What does your Twitter feed say about you as a unique individual?
Who are you when you’re on Twitter – your personal self or your corporate self, or a combination of the two? Can you be both at the same time, or should the two be kept separate?
And who, indeed, are your tweets actually for? What does your audience look like?
These are questions I asked myself (and others) after reading Avery Holton & Logan Molyneux’s recent contribution to research into social media identity.
Their US-based research, entitled “Identity Lost? The Personal Impact of Brand Journalism” (2015) focussed on the dilemma facing journalists who engage with their audiences via social networks, and particularly whether their personal ‘brand’ conflicted with their organisational responsibilities.
You can read their paper here
Their research inspired me to reflect on my own social networking identities generally but particularly my Twitter identity.
@janerockhouse was set up in May 2010, when I was working freelance as a copywriter and in public relations.
Soon after I was appointed editor of a county lifestyle magazine owned by Archant Media. I rebranded my twitter feed to @shroplife-ed and the nature of my tweets changed accordingly.
No directives were imposed; the only guidance from above was: “Don’t post anything stupid”. I was now the public face of a magazine aimed at an ABC1 demographic in a rural shire county.
I was clearly imagining an audience of Shropshire Life readers and advertisers when I posted.
This is in line with research by Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd on the topic ‘I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse and the Imagined Audience’ (2010), which looks at how the audience we believe we are speaking to impacts on what we tweet. Read their paper here
The tweets were not personality-free zones but it would have been exceptionally naive to have been anything but a Shropshire Life version of me.
How then do journalists (and others) marry their desire to show their unique identity and engage on a personal level with the professional requirements and responsibilities of their position?
I contacted a former colleague, a regional newspaper editor, who said his Twitter profile was deliberately free of any political content or controversial views. This was in line with national company policy and also happens to be a stance he endorses.
He added: “I have a strict policy of only writing on social media something I would happily print in a newspaper.” It’s a mantra he shares with his journalists and expects them to abide by.
It’s not just journalists who face this dilemma. Professionals in other fields often want to showcase their sparkling wit, astute observations and opinions about the world at large, but risk their professional reputation if they cross an invisible line.
One teacher supervisor highlighted how this can lead to trouble – she was reprimanded for tweeting an opinion that clashed with the official line of her organisation. Her Twitter feed is now consciously “corporate” with no flavour of her in them.
Another former journalist posted a derogatory tweet about Donald Trump that portrayed him as a cartoon turd. She later removed it, reflecting that it might have a detrimental impact on her hunt for a new job.
A health trust manager said her Twitter feed was devoid of opinion, particularly about NHS issues. As she puts it: “I am very conscious of what I write and the audience.”
What does my current Twitter feed say about me? I think my output over the past 12 months can best be described as a mass of confusion, reflecting the myriad identities I currently hold.
These identities include business owner, proud mum, journalism and PR commentator, music lover, political activist, Kidderminster resident, regular visitor to Birmingham and Shrewsbury, and a representative of clients in the early years and health sectors.
So my feed is puncuated with tweets aimed at different audiences, yet of course there’s no way for people to know what is aimed at them and what is not (other than via direct message.)
We all have multiple sub-identities (as defined by Davis, 2011) but Twitter is probably not the ideal medium in which to share them all at once.
I’m now actively reconsidering my Twitter profile, what it stands for and what its identity is.
This exercise also coincides with a period of self reflection about my own identity more generally, linked to a rethink about how to divide my time and resources between different sub-identities over the coming 12 months and beyond.
What is apparent is that attempting to cram my whole self, and the whole truth, into 140 characters or less is a futile task.
Does your Twitter profile represent all of you? Should it, or could it? Tweet me: @janerockhouse
Thanks to colleagues and friends who responded to my request to share their thoughts on their own Twitter profile. Much appreciated.
Holton & Molyneux: Identity Lost? The Personal Impact of Brand Journalism (2015)
Marwick & Boyd: ‘I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse and the Imagined Audience’ (2010)
John B. Davis: Individuals and identity in economics. Cambridge (UK), Cambridge University Press (2011)