Tuesday 21 December 2010

Identity crisis

I use Twitter a lot. Stating the obvious, really. But it's causing a little bit of a problem, and it's not one I'm sure how to fix. And I am supposed to be 'the expert' in our organisation, so I am somewhat embarrassed and frustrated by my own inability to walk forth and say 'the solution is this, put it in the guidelines'.

The simple fact is, I'm a geek. So, I like the usual things stereotypical geeks like: XKCD, Dr Who, attending random sci-fi conventions, unconferences and bar camps, as well as attending assorted genres of live music gigs, concerts and festivals. Mix this with 1600 followers containing assorted local and national journalists, Heads of Department and Sections, Directors, Ministers and other various 'important people' out in the real world and suddenly it feels as though it would be quite an imposition to tweet that, for example, I thought Matt Smith was looking particularly fit in the Christmas Day Dr Who special.

Added to this that when attending events with hashtags attached to them, I tend to tweet at a rate of 20 or so an hour (or more) you can see where the problem lies.

When someone follows you, it feels as if you're a guest in their digital space. You're taking up pixels. The more people who follow you, the more this becomes true, the more the pressure mounts, to say something worthy, something important. You don't retweet things because no one else would find it interesting. You don't say anything about anything becaue no one would be interested and eventually, the very reason people followed you in the first place - because you are interesting - is snuffed out.

So here's my advice to other people wondering about the weird cross between 'personalisation', 'personal brand' and being yourself on Twitter. If you're the kind of person who has a lot of real life friends on Twitter, and a whole social bubble off Twitter, create a seperate account. Use it to organise D & D sessions, tweet from gigs and festivals, for posting that random picture. Chill out, relax, do what you always did. Set up another account for 'work' and make sure that there's some of you on there as well, but keep the geeky randomness seperate. But if the work you do is Ruby or something equally geeky that not all your friends will be interested in, don't be surprised if they follow your 'work' account and quickly unfollow you. They simply wont be interested in that cool bit of code and while the odd tweet here and there wont annoy, I speak from immediate experience when I say when the signal to noise ratio goes above a certain point, Twitter will no longer be where you can organise a quick present swap at Xmas - no one will be following you.

Most people wont have this problem. Most people are offline more than on. Most people can combine beautifully themselves and their work and irritate neither camp excessively. This problem, I think, might be a uniquely geeky one.

What has been fascinating to me over the last day or so is the kind of person who understands entirely why I've done this, and the kind of person who cannot understand at all. And the demographics don't break down the way you'd think. Non geeks understand, just as much as geeks do, though my geeky friends perhaps understand most of all as they're finding a similar collision of cultures.

There is a new world order out there. Being you is absolutely a good thing. An expected thing. It allows people to trust you, warm to you, understand what motivates and drives you. But there is a line, nevertheless, which must not be crossed and I have finally found it easier to draw the line myself, than expect others to do it for me.

The new world order isn't quite as simplistic and easy to comprehend as I was expecting it to be. I suspect there are some more challenges upcoming in the near future around what constitutes a friend, the connections which are made on social media which don't necessarily transfer into the real world, what happens when you get to know someone on social media, meet them face to face and have nothing to say......

I'll keep writing about them and sharing experiences, because I think it's important. No one is an expert in this, no matter what they might think, we all get caught out. Wrong account tweeted from, wrong thing said, a view harshly and clumsily expressed. Tweets can be deleted but words are still seen.

I'd like to think the world has space for a fluffy little geek, but ultimately, there is a professional expectation of a woman to be a certain way in the workplace, and so that way I will be.


  1. I'm not sure I agree, hon.

    I think perhaps if you're tweeting "professionally" then absolutely needs separating out. But for me, my output is my output, it's me. If people don't like it, they can stop following, it's their loss.

    Perhaps it's different when you've got thousands rather than dozens of followers; but first and foremost I write for me, people can follow or not as they see fit, I really don't care. Speaking purely personally.

  2. I have two Twitter accounts, but I only ever tweet from @socialtechno. Simply because what started as a 'work' account turned into my 'connecting with brilliant people who can help me enjoy improving the world' account, and sometimes that involves kittens and unicorns and what new music I'm listening to, dammit!

    I invite you to turn one of your thoughts around, (as indeed Cougar did) and see that people who follow you are your guests. My advice to n00bs on Twitter is always "read interesting people, and try to share interesting things". It's good to be defined by what holds your attention and arouses your emotions, and to allow others to do the same.

    Twitter is a river, and the best way to enjoy it is to let it flow by. I follow some brilliant people who occasionally get on hobby horses I don't enjoy, but I hardly ever feel it's so intense that I have to unfollow. Be yourself, and let the rest of us make our minds up.

  3. Hmmmm. The main problem is, friends unfollowed my 'professional' account because it bored them to tears. So the social bit of the media became consumed.

    I've just had a fascinating conversation with a girl who's been involved heavily in the student protests, I think. She raises the point that she is now piercingly aware that should a future employer Google her, she is in danger of being judged for her actions this year, and not for the way in which she will develop and grow as a person in the future.

    My argument to this would be - employers are just going to have to get with the programme and judge on current not past. Which re-applied back to me means.....

  4. Do your two personas follow each other?

  5. Dan> No, cos they're both me and I can keep track of what goes where. I'm using two different apps to access the accounts so there's no danger of misposting.
    It probably comes across as a complete ego trip, but it's helping me in other ways - there's a big difference in only following 250 ppl & managing to read every update from the people I am genuinely interested in and following 1500, some of whom I follow because am interested but don't necessarily want to see every update from.