it is simple to organize and invite members to events, (b) it is a convenient way to share pictures from events, (c) it is an easy way to distribute information to group members, and (d) it allows members to share information and communicate, which may facilitate increased learning opportunities. A Facebook fan page is meant for a broader audience. It can be viewed by anyone with a Facebook account. In addition, anyone can post a message to a fan page, whereas with a group page only members of the group can post messages. With a fan page, you lose a great deal of control with the content of the page. ese pages are not recommended for 4-H clubs and activities as you need to be concerned with content, pictures, and discussions that youth could both see and participate in. Fan pages may be a good avenue for distributing information to generate interest for Extension programs targeted to adults. If you are developing a professional Facebook page, a Facebook group, or a Facebook fan page, please remember that Facebook can be a professional tool, much like your business card, program website, or even your oce or workspace. Here are some general tips for using Facebook so that it reects both your personal and professional life in a positive light: Choose your friends wisely. is concept dates back to elementary school, and it is just as important in the social media realm as it is in daily life. It is best to err on the side of caution and avoid friending individuals that may post inappropriate comments on your wall or send you inappropriate group requests. As in school, you do not want to be seen hanging out with a rough crowd online. It could be detrimental to your professional life. Additionally, you should not accept friend requests from anyone you do not know. It may feel rude to deny or ignore a request from someone, especially if you have mutual friends, but you would most likely never tell strangers personal information or show them pictures of yourself or your family in real life, so it is best not to do it in the virtual world, either. Post content with discernment. Any content posted on Facebook should be considered public information. Only display on your prole or page what you would display on your desk (Sohn, 2007). ink about your coworkers, supervisors, clients, or even the university president walking by. Would you be comfortable with them seeing what is on your desk or hanging on your walls? e same would go for any Facebook page that you create that reects your position with Extension. Never use Facebook as an outlet for frustration. It is easy to feel braver or more condent sitting behind your private computer screen, but once you click post, that information leaves the privacy of your home or oce and is available for others to view. If you nd yourself angry or frustrated about a topic and your Facebook page is open, it is best to exit out of your account and cool down. You never want to post content that you will regret later. Be cautious with the applications that you add to any professional Facebook page you create. Would you post your daily horoscope on your door every day for everyone to read? If not, then you should not sign up for that application on your professional pages. If you create a Facebook group for your Extension program, be careful of the links that you share with group members. ese links should be relevant, timely, and of interest (professionally) to members of the group (Sohn, 2007). If you create it, you have to update it. Remember that any new Facebook page you create is available for people to see. If you create a group page focusing on your Extension program, remember that you need to update it with fresh information, new pictures, and recent activity. If you do not update it frequently, visitors to your Facebook page will lose interest in the page, and you will lose an opportunity to share with people the great things you are doing! Take advantage of Facebook as a networking tool. Remember that your professional Facebook page is a chance to network with other Extension professionals. With that in mind, search for other Facebook group pages for programs like yours to learn about what other states are doing and to share information. Spend time learning about privacy settings. Privacy settings are essential to ensuring a positive Facebook experience. Facebook has implemented many privacy settings, from controlling the privacy of each element of your page to creating lists that help you organize your friends. Friend lists are a great tool to use; once friends


3are assigned to a list, you can determine the amount of information on your page that the entire list is able to view. is feature gives you a good deal of exibility when deciding what type of information your friends should be able to view. Following are specic considerations if you are going to have a professional Facebook page for yourself: Keep the Info section to a minimum. On your professional Facebook page, it is completely acceptable to list your education and work. It is not recommended that you list your political and religious views, your sexual orientation, or your personal contact information (MacDonald, Sohn, & Ellis, 2010). ink about this section of your Facebook page as your resumewhat you include in that, you can include in this section. is is a great place to list books that you may use or that are related to your job, and also other activities and interests you have that pertain to your job or program. Err on the side of caution. Remember to exercise caution when posting photos to your page, especially if you are working with youth. Please read the Photos section above for more guidelines on using images. Be intentional. ink of the comments you post on your wall and on the walls of others as professional communication. Have a reason for the comments you make. Again, would you be comfortable with your coworkers, clients, and supervisors reading what you have posted?Legal ConsiderationsFacebook accounts are subject to dierent legal considerations depending upon whom they represent. e most common type of Facebook account is an individual account, but organizational accounts are gaining in popularity. is section addresses considerations for each type of account. Individual Accounts is is your personal account and is not intended to represent the University of Florida, UF/IFAS Extension, your county, or any of your programs. From a legal perspective, you can do what you wish with your personal Facebook page as long as youre within the boundaries of the law. If something is illegal to do in real life, then you shouldnt do it, talk about it, or post pictures of it online. Organizational Accounts e rules are dierent for organizational accounts. Here are a few things you need to think about: e University of Floridas Facebook page policy: e University of Floridas General Counsel has developed specic wording to be posted on any ocial UF Facebook page. You should follow the same policy unless a separate policy is developed for UF/IFAS Extension. To access the most current version of the policy, go to http://www. First Amendment rights: As a government agency and agents, UF/IFAS Extension and its employees must uphold freedom of speech. It is illegal to delete oensive comments from a Facebook wall unless there are clear and published rules about what is acceptable for posting on the wall. Such rules must apply equally to everyone. e safest practice may be to disable the comments feature. Photos: Any individuals featured in photos posted on an organizational account need to sign a photo release. If you plan to post photos of your clientele, it is advisable to change the wording on your present photo release to reect Facebook as a possible outlet where photos may be shared. An example would be to use the wording including, but not limited to in your photo release. Its not illegal to tag (identify individuals in a photo with a hyperlink to their Facebook pages) your clientele, but it is good practice not to tag youth to help protect their safety online. Online advice: If you plan to share answers to clientele questions online, you need to follow the same standards as you would when writing an EDIS publication. Copyright issues: e University of Florida, UF/IFAS Extension, and 4-H logos are copyright protected. Its likely that your county logo is protected as well. You must have written permission to use these logos online. Administrative approval: You must have the permission of the Senior Vice President for Agricultural Aairs or designee to create an ocial site. is may help to expand the resources available to protect you if a legal situation arises.SummaryIf used properly, Facebook can be an excellent tool to promote both yourself and your Extension program.


4Adhering to a few guidelines will help you maintain a professional image. Just remember, you are a reection of your organizationbe aware of that before you become friends with Facebook!ReferencesFacebook. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.facebook. com MacDonald, J., Sohn, S., & Ellis, P. (2010). Privacy, professionalism and Facebook: A dilemma for young doctors. Medical Education 44, 805. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03720.x Sohn, J. (2007, July 24). 12 ways to use Facebook professionally [Web log post]. Retrieved from collaboration/12-ways-to-use-facebook-professionally/