Twitter Etiquette – Should You Separate Personal From Professional?

Today, we are talking about Twitter, and how many accounts it is appropriate to maintain. I apologize in advance for a lengthy post, but there’s a lot to say here and it’s a topic that has been in my head for years – literally.

I was urged to join Twitter when I was in high school, but didn’t jump in until I was a freshman in college (shoutouts to Molly Eadie and Mark Trova). Since then, I have embraced it as a way connect with friends, meet new people and share content. If you’ve known me for more than a day or two, you know that I’m a self-admitted Twitter-holic.

Twitter - Follow Me

In those early days, I maintained two separate accounts. While one allowed me to interact socially with friends, the other was a platform to share what I deemed “professional” content – news articles, blog posts, comments on the PR industry, etc. Basically, as a college student and aspiring professional, I wanted to put myself in a light that would make me seem the most hire-able.

I always felt a little strange about having two accounts, though. It seemed just as dirty as living a double life in real life probably does. I know that other people are unsure of how to handle this situation, too. It’s a frequent question asked at professional conferences, and you can find a plethora of advice by searching Google.  After much deliberation, I eventually deleted my “social” Twitter account and opened the flood-gates to my “professional” account.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

“Jim, I have to come clean about something… I unfollowed you on Twitter the other day.”

In my slow (but nonetheless legitimate and obsessive) quest for one million followers, rarely did the thought ever cross my mind that my following could actually decrease. I had heard rumors of people being unfollowed, but really I assumed they were fake – just like low-fat yogurt and weight rooms.

And yet here was real evidence that I had been unfollowed – by someone I had known in real life for years!

Yesterday, I took to (what else?) Twitter to ask my friends if they had any opinions on the polarizing issue. To my not-quite-surprise, all three responses I received were pretty similar – keep personal and professional tweets separate. (**Full disclosure – all three responses were from college-aged individuals who only have one Twitter account, leading me to believe that they simply don’t use Twitter for a professional purpose.)

Let me begin by saying that I completely understand why people would feel this way. On Twitter, you want to be as relevant as possible to your followers. By tweeting an abundance of things that followers aren’t interested in, you’re just asking to be unfollowed and black-listed. But I have no intention of “dividing and conquering.” And here’s why:

Be Authentic

Frequent advice to new users of tools like social networks and blogs is to always, always be authentic. Your social efforts only go as far as your credibility allows, right? This is the reason I had such a negative reaction to Chipotle’s recent staged hacking.

I definitely have a lot of passions: friends, work, music, sports, beer…  and in my opinion, social networks (especially an open one like Twitter) should be a window into a person’s life. Concealing parts of myself from some individuals and other parts from other individuals makes it seem like you have something to hide. Unless you make a huge effort to regularly let all of your followers know that there is another account that you’re tweeting from, using two accounts is less than authentic.

On the web, you ARE what you publish

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from David Meerman Scott is that “On the web, you ARE what you publish.” By the same logic, on the web, what you publish is what you are. And here’s the thing – I’m only one person, so how can I justify using multiple accounts? Wouldn’t doing so essentially be diluting who I really am?

On the web, you are what you publish

Build Relationships

One huge benefit to tweeting about different things under the same account is that it truly allows individuals to get to know you at a more personal level.

Think about the people you know in “real life.” Take co-workers, for example. Chances are, the colleagues that you bond with the most while at work are the ones that you find things to connect on other than work. When you meet someone new, don’t you usually like them more if you have a lot in common?

When I tweet about work-related things, it gives my friends and family a better idea of what I do for a living. Likewise, when I tweet about Dave Matthews Band or the Lakers, it gives my co-workers a better idea of who I truly consider myself to be. Relationships of any sort are able to be built and grown when we can bond with each other over a variety of things. By dividing professional themed content and personal themed content, you are losing a great deal of the ability to meet and engage with new people.

If you read this post thinking that I would soon be taking the professional content out of my Twitter updates (or vice versa), you’re out of luck. But, fortunately for you, ending the relationship that we share on twitter isn’t one that requires us to each turn our key. Don’t feel bad about unfollowing me… I don’t fear it anymore.

I can’t wait to hear where you land on this debate. How many Twitter profiles do you maintain, and why?

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About Jim Mignano

Jim Mignano is a young professional practicing and learning Public Relations in Rochester, NY. He is passionate about the possibilities that digital media provide and loves utilizing new platforms for a variety of functions. James' blog is about people and the technology they use. It's about communication and persuasion... the old and the new ways of doing things... the struggle between sticking to the tried, true recipes and experimenting with intuitive, innovative ideas. It's an extension and reflection of James himself: the convergence of ambition & ability.
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4 Responses to Twitter Etiquette – Should You Separate Personal From Professional?

  1. One of my favorite quotes. Thanks for sharing, James.

    • jmignano10 says:

      Quickly becoming one of my favorites too, David. I really think it’s a foundation-principle for anyone representing themselves or an organization online!

  2. I have been thinking about that lately since I started I cofounded a startup and I was wondering if investors would judge me for my random sometimes insane blabber on twitter

    • Investors definitely adds a completely new layer to the issue that I hadn’t considered before. Unfortunately, though, even if you did use two accounts in an effort to hide certain things from certain groups, it’s always possible for investors to find that personal account anyway.

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