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How to Respond when Personal and Public Online Communities Collide

Of course, it’s embarrassing and humiliating as online community manager when those pictures of you doing tequila body shots in your bikini somehow made their way off your private Facebook page and into the public eye. But also, your personal life is now going to reflect upon the brand.

Now, you may be thinking, “What I do in my personal life has nothing to do with my job,” and you’d be right. As long as your personal life stays personal there won’t be an issue.

However, once your personal life crosses the border into public consumption, you have a problem. It’s like a politician who gets caught cheating on his wife. Though it’s personal, the public is now turning it into a character issue.

It’s a funny thing about the online world and communities. Many times our different communities collide. In your case, not only are you part of your brand’s community, but you’re also part of the community management community, maybe even the blogging or social media communities, too. Plus, your brand and personal communities might even have the ability to span several different niches.

So the bigger your brand, and the bigger your online reach, the more scandalous the scandal. Some online community managers are well known on the web. If shots of you partying with very little clothing on are making their way around online, it may be an issue for both your personal and public brands.

Many community managers and other online professionals have lost their jobs and damaged their reputations due to poor choices. Keep this in mind any time you or a friend post anything to personal accounts.

The end result depends a lot on how you address the situation.

  • Let it go. Your personal scandal will be the talk of your communities for days. If you let it go, the uproar will die down in a few days, and you can get on with your life. You and your brand are going to have to deal with some embarrassment, and you’re going to come across those pictures now and then in the future, but people are forgiving.

  • Address it with humor. You don’t have to hide and pretend the scandal didn’t happen. Instead you can joke about letting off steam or find another way to make light of the situation. By dealing with the scandal head on and using humor, you show your community you’re human. People like human.

  • Apologize. Even though you may not think you did something wrong, it might be a good idea to apologize to your brand and your community. You may not feel apologetic, but your brand has to deal with the fallout as well.

It’s unfair — you did everything you could to keep your personal life personal — but the public is now viewing you in a different light. Hopefully, your brand has your back and understands how you never intended for an inappropriate situation to turn public.

Still, this is a good lesson. A community manager is a public person. It’s always a good idea to not let too much of your private life out on the Internet, even if you think you’re in a private community. It’s always a good idea to never post anything online you wouldn’t want splashed across the headlines of a major newspaper.

Give yourself a Google now and then to see what search engine results reveal. You may find yourself on the receiving end of praise from your community members or find some nastiness you’ll need to deal with right away.

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