Twitter profile management
April 17, 2021 10:25 AM   Subscribe

How do people manage their personal twitter profile and balance against having a job that is potentially public facing?

A lot of people I see on Twitter (especially academics, Comms professionals, politicos, etc) use their full name and job title in their twitter bio.

But I see them tweeting a lot of spicy things, hot takes, random verbal diarrhea, radical political opinions, extreme snark. I don't understand how this works - why do they not fear reprisal from their employers? Why are they okay with being publicly associated with really bad ideas and just plain nonsense and stupidity?

I used to have my full name on my Twitter profile, along with my job title, because I was the social media manager for an account for the non profit that I did comms for. But I recently moved to the public service, and now I'm not sure what to do with my account. On one hand, ''followers'' know who I am and my career, and it's allowed me to make some connections and get job interviews. On the other hand, I haven't kept my posts strictly professional. I like to sometimes tweet random thoughts of whimsy or about topics I'm passionate about.

Would it be weird to completely remove any identifying factors from my Twitter so that going forward no one can tell who it is (I see a lot of accounts like that). Or should I just keep my full name there, and create a new account for whimsical thoughts and the occasional hot take?

I find Twitter is a bit of a creative outlet for me since I'm a word nerd, and I like the game of crafting concise ideas into 280 tweets. But I'm struggling to understand how and why people use it for professional purposes, when it seems so risky and potentially career-ruining.

Any insights are much appreciated.
posted by winterportage to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I bet that most of the people you see who have cut loose on Twitter are wealthier white men who are fairly secure in their positions and who, as a class, do not fear reprisals for expressing personal opinions.

Women, queer and trans folk, people of colour, people in fragile employment situations, all are much, much more buttoned up online.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:28 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Sorry to edit: but just wanted to say, the posts I'm seeing are not wealthy white men. My feed is very skewed towards the left and I see posts from a variety of perspectives actually many of them identify as queer, many are women and many are BIPOC. I don't think I follow any white wealthy men so those are not the perspectives I'm talking about. In theory, you'd think that concept would apply (that only those with privilege would feel free to let loose because they're not in any jeopardy of being punished), but from what I've seen it really doesn't.
posted by winterportage at 10:32 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Well, some academics still have tenure, and elected officials are safe at least until the next election.

But I think you’re wrong to say these kinds of tweets never blow up. Probably the easiest source of story ideas for Fox News is leftist academics tweeting snark. But yeah, ultimately not many people care.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:41 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: But I think you’re wrong to say these kinds of tweets never blow up. Probably the easiest source of story ideas for Fox News is leftist academics tweeting snark. But yeah, ultimately not many people care.

This is essentially what I'm wondering. Why don't people tweeting this stuff get embarrassed, and why don't they care when it blows up? Why are they not in any way cautious or risk-aware and how do they get away with it? A lot of them don't have tenure. What I'm wondering is what motivates them to do this. I'm trying to understand how to 'read' Twitter, but finding it either 1) nonsensical or 2) meaningless.
posted by winterportage at 10:49 AM on April 17


Best answer: If you’re in comms, your feed is going to be examined as part of your brand and a lot (not all) of comms people keep it light for that reason. I think you’re bringing that sensibility to it.

In other fields it’s perceived as less common to check for more than egregious stuff (but it can happen.)
posted by warriorqueen at 10:58 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I use TweetDeck, from Twitter themselves. Lets you login as 2 (or more) accounts at the same time. Just have ot make sure you have the right account highlighted when you answer tweets.
posted by kschang at 10:59 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I somewhat disagree about blowing up. There were infamous examples of corporate accounts tweeting WTFkeries. Wasn't too long ago that BK's official account tweeted something like "Woman's Place is in the Kitchen" or something misogynist stuff like that.

And I disagree about the consequences. There has been plenty of faux pas over tweets and other social media posts. There's even a book about it by Michael Schlossberg.
posted by kschang at 11:05 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I have a verified Twitter account and I talk about whatever I want. I am a white woman who has a few part-time jobs none of whom care at all about what I do on Twitter, it's not really real to them in my industry. I working in and with libraries and even though there's an active Library Twitter, the sort of upper ranks of librarianship don't really use it or seemingly care.

I am pretty careful not to be an asshole to anyone other than extreme assholes but I will sometimes snark at those people. My name and postal address are on my account. The negative repercussions for me are mostly people just being angry jerks (bots and real people) and I block with impunity. I think for a lot of people engagement, any engagement, is kind of the goal. I'm definitely a careful tweeter in a lot of ways, but clearly other people aren't. I have a few observations

- many people have ALT accounts that are locked and they use those more for private stuff. For extreme snarkers, they may use this for more personal "Hey I am a person with feelings" type of posts
- many people delete their old tweets so there's not as much of a record of older stuff they did or said
- many people just don't get embarrassed in the same way I do, or they've evaluated the risks differently. I think not everyone has a job that cares about how people use social media, or just feel it's something they do on their personal time. Like, you're allowed to have a job and say you have that job but also tweet and have it not be part of your job.

My sister has a public job in government and she's got her full name in her account but it's a common name and she doesn't have a picture of herself and she doesn't tweet about work, ever. For her this is enough distance so that she can engage in some twitter grabassery. I think some peopel do the opposite, have a made up name of some kind but keep a photo so people will realize they've reached the right person.

At some level, everyone's bad ideas are someone else's good idea (in nearly all cases) and so a lot of what Twitter is about, to me, is finding your people and interacting with them. That's going to vary from person to person a lot, and in the same way, how much people care about those interactions is likewise pretty fluid.
posted by jessamyn at 11:14 AM on April 17 [7 favorites]


There is no such thing as bad publicity. The snark etc. is part of their brand. They are selling their brand and whoever they work for likes the attention it brings.
posted by Toddles at 11:44 AM on April 17


Why are they okay with being publicly associated with really bad ideas and just plain nonsense and stupidity?
Why don't people tweeting this stuff get embarrassed


because people don't usually think their own ideas are stupid bullshit, even if you do. it has probably not occurred to them that they could express ideas other than the ones they have.

I don't know why anybody attaches their full real name to their personal twitter accounts, and I think it is always unwise. but whatever the name on an account, the only point of having it is to say what you think. using it as a bland reputational management tool looks very strange to outside observers unless it's part of someone's paid employment to do so. people who don't work in a specific kind of framework don't think of their casual non-workplace remarks in terms of brand maintenance, and aren't pressured to do so by their employers. thank god.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:25 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I'm in academia, and off-hand I can think of three professors who lost their jobs just this year for things they Tweeted. I can think of a couple more that have had to deal with admin threatening them. This includes tenured professors.

At least for academia (though I imagine it's similar in other careers), we're still in a transitional phase where a portion of people are very online, a portion barely understand what Twitter even is, and a lot of people are somewhere in between. I finished my PhD recently, and it was only at the end of my time in grad school that the topic of social media use started to get discussed. My hunch is that in the next 5-10 years, most universities will start to have clear policies and include these are part of orientation for grad students and faculty. But this was not part of my fairly recent new faculty orientation. In short, there isn't a lot of clarity of what is okay and what is not okay.

people who don't work in a specific kind of framework don't think of their casual non-workplace remarks in terms of brand maintenance, and aren't pressured to do so by their employers.

Agreed, but at least in academia this is changing. The number of right wing websites looking for targets, the increased pressure of higher ed institutions to attract a dwindling number of college-aged students, and the fact that college boards of trustees continue to be fairly conservative, have collided to make higher ed administrations increasingly expect faculty to be like brand ambassadors. Of course, it varies a fair bit institution to institution - a college whose brand is being a leftist bastion isn't going to care what Campus Reform thinks about their professors, but sadly a lot of colleges do care.

Anyway, I agree with jessamyn that a good rule of thumb is to be nice and engage in minimal to no snark. Keeping things 100% professional is safer, but as noted, you're more likely to find your people if you tweet more opinions or parts of your personality. But I definitely think it's a mistake to treat Twitter like a close confidant.
posted by coffeecat at 1:33 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


It is very easy for literally any tweet to piss someone off and have it blow up your life. (Go read the Lindsay Ellis thread on that topic if you want more.) You may think things are fine now, but literally at any time now any tweet may destroy you. So paranoia as to exactly what you post is good. I would say that if your real name/work is on anything, for the love of god keep it boring/professional/innocuous if you can. If you want to say literally anything else, put it on an anonymous account.

"But I see them tweeting a lot of spicy things, hot takes, random verbal diarrhea, radical political opinions, extreme snark. I don't understand how this works - why do they not fear reprisal from their employers? Why are they okay with being publicly associated with really bad ideas and just plain nonsense and stupidity?"


I'm guessing these people have not been burnt/learned the hard way yet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:48 PM on April 17


“why don't they care when it blows up?”

I agree with coffeecat that things are changing, but at least in the recent past, if you were a leftist criticized by Fox News, you probably wouldn’t have regarded that as a bad thing. Of course Fox disagrees with you. It would be weirder if Fox didn’t disagree. But at least until recently, you had to be *really* incendiary to attract enough attention to take action. Even then, your boss or department chair is probably a little sympathetic to you, either personally or politically.

“I'm trying to understand how to 'read' Twitter, but finding it either 1) nonsensical or 2) meaningless”

It sounds like you pretty much figured out Twitter, then.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:35 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of academics on Twitter who post controversial things under their real names. Contrary to what's been suggested here, the majority of them aren't white men and they're not idiots.

Here are some reasons that they post controversial things, despite the potential consequences:

(a) They're already politically active off of Twitter and their Twitter will be the least of their worries if they try to get hired somewhere their opinions could hurt them;

(b) While their opinions are controversial in the world at large, they're not controversial - or at least not considered offensive and dangerous - in the limited sphere where they envision themselves working;

(c) They're academics, and are reluctant to censor themselves because of the fear of retaliation;

(d) They've made the choice not to segregate their personal interests and opinions from their academic personas, on political or pedagogical grounds;

(d) The academy is broken and they don't fucking care anymore, if something they posted keeps them from getting a job well good fucking riddance.

Personally, I've made a similar choice, though not on Twitter. I was once teaching a class that required more hours of preparation than I was being paid for and was cutting into my research time. I believed that being transparent about how academic institutions work is important, so I told my students why certain things weren't done yet. I even told them that I was considering filing a grievance with my union. This made it into my teaching reviews - not in a negative way, the students appreciated it, but it would certainly appear negative to a lot of hiring committees. Would I make a different choice now? Probably not. Fuck 'em. If I'd been active on Twitter at the time I probably would have posted about it there.

I've witnessed Real Consequences(tm) on Twitter play out at least once, with a grad student at my former institution getting into trouble for tweeting about being asked to teach material he thought was racist. Would he make a different choice now? Judging by his recent tweets, no.

Why are they okay with being publicly associated with really bad ideas and just plain nonsense and stupidity?

There's a big unstated assumption here: That they think they're really bad ideas and just plain nonsense and stupidity. Unless they're intentionally trolling, they probably don't.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:48 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


I have a public-facing job and a Twitter account that I use for a mix of professional and personal--but public--commentary and messaging. I present an honest version of myself on my account, but it is the version that you would see immediately if you met me at a party, not the intimate self that I share with my partner and close friends. If I comment on things that are directly related to my paid employment (as opposed to my profession in general) I stick to to the corporate message, but since I am also the one who normally determines that message, it's not very difficult.

I suppose there's always a chance that an opinion I share about a movie or something in the news could land the wrong way, or that clients could disagree with my take on a broad professional issue, but I am prepared to deal with that the same way I'd deal with it in real life. That said, I do go over my account every month or so and check for tweets that might have been fine in context at the time they were written but might be interpreted differently with the passage of time. I don't usually find anything but I think it's good practice.

The bottom line for me is that while I believe we should all be free to present our whole selves on line and elsewhere in life, doing so can create situations that need to be managed. Different people have different thresholds for the amounts of time and energy they are willing to put into that.
posted by rpfields at 3:56 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I am not on Twitter, but am on other social media. I use different privacy lists for different contexts (not a thing you can do in Twitter, but if I were on Twitter I guess I would use different profiles?). I work at a unionized workplace that helps protect our right to do our own thing in our private lives outside of work. However, I generally assume that if someone puts their employment details in their social media bio, they are using that social media account as part of their employment, and that standard workplace conduct rules should then apply. (That is, I would differentiate between a "Real Me, private individual" and a "Real Me, job title and employer" account in terms of what is reasonable to post.)
posted by eviemath at 6:32 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


But I see them tweeting a lot of spicy things, hot takes, random verbal diarrhea, radical political opinions, extreme snark.

Here's a somewhat different take on this from the above thread (I've been thinking about exactly how to put this for a couple days after seeing this question). I'm an academic who has my name in my profile, and I really don't enjoy participating in the slice of twitter represented by this list, so I don't. But I follow and know a ton of people who do.

There's no denying that (i) when twitter intersects with offline life, the consequences can be bad and messy, (ii) certain kinds of left-ish views can trigger attack mobs that spill over into real life (though I would describe many of these views not as "bad ideas" personally), and (iii) certain groups are disproportionately attacked in ways that intersect with point (ii). However, all of this is extraordinarily random, and it's very easy (especially for white men) for none of this to ever matter, or even when it matters a bit, for it to have a very, very low chance of spilling over into the offline world. Basically, I think on twitter, people vastly overestimate how important twitter is in the offline world. I just did some simple number crunching; the number of active twitter accounts in the US is about 20% of the population, and I recently read that about 80% of active content on twitter is generated by about 20% of users. This gives back-of-the-envelope about 4% of the US population that is actually fairly active on twitter. This is no doubt also quite stratified by age. The odds of something organically coming to an employer's notice in this scenario is basically nil. When something does go viral and lead to e.g. employment repercussions (or even just someone taking their account private for a while after a blowup), it's extremely noticeable, but relative to the amount of spiciness on twitter, this happening is just exceedingly rare, and so (like many rare events) people act as if it will never happen. And because of the raw probabilities involved, it very often doesn't!

Also, realistically I do think that most academic spiciness on twitter is just not very consequential, and people's typical memory for this stuff is miniscule. It's stupid inside baseball stuff about the role of innateness in syntactic theory or whatever (to take a recent example that got *extremely heated* in my TL, but is now gone entirely, with I expect no one's mind changed at all). The stuff that has more intersection with politics and can potentially have consequences may stand out, but most academic discussions are on topics where even the most particular academic employer is going to have 0.0 interest in attending to, no matter how dumb the take.

Finally, a lot of the academics I follow who do take certain positions that have the potential for attack mobs are people who are very consistent about this and have been doing it for a while. So you may also be seeing a certain amount of posting from very online people in the 20% of the 20% whose relationship with their employer (etc) has already been well-tested and survived.
posted by advil at 7:56 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Response by poster:
I somewhat disagree about blowing up. There were infamous examples of corporate accounts tweeting WTFkeries. Wasn't too long ago that BK's official account tweeted something like "Woman's Place is in the Kitchen" or something misogynist stuff like that.


I recommend reading more into that tweet about woman's place being in the kitchen.

It was actually a satirical post "tied to the chain's launch ... of an initiative to help increase the number of women in head-chef roles."

Sure, it was a risky move to post something like that, and the backlash probably didn't help further the awareness of the intended cause. But I will not defend anyone who spun themselves into a rage without even bothering to find out context about something they've read. There's nothing progressive or forward-looking about throwing misinformed tantrums online and the idea that that is some kind of activism makes me wanna barf tbh.
posted by winterportage at 9:05 AM on May 13


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