Many me

October 7, 2009

I first joined Twitter in 2007. In fact, if www.whendidyoujointwitter.com is correct, I joined on 20th February 2007.

My first account was @dmje. I tweeted in that way that everyone seems to first tweet – a sporadic few “just what the hell is this Twitter thing all about?” followed by a long gap, followed by a re-emergence as more people I knew found themselves on it. I also, of course, blogged (“All Noise, No Signal“) and have been slowly eating my words (some of them, not all) ever since.

For a long time, my @dmje account worked well. But after a while, I started to become very aware that the person that I am (opinionated, personal, direct, a little bit sweary..) was different from the person I either *should* be or was somehow expected to be (professional, supportive, focused).

At that point in time – in fact, prompted by a slightly sweaty moment in which I tweeted a few bits and bobs which I probably shouldn’t have from a professional perspective – I decided to make @dmje a private account and create a new public persona, @m1ke_ellis. Again, according to whendidyoujointwitter, this happened on 22nd May 2009.

I went through a fairly painful process of moving across *some* contacts to my m1ke_ellis account but leaving others at @dmje. My criteria? Very, very loose, but broadly based around: “If we’ve met and drunk a beer together then @dmje, otherwise @m1ke_ellis…”. There are exceptions to this rule, though. Obviously ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m now maybe 5 months down the line, and I’m still not entirely happy with the outcome; although each time I think about the possible alternatives I always come back to what I’ve done as being the best way, albeit far from perfect.

Here’s the thinking:

The good:

  • I can continue to rant, unabridged and privately (except, obviously, to a group of trusted and known personal friends) using my @dmje account. I use this account far more than my public one (sadly, nearly 10,000 tweets…)
  • I follow about 120 people, I have about 110 people who I’ve allowed to follow me.ย These people are real to me. In true Dunbar style, I see my Twitter stream for @dmje and feel a personal connection with each and every person on that list.
  • …I can therefore cope with the quantity and noise
  • Tweets to and from the @dmje account are much more conversational, much less “broadcast”
  • I can retain a “professional” persona at @m1ke_ellis, tweeting about work and technology related stuff. This is particularly useful at conferences and so on
  • Having a public account of some description is useful when it comes to feeding a stream to blogs, profile, and so on

The bad:

  • By far and away the single worst thing about this approach is this: I’m not two people, and although this can sometimes get ugly (yes, I ranted about Creative Spaces; no, I wasn’t particularly “professional”, but I feel passionate about some things..)
  • From a marketeers perspective (and I don’t subscribe to this viewpoint at all, btw), I’ve done A Bad Thing by splitting my Twitter accounts. While I’ve watched some people moving up to thousands of followers, I’ve split my juice (urg!) across 2 accounts. Actually, more – I also use @bathcamp and @eduserv for other specific purposes. If I was after followers (I’m not), I should probably have stuck with a single “me” account.
  • Maintaing two or more accounts is challenging, logistically. Although Tweetdeck (my preferred desktop client) and EchoFon (mobile) both support multiple accounts now, it is very easy to tweet the wrong thing to the wrong account. More to the point, it is hard to maintain momentum with an account if your attention isn’t on it all the time

There is a deeper point to all this: Embracing social media requires a fairly complex understanding of personality and tone of voice. I might be a more professional me over at @m1ke_ellis, but how is that me different to the me at @dmje? You’re not likely to hear about my kids, my wife, my life, my hangovers, the gig I just went to, the #bus14 journey I nearly got killed on.

But there again, if you’re listening to the professional me then you probably don’t want to hear that anyway, right? Or do you? How real is the me who just talks about work? Not very, in one sense, because my family and that other stuff is (obviously) waaaay more important than my working life. And it’s not like I can effectively split my interests in that way. I live and breathe web stuff – this is far from being a day job for me.

Actually, I think the most successful social media people and companies manage to balance this rather better than I have. Take @andypowe11 for example. He’s public and not only tweets about metadata and work stuff but also rants on occasion, too. He’s got better self control than me (he’s as rude, but swears less..), but still.

I don’t like Twitter as broadcast mechanism, and I think naturally once you pass a level of followers/followees that is what it becomes, unless you’re on top of it all of the time. Personally I dislike it when I “@” someone and they don’t reply; clearly someone with thousands of followers is unlikely to respond all of the time. Twitter then moves from being a conversation to being something different, a something which I feel doesn’t carry the personality which social media perhaps should.

14 thoughts on “Many me

  1. I certainly agree there are some issues here – and I’m not sure there’s a right answer, in terms of one account or two.

    On Twitter (which I see as being 95% professional) I’ve had professional followers complain (mildly) about my personal tweets. On the other hand, on Facebook (which I see as 95% personal, even though I still have many more professional ‘friends’) I’ve had personal friends complain about my professional status updates.

    My personal approach is to stick with a single account, and a single tone. It seems to me that we are who we are. Creating two accounts doesn’t change that… it just tries to hide certain aspects of oneself from certain people. Something that probably won’t work and is of questionable value anyway?

    There’s only one Mike that goes down the pub?

    Yes, I rant occasionally. Usually I regret doing so afterwards… but that is part of what I am. Ranting isn’t necessarily unprofessional (depending on how you define that term) provided 1) (as you suggest) that it comes from a passionate place and people generally understand that to be the case and 2) that one admits any ranting mistakes publicly.

    Speaking only for myself, I’d rather hear, and understand, someone’s real viewpoint (even if delivered as a rant) than not know where they are coming from (and/or saying in private) because they spend their life worried they’ll upset people.

    In the main, I’d prefer to do that via a single Twitter account (as both follower and followed – remember that maintaining knowledge about multiple Twitter accounts has a (small) cost to the follower as well).

    But I also understand that not everyone sees the world like that – so I have to modify my behaviour (thru the single Twitter account) accordingly.

  2. There is indeed only one Mike that goes down the pub (although a slightly different one seems to come home…), but I don’t think that equates as naturally as you suggest (in certain environments, for example, not a million miles away..) to “hey, everyone is open”.

    So while I’d agree 100% about your “open, honest, real viewpoint”, and value both your Twitter and blog accounts for doing this, I suspect there are many companies who would see this as incredibly threatening.

  3. A thought provoking post, Mike.

    I hoped to split my ‘dual identities’ between Facebook and Twitter, but it just didn’t work out. Suffering as people like me do, from social media overload (Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, etc etc) I never could decide how to split it. Is that photo public, friends, or family only, or a combination? Should that tweet actually be on Facebook, or both?

    It’s a tough call, and photos aside, I just decided that I’ll use Twitter for most things, only popping a few things on Facebook when I remember via some FB app or other. I think I’d rather people know the Tom who goes to the pub as well as the Tom who works in archaeology. Chances are if we meet at a conference people will see both anyway after a few pints.

    I say ‘I think’, as there are times I do think of something I’d like to tweet, but don’t (it’s a bit pesonal, or deeply random), I could put on Facebook, but can’t be arsed to log in (when I’ve a Twitter client open most of the time). I think that’s why I’ve been on Twitter as long as you, but have only tweeted a quarter of your total.

    I have the ‘like it or lump (unfollow) it” attitude. I’ll tweet about dinner, cider, archaeology and web technologies, because it’s all me. As a result, perhaps I’m a bit (lot) more cautious in what I tweet, and maybe come across a bit dull.

    That all said, I remain tempted to have a personal account and tweet with abandon, but I just know I’d mess it up and choose the wrong account in a scrumpy-induced haze.

    I do split my personal blog tom.goskar.com from my ‘professional’ one http://www.pastthinking.com and funnily enough the traffic to both has declined.

    I’ll stop now because I’ve used too many brackets.

  4. Lots of really interesting issues around this in the post and comments. It seems we would all like to be open about ourselves and express our opinions freely in the real and virtual worlds, but we come across barriers to this or realisations that make us nervous as the technologies and communities develop.
    I wonder if the blurring between professional and personal has been as a result of technology or just increased by it (probably the latter). Either way, there’s a significant generation of us who share this inclination and it can make for a much richer work life and contributes to a confusing concept of work/life balance.
    I guess it comes down to feeling passionate about work, which seems to be much more common than it used to. I suspect that easy access to so much more information and opinion has helped to fuel that and of course we have so many ways to broadcast, share our thoughts and find others who agree or stimulate discussion of alternative views.
    So many fascinating avenues to explore and never enough time to do them justice!

  5. @Tom – thanks for commenting..

    I think in general I have the “LIOLI” attitude, too, but I think it is muddied when the personal voice gets muddied up with company voice. I was thinking last night about how different I’d feel if I worked for myself or owned my own agency: I think I’d then be entirely happy to just be me on all of my communication channels. Partly this is about the fact that not all companies are as progressive as they should be, and still see “Their Voice” as being sacrosanct, and “The Employee” as not a voice but a component part.

    FWIW I don’t find your tweets dull at all, but I’m always a fan of even more scrumpy-related whitterings ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Would you prefer to have some blogging features added back to twitter so you could tag tweets with categories and people could restrict follows to particular combinations of categories/topics? In that way your followers could decide their own signal-to-noise or pain tolerances to the overly geeky stuff.

    That in itself wouldn’t free you from worries about whether more colourful blowing-off-steam could be seen as unprofessional. When I bump into protected feeds I can’t help but wonder what are they hiding? Are they self-important? being ‘secretly’ unprofessional? or simply creeped out at the idea of putting their life on show. It’s really frustrating trying to follow threads that suddenly stop at a protected user. All or nothing seems too course grained, are you simply using two users as a kludge or do they perform some useful partitioning of intended audience and tone.

    Even then how do you handle the overlap? have you ever had to turn anybody from your professional life down from @dmje? – “you couldn’t handle the real me”. It’s not like things don’t leak from protected feeds, its easy enough for somebody to make a cut&paste retweet or heaven forbid put a screenshot of it into a public presentation. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You’d need a level of trust and followers of both aspects would also need to understand what topics and tone where applicable to which person. It does sound complicated.

    So far I’ve stuck with the one public profile, but consciously avoided passing on any specific details or names about who I work for (at least while I had a job). In my head at least this gave me some level of deniability if say I moaned about something stupid that’d happened at work. But I might well feel differently if anybody from the office started following me.

    Do wonder how you use tweetdeck to keep up with so many followers in each account, I can only get 3-4 columns on the screen, most of mine are groups on general/likely topic themes. I’ve also started using brizzy whose groups also allow me to add people I’m not following in twitter. A kind of dark-follows, which stops any fringe or noisy interests from polluting the main feed, but feels a little creepy (esp. if I’m tempted to reply).

  7. @Richard – Yes, I think that there are a few simple tweaks which could improve the experience, hopefully without compromising on simplicity. Groups (of course..), filters, etc – would be good.

    I think you’re right about some of the practicalities. I should also be clear – I’m very (very!) careful with *any* online content to not mention people or employers by name, and rude though I might be, I try (most of the time) not to go *too* far ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think the trust thing applies as it does to – say – an email. The implicit trust level in a private account I think applies in the same way. I don’t think many people would publicise a private email by publishing it. I could be wrong.

    Have I turned people away from @dmje? – yes. I get fairly frequent requests to follow which I treat just like anyone with a private account would treat requests to follow in Twitter, Facebook, wherever.

    I actually find Tweetdeck pretty good – not ideal – but better than anything else I’ve used . Ditto Echofon for mobile use.

  8. @Emma – I think you’re right about the passionate bit, especially – I guess – in the web industry where people don’t tend to be day-jobbers. The fact that stuff kind of “leaks” from day job to night-time hobby does make the lines even more blurred. In time we’ll get used to it and with any luck companies will become more relaxed about individuals having individual identities..

  9. This is an issue I’ve grappled with too.

    I suppose I’m in the camp that says one persona doesn’t necessarily fit all.

    After all, in pre-Web times (yes, yes, THAT long ago), the persona I presented to my friends down the pub, the things I said and the way I said them, was quite different to the one I presented to my employer.

    And even down the pub, I might have presented different personas depending on who I was in the pub with.

    Similarly with the work context, I’ve had jobs where I’ve felt comfortable revealing a good deal of my personal life to colleagues and managers, and I’ve had jobs where I’ve felt much more cautious.

    That doesn’t have to be because I’m “worried” about some “repercussions” based on what I say; it may just be that I don’t think it’s any of their business.

    I also don’t think it’s as simple as a binary personal/professional or private/public thing (even a blurred binary thing!), and we actually present several different personas.

    And currently at least, many social networking tools are ill-equipped to provide that sort of flexibility.

  10. Mike,

    I followed the professional you on Twitter for a while but eventually unsubscribed – bored with all the tech tiny urlโ€™s, code nonsense and such.

    Now I just follow the personal you – he makes me laugh with inconsequential inanities, made-up swear words and mapping frequent fatherly naps.

    I think it is nice to have a split Twitter personality. Twitter is undeniably a marketing tool nowadays, go with that I say and target your 140 characters properly.

  11. @Jane – lol, thanks (I think :-))

    You’re right thou – and this clearly shows that there are different “audiences” (god, horrible in my dmje context) for different bits of content..

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