Can you successfully split your online identity in two?

Split personalitiesI’m not a particularly private person but neither do I hang my dirty washing out to dry online. I’m happy to share snapshots of my life with those people I brush shoulders with professionally but I won’t be letting any skeletons fall from the cupboards and into the internet. But equally, I’m not two people. So I can’t separate the ‘at home’ me from the ‘at work’ me because where does one end and the other begin?

I recently conducted a little experiment to see if I could split my professional and personal online personas into two – so one for work stuff and one for the out of hours stuff. I didn’t even realise that it was an experiment until it completely and utterly failed; I was somehow expecting it to be a simple step. Uh uh. So while it took me ages to create a new Twitter account, it didn’t take long to find out that I can’t split my personality in two.

Maybe, in part, it’s because of my job. From the day my career began, just because I left the office at 5pm that wasn’t to say I was off duty. I had to live on the patch of the newspaper I worked for (twas in the contract, so it was) and I’d get shot if I walked past an arson attack and failed to call it in just because it was Sunday. Now things have moved on… smartphones, for example, mean I can check email before tea, after tea, before the 10 o’clock news and just before bed, and swap tweets with stakeholders, so I’m never really off duty.

So, back to this experiment. A couple of discussions had led me to believe that maybe, just maybe, there should be a clearer divide between my personal and professional identities online.

Facebook isn’t an issue, for me it’s for friends only – and that does include colleagues I like – but it’s not for people I barely talked to at school, people I meet in bars or those who feel the need to friend request me because we share the same surname. Nope.

Talk a bit of shit

My main issue was with Twitter… should I have a professional account AND a personal one? So, let the experiment begin… I decided to use my established account as the pro one and set up another for spouting utter bollocks. Yes, tis true, I like to talk a bit of shit every now and then, who doesn’t?

But I hit an immediate problem: the people I follow and who follow me under @robynbateman didn’t automatically follow me back on my new personal account. And why should they? They already got what they needed from my initial account, the personal/professional issue was mine, not theirs.

And I found it pointless tweeting from my personal account when not very many people were listening. It was harder to start conversations because people didn’t know me as @personalusername they knew me as @robynbateman. Networks take time to grow and become of value and by hopping over to a second account I’d given up an established network of followers I know (although not necessarily in person).

And managing two Twitter accounts needs a bigger investment of time. I found myself wondering which to tweet from. If I only tweeted work stuff from my pro account, wouldn’t it get a bit boring? And if I only tweeted personal stuff from the personal account where would  the context be? The who I am, the what I do? It really would be just me spouting bollocks. And what about my writing and journalism and book reviewing stuff, which strays into both personal and professional territory? Could I tweet the same from both accounts? Not really. So which one should miss out? Tweeting was becoming a process I had to think about. less organic. And so it became a chore.

Stand by your tweets

Friends also struggled to know which account to contact me on. Conversations I wanted in the professional arena came to the personal one and vice-versa (some followed me on both) so I missed stuff. So soon – and without really realising – I found myself only using my original Twitter account. And that realisation prompted me to hold my hands up, say ‘I tried this folks and it didn’t work’ and stop using the account I’d labelled as personal.

It just didn’t work. I tried it and it didn’t. It really didn’t.

I cannot split myself into two people. And while I know when to be professional and when I can let loose, for me, Twitter is about networking and two accounts, two personas, makes it tricky for those networks to deal with you and know who you really are.

As BBC’s Andy Cunningham once said, stand by your tweets. And I do. I am more than capable of talking crap, tweeting jokes in semi poor taste and winding up friends and colleagues. But that’s me and nothing I tweet (or at least I don’t think) would reflect on me in a super bad way (er… I may need to take back that tweet about Harry Potter having a big wand). I’m just me, one person, doing a job, enjoying what I enjoy, and sharing it with the people I love and (occasionally) loathe on Twitter.

What about you? Have you tried to split yourself in two? Please share…

PS Oddly, even though the account is inactive and my last tweet says something along the lines of “this didn’t work, follow me at @robynbateman) I still get new followers on what was my personal Twitter. Pay attention peoples!

Picture by Lisa Brewster via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

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  • Reply theculturedkid August 1, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I’ve recently struggled with the same issue. I have a professional persona and then I’d like to tweet about stuff I do with my kids. It’s not that I want to hide it from anyone but do I really want my boss to know that “we discovered a great new place to have ice cream today!” when i’m supposed to be working on a report? kudos for you for trying. And please repost if you ever figure out how to get this done!

    • Reply robynbateman August 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

      It’s a tricky one, no doubt, and has to be down to the individual to decide what’s best for them – and also for the company they work for to decide if social media is a part of their work and what role it plays. I have friends who aren’t allowed to use Twitter at work, it’s blocked, so their account remains a personal one. For me it would seem a waste not to use my network to help me with my job, just because of the nature of it. Not so for others. But even if your boss doesn’t want to know about great places for icecream, I sure do! :0)

  • Reply Guy Bailey August 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I think its worth investigating further Robyn. Fortunately I oversee my company’s online activity so I manage that through their identity, keeping my own seperate.

    This is where utilities like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite come into their own – they allow you to manage multiple feeds and accounts quickly and easily.

    In fact I go one better -I use Tweetdeck for my personal accounts and Hootsuite for my professional so no chance of mixing them up.

    • Reply robynbateman August 5, 2011 at 8:26 am

      Hey Guy

      Thanks for your comment. And yep Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are great for managing multiple accounts and filtering tweets by interest, I totally agree. And Echofon is my favourote Twitter app for the iPhone which lets me flick easily from one account to the other (I sometimes tweet on behlaf of my dog Ralphie who has his own Twitter account – @ralphiebateman. And yes, I’m a little bid mad).

      For me, it’s less about managing two different accounts but drawing a line down the middle, separating my professional self from my personal self; there’s no clear divide. What I should have made clear is that while I do tweet a lot on behalf of work, I am not the corporate voice of my organisation. And what I tweet for work is of personal interest and vice-versa so it’s not clear cut for me.

      It’s also about the time it takes to grow a network of followers – there’s no point tweeting if no one is listening – and the confusion for those who follow me for both work and non-work reasons.

      Perhaps if I was director of a stainless steel company, for example (random choice, I know) then it would be much easier to split myself in two.

  • Reply Review of the year: 2011 in blog posts « Robyn's Nest December 23, 2011 at 10:06 am

    […] August I tried to split my personal self and professional self in two with different Twitter accounts, and failed. I’m all mixed up and can’t be two interesting people, just one semi (or […]

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