Eyeing John Marshall Law School
Creative Commons License photo credit: swanksalot

It’s natural that members of the community that you manage may want to interact with you on other social sites. Facebook is an easy example here, because of its massive userbase and because many profiles are private. But, certainly, other similarly structured platforms would apply just the same.

If your name is known to your members, as is commonly the case, then your profile may be a simple Google search away.

Should you accept and encourage friend requests? Or should you discourage and ignore them?


There are certainly benefits. If they are a great member and a good person, you can build a stronger relationship with them. That’s not a community benefit, as much as it is a personal benefit for you. At the same time, a stronger relationship with you may also mean a stronger relationship with the community and a more understanding member.

Generally speaking, I am a big believer in the thought that people react better to managers and moderators with a name and personality, than they do to anonymous individuals, who they do not identify as being active in their community. So, to me, connecting with them on another platform can just be an extension of that.

If you talk about your community on Facebook, they will be more likely to appreciate, like and share those messages than the average connection that you have.


That said, there can be cons. If you share very personal things on Facebook, you will want to be selective of who you share those things with. That is always the case – whether someone is a member of your forums or not, you still want to carefully consider friend requests.

But, some community managers may fear sharing too much of themselves with what they consider to be their customers or the people they work with in a professional context. They don’t want to appear unprofessional or say something they shouldn’t, accidentally and offend them or cause controversy.

There can also be a blurring of lines. A member may feel they can say something to you on Facebook that they can’t on your forums. In addition, if you build a friendship with them (or they think more of your relationship than you do), they may expect preferential treatment in the forums.

Again, though, these dangers exist with all friends you connect with. A friend from high school can expect preferential treatment at the restaurant you work at. A co-worker can take something you said and report it to the boss. These issues exist with all people, potentially.

What I Do

I accept friend requests from people who I want to connect to. These are people that I have some level of familiarity with, either directly or through their work. If a member has made 500 posts on my forums, I tend to have a reasonable idea of who they are and what their personality is.

In other words, I treat their friend request like any other. If I don’t feel comfortable, I ignore it and allow them to subscribe to my public updates (which happens automatically if you have the feature enabled).

I encourage people to connect with me on Facebook and I encourage our members to connect with one another, if they are comfortable doing so. My communities also have Facebook pages, though rarely used, and I encourage members to like our page. In general, I believe that if people have a strong connection on and off your forums, it’ll mean good things for your community. Trying to keep all interaction on your community is a fools game and will not work, even if you attempt it. It’s better to embrace powerful platforms.

I’ve derived value from accepting friend requests from members that I know. It’s hard to quantify, but it has strengthened connections that I have made through my communities.

What I share online, I generally share in public, so I’m not really concerned about private things getting out. Anything I want to be private is going to be shared with a select few. I am careful not to say too much or to talk about my friends and family in any way that would compromise them. I share what interests me publicly on all of the platforms I participate in. It’s all a Google search away.

If a member ever made me feel uncomfortable, I would unfriend them. If a member ever expected preferential treatment from me, they would not get it. If they thought that they could speak to me disrespectfully on Facebook and they won’t face any repercussion, they would be wrong. If you send a message to me on Facebook, it is no different than an email and no different from a private message or post on my community. If it’s inappropriate, I’ll tell you, document it and if it is bad enough or you’ve done enough to warrant it, I will take further action.

Honestly, that hasn’t happened yet. But, I won’t be shocked if it does. That likelihood doesn’t justify me being more guarded, though. Not for me.

What You Should Do

If you want to do what I do, that’s great. If you use Facebook in a different way, to talk privately with a small group of people, that’s excellent. If you want to do something else, perfect. At the end of the day, it is your profile and you should use it as you wish and connect with whoever you want.

For some community managers, dealing with more hostile or dangerous communities perhaps, it may make sense not to connect with members. And if you are agency side or work in community for a large brand, certainly that factors in. It may not be appropriate for you to connect with members. Even so, you should be careful about what you say online, no matter what, because if you say something bad, it’ll reflect poorly on you and the company you work for, whether or not you’ve connected with any members of your community.

Gender is another factor. I have the benefit of being a male and don’t have to deal with the issues that women face, including a much higher likelihood of stalking.

Furthermore, you need to consider different platforms in different ways. A service that tracks your location (a service that you check-in on, like Foursquare) may require more sensitive handling than one that doesn’t, because you are telling people where you are at a given moment and that can compromise your safety, if someone decides to use that information in a sinister way. Once again, though, that is a good general rule and not simply something to consider only when dealing with members of your community.

At the end of the day, you should do whatever makes you comfortable. Nothing more and nothing less. There is no right answer for everyone.