To split or not to split: keeping separate Twitter identities

Secret Identity

Note: this post mirrors one I posted on the PSCC Mobile Fellows blog. I think it will interest this audience also.

Brandon Ballentine and I talked about this a bit on an episode of our new podcast, Mobile Talk. (Promotional bit: you can subscribe on iTunes or via RSS feed, or look at the Podcast category for past episodes.) Twitter can be quite a useful tool for sharing information among colleagues and students, and there are a number of mobile tools for managing it. (My favorite is Hootsuite, available for iOS and Android.)

There is a practical question for teachers, though: do you maintain a separate account for professional-interest tweets, or do you simply tweet as yourself from one account for everything you’re interested in?

There are advantages and disadvantages both ways.

Facebook limits you in a way on this. By their terms of service, you are supposed to have a single presence as yourself. If you want to foster certain identities (such as your work as a book author, for instance), you are supposed to use your personal account to set up a Page. You can post as yourself or as your Page, and people who only know you through your Page will not necessarily have access to your personal information. I have written elsewhere about how I use Facebook vs. other social media platforms; it’s enough to say here that I use Facebook mostly for connecting to friends.

Twitter allows you to have as many accounts as you want, though the email address for a given account must be unique. (In other words, I can’t use my Pellissippi State email address as the basis for more than one Twitter account.) But the ease of setting up accounts on Yahoo, Google, and Hotmail make this a very low barrier. It would be simple if I were one of those folks who tweets about every little thing I do–I would just have one account for the food pictures and opinions about the likelihood of a Firefly revival, another for activities related to my own writing and speaking, and another for academic things.

But I don’t generally post about personal things on Twitter (my Firefly ruminations go to Facebook). Plus, there’s no clear division between the things I write and speak about vs. academic concerns.

I had to decide when I integrated a Twitter feed into my online courses. I never tweet anything that I don’t want the whole world to see, so I wasn’t worried about embarrassing content. But I wanted to avoid even a hint of promoting myself. So I set up a separate Twitter account I intended to use just for posting things of interest to students.

The problems began immediately.

  • Your Twitter account usually stays logged in on your browser. When I wanted to post from the “other” account, I had to log out, and then log back in. Eventually, I got in the habit of logging out as soon as I posted, but that just meant I had to log in every time I wanted to post something.
  • Your Twitter account is even more tightly bound to your mobile device. Logging out of the Twitter app (or, in my case, the Hootsuite app) and then into another account is more of a hassle. Consequently, I usually didn’t bother to post for my students from a mobile device, and by the time I had reached my laptop I had forgotten whatever it was.
  • People who weren’t students found the account and followed it. I didn’t care that they saw the content, but most of the time a cursory glance revealed that they really needed to follow my “main” account, and it was nearly impossible to get them to switch.

It became a moot point when a technical issue left the Twitter feed no longer working. The “academic” account languished. Every once in awhile, a random person finds and follows it, even though I haven’t posted there in forever, which means they’re missing the useful content from my main account.

For me, a better solution lies in the judicious use of hashtags and shutting down my “academic” account. If I can ever get the Twitter feed working again, I will make it follow my “main” Twitter feed, but only pull in tweets with a class-related hashtag, such as #kingspeech.

That’s not ideal–after all, that takes up 11 characters out of the 140 available. It also means that people who are not students could get subjected to tweets in which they have no interest. But that’s the nature of Twitter, really. And since my academic interests pretty closely follow all my other interests, it should be too disturbing to anyone who follows me on Twitter.

Facebook would be a different story. But I’m not going to use Facebook with my students.

What about you? Do you maintain separate identities in social media? If so, how?

Photo by Flickr user Thomas R. Stegelmann. Used under Creative Commons license.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.