My 140-word identity crisis needs to stop, already
June 15, 2011 5:28 AM   Subscribe

Do I need a public and a private Twitter account? Well, how do I be myself on Twitter in general?

I've had a private Twitter account for a few years now. My friends and colleagues* use Twitter and seem to comfortably weave their personal lives and professional interests together on public accounts (and have lots of followers), but I can't seem to develop a level of comfort/communication skill that helps me do the same. I'm concerned that I'll turn off followers if I hop from open data advocacy to what the Americanos are like at that new coffee place to a response to some relevant political issue to a link to some really fantastic Bon Iver cover**. Worse, I'm concerned that I might appear to be some combination of immature, inarticulate, or unhireable thanks to even innocuous Twitter conversations. I'd really like to have a public Twitter account so that I can better engage in online conversation and networking, but do I need separate accounts for my "professional" life/voice and my random-person-in-the-world life? I'm afraid that that seems unnatural and creates extra work without payoff.

I really admire people who can maintain an authentic and inviting voice online, but I feel pretty uneasy about my own ability to do that. How do you manage your Twitter identity/identities? Do you find yourself constantly deleting status updates or simply not participating to begin with? Do you spend a lot of time worried about tone, framing, being acceptable to everyone/a specific audience?

*To put things into context, I'm early-career, Gen-Y, digital native, all that jazz.

**FWIW, I have a lot of trouble feeling comfortable communicating and sharing here on MeFi, or Google Reader, or, well, anywhere online — hell, even writing this question was difficult. I'm unnecessarily self-monitoring to the point where I probably come across as bland because I worry about how people interpret my interests, consumption choices, and communication style. I'm often told that I don't share my (pedestrian) interests with people. So, this really isn't just about Twitter — it's a general social anxiety issue that's gotten significantly worse within the past few years, and it's one I'm trying to get help for.
posted by thisjax to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think one of the most important things about social media, and especially Twitter, is to allow yourself to be a person within the social media context. That means that yes, in addition to being interested in open data advocacy and political issues, you're also interested in coffee shops and Bon Iver covers.

I can only speak for myself--with few exceptions, I don't follow people who only tweet about their "topics"--it's entirely uninteresting. I follow people who tweet about their topics and their passions, and also tweet about their lives, their successes, their vacations.

I do admit that I spend a bit of time on tone and framing before I tweet something, because I do follow/am followed by people who know me mainly in a professional capacity. But in general, as long as you make sure you aren't entirely stupid about your tweets (I'd say tweets about your sex life, bathroom life, and work life are off-limits), you'll be fine.
posted by litnerd at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I just keep Twitter personal. I may tweet about subjects that relate to my job, but I'm doing it because I'm interested in it, not because it relates to my job somehow. I have unfollowed many people whose Twitter stream was non-stop self promotion and career enhancement.
posted by COD at 5:42 AM on June 15, 2011

I have separate twitters. I actually really loathe trying to follow someone's professional twitter and ending up with a lot of random personal posts about how much they love babies or hate their boss or whatever. So when it came time for me to create my own twitter presence, I separated out the things that would be appropriate for my professional, media-based twitter account, and the things that should stay in my personal account, locked to only my close friends.

I also don't twitter from my phone at all -- it's all browser-based, so that in order to post to my professional twitter, I have to open the browser and log in. No accidental midnight twitter posts from the liquor store or ill-conceived political commentary gets through, and I have yet to have to delete one of my posts, even though I've been regularly posting to this account for several years.

If you're not comfortable posting, though, that will come through. Are you sure you want a twitter account? There are other ways to network, even in the "digital age."
posted by shamash at 5:55 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"professional, media-based twitter account" -- that is, the account I have to reflect my image as a media professional. Which isn't all talking about my job, but is all talking about things that relate to my job, like stories of all kinds, whether they are on tv, in books, other people's twitters, and digital media politics, and links to relevant articles.
posted by shamash at 6:01 AM on June 15, 2011

Best answer: I keep one public Twitter account for all purposes. It started as just a personal thing, but as time and technology have moved on, it's become my public face for my work. I only delete Tweets for bad links or the odd egregious typo, and only to immediately issue a correction.

My particular career as a freelancer requires a lot of hustle and self-promotion, so I Tweet a lot of the usual douchey self-promotional things: Pointing to blog posts, announcing when I'm giving a talk or going on a podcast, blah blah.

But I also use Twitter as a sort of ping-back to converse with people I like and, you know, say things that are on my mind. This morning I commented on how I reached for my sunglasses when I first woke up, and they did not have the intended effect of correcting my vision. A goofy dumb thing I did that I thought might make someone else smile. Nothing to do with my career.

And the thing is, nobody will ever care about the first kind of Tweet ("I'm speaking in Toronto on Monday, come see me!") without the second kind of Tweet for flavor ("Check out this amazing series of photos of ocelots. (link)." That's what makes the difference between sending out press releases and, you know, forming connections with people. For me, at least, Twitter is all about people feeling connected to one another.

John Scalzi once commented on my blog about the difference between being personal vs. personable, and I think that applies here, too. It's a good thing to look like a human being and not a PR-bot on the internet, so linking to that awesome band or discussing the quality of this morning's Americano are totally in line. It humanizes you.

But don't make it too personal -- don't talk smack about your ex, don't complain about your job -- hell, don't complain *at all* if you can help it. (I've seen Tweet feeds that are a relentless stream of negativity, and I sadly do form opinions of whether I'd want to work with those people over it.) It's a balance.

Sometimes I find it a little sad that it's not appropriate for me to talk about my problems on Twitter -- since it is the public face of my professional life, it's not the right venue to talk about how my nine-year-old just threw a major tantrum, or how I'm annoyed that my husband didn't put away the dishes, or how my client is 60 days late in paying me. But you know, even in the physical world, there are conversations you shouldn't be having in front of just anyone. A little discretion can go a long way, just like it always has.
posted by Andrhia at 6:13 AM on June 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'd like to chime in as someone else who hates it when people I know in real life use their only twitter account for promotion of themselves/their careers. Get a separate account for that shit.

That being said, twitter's privacy model is pretty fundamentally flawed, so if you want to interact with people on twitter who are not following you, you need a public account (since private accounts cannot send visible @replies to people not following them.)

(Of course, twitter's privacy model is pretty easily fixed - all it requires is the addition of a boolean field to the db - a toggle, allowing the ability to mark any tweet as "private" or "public". In that case, having a "private" account would just mean that your tweets defaulted to being only visible by your followers. Someone at twitter should get on this.)
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:13 AM on June 15, 2011

Best answer: I just have one twitter. Sometimes I feel bad because I will go to a conference or something and tweet incessantly about professional stuff, potentially alienating my non-professional followers, and then when I get home from the conference the people who started following me at the conference (presumably for my professional tweets) are subjected to me tweeting about downed trees on my favorite hiking trails or a family of ducks I saw trying to cross the highway.

But I don't lose sleep over it because to me, that's just kind of how twitter works. Just about everyone I follow has some random/wonky things they tweet about that I find boring. Yes, there are probably some people who are going to feel alienated by some of my interests or think less of me because of some band or TV show I say I like but eh, such is life.

I totally get what you're saying with the unnecessary self-monitoring, though. That's something I mostly worked through before I got on twitter, but now, although I don't lay *everything* about me out there for *everyone* to see, I'm just kind of over seeking approval from people who are going to judge me for stupid shit like my movie tastes or sports fandom or whatever.
posted by mskyle at 6:18 AM on June 15, 2011

I keep my twitter account professional and on topic, mostly because I can't stand reading other people's tweets about what airport they are at, given that I signed up to read them for professional reasons.

I have a Facebook account and I use that for all the personal stuff. IFF I know you personally and want to know what you and your family are up to, I friend you on Facebook. I like the fact that my personal info is not broadcasted for all to see (barring the usual Facebook privacy mess-ups!).
posted by emilyw at 6:53 AM on June 15, 2011

What I was wondering when I read your post was why you feel pressured to change to a public Twitter profile. You admit that you, " have a lot of trouble feeling comfortable communicating and sharing here on MeFi, or Google Reader, or, well, anywhere online." So why would you put yourself out there like that.

It just seems to me that it would create more stress in your life. So why even take the step if you are not ready to go public. Just chill, and be as private as your comfort level permits.

To answer your question...

I only have one public profile on Twitter. I post all kinds of things, but I thoughtfully write each tweet. I DO think before I Tweet because I am concerned about how I will be perceived by others, but that has never stopped me from actually Tweeting.

I use Facebook for the conversations, and posts that I want to keep private between my family and friends, and just DON'T post things that I feel I should keep to myself.
posted by rudeness at 7:41 AM on June 15, 2011

Best answer: every single one of the hundreds of fascinating people i follow in the tech and media industries post a mix of professional and personal things on twitter; the proportion varies per person, but in general no one keeps it 100% professional or 100% personal. the people that only ever post professional stuff tend to be a) boring and b) not worth following because if their links are really good, someone else i follow will be passing them along anyway. i want to follow a person, not a linkedin career feed.

as for me, i'm picky about the people i work for or make friends with, so in my case i'm extra happy to tweet about my various interests and some things in my personal life because if being myself weeds out people online i wouldn't bother with offline, that makes my life easier. every single full-time writing job i have ever had, i have a) not had to apply for and b) was offered to me because my online presence is quirky, shows that i know how to find or make interesting things, and create compelling narratives. many of my best industry relationships were, honestly, jumpstarted by me sharing photos and stories of my super awesome dog; when he passed away i got really sweet notes of condolence from a zillion people, some of them pretty famous, the vast majority of whom had never met him (or me!) in person. you can't form personal connections on twitter (or anywhere else) if you lock everything that's unique about you away.
posted by lia at 8:04 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have two accounts, one public (professional) and one private. My public one is not just for professional stuff -- I'm a social media manager and there are enough social media douchebags out there posting about social media. I filter out only the best of the best in terms of articles to post there. But I also post about cycling, food, and my other interests.

I do hear what you are saying about filtering to the point of being boring - I have to remind myself to post to my public twitter more often, because all the fun stuff is happening on my private one. It is a challenge and something I do spend time thinking/worrying about it. But again, social media is my job so that's par for the course.

My private account is for interacting with my friends, lots of ranting about work and stupid people and swearing and drunk tweets and I post many many times more per day to that one. I have friends that almost solely arrange outings via twitter so a private account was a must to be part of that.

Sometimes I've accidentally posted something meant for one account to the other, but I catch it quick enough (and usually it's an @reply so it wouldn't show up for most people anyway) that it's not a major concern.
posted by misskaz at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2011

Best answer: thisjax: I'm concerned that I'll turn off followers if I hop from open data advocacy to what the Americanos are like at that new coffee place to a response to some relevant political issue to a link to some really fantastic Bon Iver cover**. Worse, I'm concerned that I might appear to be some combination of immature, inarticulate, or unhireable...

As gently as possible, you're subjecting yourself to the same thing a lot of people with social anxiety seem to subject themselves to: an assumption that people out there are paying a lot more attention to you than they are. You are not running a gauntlet of judgement with every tweet. People just don't... care that much about you (or me!)

Also: Twitter is not a game. You don't win by having the most followers. People who are not interested in what you are tweeting have the option to un-follow you, and that's OK. It's not a referendum on your personal worth, nor is it your job to be all things to all people.

I would urge you to be totally selfish in your approach to Twitter. Tweet what you want to tweet; follow and follow back only those people who you genuinely want to read every tweet from. I know that isn't the traditional Twitter recipe but I have to tell you that it is what makes Twitter very comfortable for me. It's something I do, not something I "manage."

In terms of personal vs professional, I am on a bunch of Twitter lists people put together for design, so I assume people follow me because I am a professional web designer. Despite that I almost never tweet about design stuff. I do, however, swear a lot, yell at the news, and opine on politically hot topics. I'm a person, not a brand, and people who want professional resources and links are better served following others.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know that it's necessary to have more than one twitter account, but I know many people who do. Most people I know with multiple accounts use a client (I use hootsuite) because it makes it easier to switch between accounts. Most people I know with multiple accounts rarely post the same thing to both accounts.

I have a personal twitter and a public twitter (and one that is actually my organization's account). My personal twitter account is mostly my family and a very small circle of intimates. I started it when twitter was brand new and it was primarily a way for me to say "Hey mom, it's after midnight and I'm home safe with the door locked" or "hey, sis, meet me at Julius Meinl in about 20 min" or "here is the adorable thing my cat is doing today." There's nothing there that would get me fired or embarrass me, but it's not stuff I'd put on a lighted billboard outside my house for everyone to know, so it's private. It's boring/stupid/trivial to people who don't love me and it makes it a little too easy for people I don't care to know where I am to find me at any minute of the day. That's why it's private; it's noise, personal noise, that I want to limit the audience for.

My public twitter started as a professional one when I was looking for a job--to keep abreast of hot topics in my field and create ambient awareness of me, my colleagues, events and topics in that field. It's expanded a bit to include friends, so it's less focused on my professional interests now. I might include my shoes today, or what I'm listening to, or what cocktail me & the guy are concocting tonight. I tend to agree with the other people in this thread: unless you are the official twitter of an institution, you'll have a better experience and a better conversation in twitter if you let the personal sneak in.

Oh, and DarlingBri is completely right. Twitter is noisy, silly, irrelevant, even when you manage a brilliant tweet, almost no-one is paying attention to you.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:54 AM on June 15, 2011

I have more than one account but I don't set any of them to be protected. On my phone I have separate apps for each account so I know which version of me should be speaking and use different web browsers for each account for the same reason.

A professional one is connected to linkedin and facebook, which is my full name and uses a real picture of me. Which like misskaz I need to tweet more from, that is mostly about things related to work, articles and events/barcamps/hackdays I'm attending and the odd fun thing. A lot of my friend also have two accounts, with many of them having the personal one set as protected, so being able to talk to the public version of them is useful if we need to talk with someelse.

A personal account, which is the one linked from my profile here, this doesn't use a real picture of me or list my full name, just my first name. This is mostly me talking with friends, sorting out cinema or pub trips, fun links or general silliness.

The biggest difference between my accounts for me is I'm out on my personal account and in real life but not on my professional account, which is one area I tend to keep very separate. I have not desire to be martyr and only can see a down side if I was out in my work life.
posted by Z303 at 9:52 AM on June 15, 2011

I have a private account, but a lot of my followers are people who know me professionally. I try to aim for a balance - no more than two "tweet"s in a row about "silly" things like my cat or what I had for breakfast. But to avoid pissing off friends, I also try not to tweet solely about work topics. It probably helps that I only tweet about twice a day, so it's not like I'm going to be filling anyone's feed with stuff they don't want to hear.
posted by lollusc at 5:54 PM on June 15, 2011

Honestly every person I know who cares about open data advocacy also cares about Americanos at the new coffee place and Relevant Political Issues and probably is at least amenable to finding about new music by artists like Bon Iver.

I mean I'm exceptional in that I don't care about Bon Iver. Your disparate tastes will fit right in because they are similar to the disparate tastes of those in a similar demographic?

If you were occasionally tweeting about being really into Norwegian black metal, I could see how that might be a little out of step but probably not even that much.

The biggest thing to me is probably don't talk sh!t about your friends and don't get angry, it's just Twitter, it's not worth it - anger always looks dumb later on.
posted by citron at 7:34 PM on June 15, 2011

I have the following types of people following me on Twitter:

- people from my town who would spread gossip about me
- Internet anime people
- people who speak only Japanese

There's nothing wrong with any of these kinds of people, but I recognize that they put barriers on what I should write.

I've stopped tweeting about my personal life-- none of those groups wants to read it anyway. I limit myself to reposting interesting news about art, culture, politics, and translating stuff from Japanese. All links must be worksafe and appropriate for a schoolteacher to be posting.

If I had a group of close friends who talked about silly things all the time, I would have no problem with making a second, private account. I'm serving way too many needs with my primary account; it's still me, but it's me as a dutiful reporter, not as a whiny, stressed teacher. Just accept that you have different things to say in public and in private. It's the most natural thing in the world.
posted by shii at 5:57 AM on June 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone! Many of your responses have made me feel better about the value of humanizing my online presence, so I think I'll do yet another trial run of making my Twitter account public.
posted by thisjax at 6:50 AM on June 21, 2011

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