When I started doing Twitter, I put my Twitter feed on the sidebar of my blog. It seemed smart: more content means more traffic, and more traffic is good. But after two weeks of Twitter, I removed it. And then, when I was blogging about important topics like ditching Hebrew school as a career harbinger, commenters asked what happened to my Twitter feed.

Well, the Twitter feed is right here on Twitter. Just like my LinkedIn profile is on LinkedIn, and the potted plants I’ve collected on Facebook are on Facebook. Because mashing our social media together for the purpose of marketing one feed to another dilutes the value of social media. If you express yourself in the same way on a blog and on Twitter, then you don’t need both.

Each of us is multi-faceted. With a selection of media to choose from, we can express different parts of ourselves in different ways.

It’s clear to me that blogging is best for expressing big ideas. If you can’t convey new ideas on your blog, then you probably won’t get a lot of traffic. And most blogs that do well have a single theme and the audience can depend on the theme dictating the content of the blog. But Twitter is not good for fleshed-out ideas. I see people using Twitter for a lot of stuff, but not for fleshed-out ideas. And Flickr is good for expressing passion. Way better than, say, Twitter.

So it strikes me as really lame that we have such a wide range of media at our disposal yet people are using that range to convey the same aspect of themselves: the personal brand they are creating for social media.

Ironically, personal branding mostly rewards consistency, and using different media for different aspects of ourselves is not typically what builds brands. But none of us is so narrow to fit completely into the brand we present on a blog. There is more to each of us.

So I am playing with Twitter right now, seeing what part of me feels most natural to be in Twitter. This is the same thing we do as we make a new friend. We figure out what combination of the things that make up our personality will be best with this person. That’s why we’re a little different with each person we know.

As it turns out, Twitter feels very intimate to me. It’s a small burst, and small means intimate. It’s never a rant, because there’s not enough room, and it’s always immediate because—in keeping with Twitter conventions—it’s about “what I’m doing now.”

Mashing all social media together to create one image of ourselves doesn’t make sense because we are all already accustomed to showing certain parts of ourselves only in certain parts of our lives. We all know, for instance, that women don’t talk about blow jobs at work, even though they give plenty of them. And men don’t talk about the details of project management on a date, because they’d never get another blow job. It’s acceptable to have different places in your life for different aspects of your personality. So don’t flatten yourself by presenting only perfect consistency across Twitter and LinkedIn and blogs and Facebook.

Also, people who want to meet you in one format, won’t necessarily want to meet you in another, and that’s fine. Jason Warner, at Google, for example, explained that he doesn’t want to check out your MySpace photos before he hires you because it’s not the part of you he’s expecting to show up at work.

I actually already have experience switching media for different parts of me, and I’m telling you, it has served me well: I got into graduate school in Boston University based on my ability to write about sex. I spent my time in grad school writing hypertext fiction. I lectured at Brown University, I lectured at the Sorbonne, and I’m in Wikipedia for my sex writing — in hypertext. But when I had the opportunity to write career advice, I knew hypertext wasn’t the right format. So I started over, with a different way of thinking, in a different medium.

Sometimes I call this a braided career. Sometimes I call this bad branding. It’s a fine line. And some people will say that if you’re truly integrated, you will be your same self everywhere. I disagree. I think that the most socially adept people highlight the parts of themselves that will be most interesting to the people at hand.

So I am keeping Twitter separate. I want to play and explore and I don’t care about being consistent with my brand there. I want to show another part of myself on Twitter—a part that I wouldn’t necessarily show on the blog.

What is social media for, really? If traffic is your holy grail, then you need to point all your social media to one spot, in a sort of exercise in cross-pollination. If it’s not to build traffic, then it’s to build connections. And those connections can improve your life.

So give yourself permission to use social media to explore all the aspects of your personality, rather than just the one you picked for your “official personal brand”. It makes sense that you should give yourself some leeway to be inconsistent in who you are—and thereby consistent with who are completely are—in social media. Explore your full identity as you explore the media.

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  1. Mikeachim
    Mikeachim says:

    I agree, that’s what it’s for. (And I haven’t been using it that way yet – my bad).

    But sure there’s a danger of projecting a different side of yourself that isn’t really there, ie. roleplaying someone you’re not? Blogging always has hints of that, like any autobiographical writing (the editors of the Id are subtle and deft). But deliberately trying to be different to your main blogging persona….?

    It’ll be interesting seeing how Twitter/Plurk etc. evolve, for sure. How useful people find them. And how “honest” they are (now there’s a loaded word).

  2. Ann
    Ann says:

    The most powerful people — in the arts, business, academics, and elsewhere — are those who’ve learned hot to be most truly tehmselves EVERYwhere they are.

    The inauthentic self, edited and spun differently for different audiences, is ultimately a weakness. A turn-off. Something sensed by all, even children, as a kabuki show and not a real touch.

    I think Penelope is too young perhaps to knwo this, or may be that she is one of those who will always be someone else somewhere else — cit. farmer — whenever it pleases those she percieves needing to be pleased.

    But don’t mistake artfulness for power. Don’t mistake masks for self. Don’t label brand braiding as a success when you’ve no metrics and no success to claim. Braided brands have substance at core.

  3. Kate Hutchinson
    Kate Hutchinson says:

    I really enjoy experimenting with Twitter, and I find it plugs me in to some people I know who don’t have blogs. I love the challenge of what can be said in such a short space.

    I think any writer faces the challenge of expression, no matter the medium. There is always the risk of misunderstanding or misrepresentation. Just because I read Penelope’s blog doesn’t mean I know her personally, however tempting it may be to declare myself an acquaintance. I don’t presume to dig into her personal life other than what she writes; I make no inferences. What we all need to keep in mind is that the digital presence is still an entirely different animal than our distinct real-life selves. Separating our online postings helps to define that difference.

  4. Lane
    Lane says:

    I think many people might be missing the fact that it is possible to show sides of you at different times and NOT be inauthentic. I don’t think Penelope is suggesting to create a false persona to live by in different circumstances. I think she is suggesting that successful people understand what sides of oneself are appropriate for a given situation.

    What side(s) of you do you show your children? What side(s) of you do you show your spouse? What side(s) of you do you show your boss?

    They are all “you” but not appropriate to be expressed all the time.

  5. Ann
    Ann says:

    @Lane — I hear you but I just spent 5 minutes reading Penepole’s twitters and it feels like a different person, not the same person in a different setting. Sybil-esque. Sexy, flirtatious, younger, revelatory, sounds-like-teen-spirit. It’s not a brand braid.

    Not trying to pile-on, just saying the advice isn’t sound.

    Like all else in life, this is a matter of degree, and you can intuit it when it’s off.

    Showing a playful self in the backyard in the sprinklers with your kids at evening and a serious focused self reviewing contract language the next morning with a client is natural, and appropriate. But powerful people will perceptably be very much the same in both settings.

    It’s not a matter of expression, it’s a matter of having a core.

  6. Iuliana Calin
    Iuliana Calin says:

    The “blow job example” is really funny! It made me laugh, and it seems to be so you, Penelope. The medium is the message and I think the different media and audiences shapes how we communicate. Completely agree that we have different sides of our personalities that come out depending on the circumstance, in this case social medium. But I also think there is a common thread and a certain authenticity that stays the same. I venture to say I would recognize you in the Twitter voice! Having said that I’ve never followed you on Twitter so you may sound differently… I will give it a try, I have never been compelled to check Twitter although have lots of friends on it… Maybe because I get status updates on Facebook which are “twitter” thoughts…

  7. littlepurplecow
    littlepurplecow says:

    I can see why an ENTJ would love Twitter. It feels like the ideal social media tool for extroverts. Being the INTJ that I am, I favor blogging as a means of exchange because the process of crafting a post (or a story) pushes me to think about the purpose and impact of my words. I’m not big on chit-chat, so Twitter doesn’t feel natural for me. But I am a visual communicator, so I do feature my flickr stream on my blog and push my contacts in flickr to my blog when an image has inspired a post.

    I do list my blog URL on my “professional” LinkedIn profile and on my Facebook profile, but I have not yet added it to my professional email footer. I find this interesting. I think I’m more apt to share my social media “self” with individuals already participating in that space.

  8. Christine
    Christine says:

    My online blog has been suffering of late from inattention. I use twitter to fill in the gaps. I am a fan of twitter and follow Seth’s philosophy – it’s a slow, drip, drip method of increasing my blog traffic and giving readers a quick snapshot of my life, my writing, etc. For now – my twitter posts will remain on my blog.

  9. Sean
    Sean says:

    I’m glad someone is talking about this. I’m not sure how successful maintaining multi-faceted personalities online will be. The analogy to “real world” relationships obviously is spot on, but the important difference is control over audience. I more than agree that the plethora of social media in which to express ourselves not only works well with our complex personalities, but also is designed differently in which certain behaviors make more sense. However, recall the awkwardness of those “real world” slips, when your boss catches you saying a lewd comment to a coworker, or a social friend accidentally being the outlet for some personal issue that would’ve been better suited for an intimate friend.

    Typically we have control over our audience thanks to the whole spatio-temporal network of the “real world”. Sally is in another city or Jimmy walked in a couple seconds too late. But when it comes to all our online media we lose much of that control over audience. Not only is it nice to be able to interact with the same person in different ways, professionally and socially, its also nice to be able to keep people separate. Which I suppose, over a slew of different privacy settings for each medium one might achieve a similar degree of control, but I think for the average user you are open and out there for any of your networked contacts. And thus, I see a motive for trying to be consistent or flat in character. How do we gauge the level of intimate progression with acquaintances to close friends to family in a potentially undifferentiated space such as the Google search results page?

  10. Laurenn
    Laurenn says:

    For progressive 30 something I am a social media moron (I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, don’t understand the lure of MySpace or Facebook and am just starting to explore blogging). In many ways I’ve made a conscious decision not to engage because I feel like “it” is spiraling out of control. I do see the benefit of blogging and keeping in touch with friends but when is enough enough? How many places do we need to be and how much time [alone] are we spending there? We are people, do we need to brand and market ourselves online as if we are trying to market products to various target markets? Is there a false sense of security or comfort I’ve yet to find by sharing my opinions with strangers (as I am now), collecting online friends and joining virtual communities? Are we a lonely generation with an identity crisis?

    I pose these questions not because I have answers to them or think they are true. This is simply a topic I struggle with and have only recently begun to explore. The way I see it, most of us are accessible 24/7 yet few of us are saving lives (and therefore don’t need to be so accessible). There’s little down/quiet time. We’re all networked and branded online but face to face personal interactions are suffering.

    I’m used to being the dissenting point of view and expect someone to defend his/her beloved social media. But before you respond walk down a lively city street and look at all the people walking together or having lunch yet ignoring the person in front of them in favor of a phone or PDA. Respect has all but gone out of the window, as has uninterrupted quality time with friends and family.

  11. John Sheridan
    John Sheridan says:

    I’m late to the party, but that’s normal.

    An excellent post, Penelope, as usual. Understanding that each community has a different experience is something that everyone needs to assess before they join. One-size-fits-all messaging doesn’t work in this game, and can hurt your personal (or corporate) brand.

  12. Cody McKibben
    Cody McKibben says:

    Hey Penelope!

    Well this post already has like 41,000 comments, but I just wanted to say you make a really great point. And when you talk about your friend at Google not wanting to dilute his professional searches with Myspace photos, it got me thinking. My cousin recently asked me to remove all my photos with him from my Flickr account – mostly from family occasions and memories of me and him having a great time in London/Amsterdam. I don’t think I even have one picture of him holding a beer (!), but because an old coworker of his came across his photo online, he’s worried about it. I despise the fact that in our culture, our professional “brand” in the workplace dictates how we live the rest of our lives.

  13. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the New York Times article dated 9/7/08 titled “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” from the news section of the Brazen Careerist web site. Initially the article was about the news feed on Facebook instituted in 2006 but as it turns out was as much about Twitter and other social media communication tools. I didn’t realize they had a name for it – “ambient awareness”. It’s a great article.

  14. Flo Schmo
    Flo Schmo says:

    I’m not sure I agree with all the reasoning behind your assertion that it is not good to mashup various forms of social media. For someone like me, I like to keep my various web personas (and there are several) separate, but I also like to compound my contacts. For instance, as an author, many co-authors like to band together and follow each other on various social networking sites. Because some, like Twitter, can present a challenge to finding others, I’ve had several people tell me that the only way to find me there was to visit my blog and go through my Twitter updates. So it’s not all bad…

  15. Sheila
    Sheila says:

    I just found your blog via twitter and want to thank you for your refreshing voice.

    You are very honest and I have a lot to learn from this blog!!!

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about Twitter right now … I’m rarely behind a computer and it’s not really accessable via my handheld. I can see where it is a great tool, but it kind of feels like you have to be chained behind a computer to really get good use out of it.

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