Do you have an online split personality?

Are you using social media both professionally and personally? Do you tweet at home and at work? How do you keep your separate lives, well, separate? Or do you bother?

In March, an employee of Chrysler’s social media agency, New Media Strategies, sent out a tweet on Chrysler’s corporate Twitter feed at was apparently intended for his own personal account:

The agency employee who sent the tweet was fired and the agency lost the Chrysler account. Pretty big consequences for what the employee claimed was simply a misdirected tweet.

Many of us have experienced the sinking feeling of sending an email to the wrong recipient. Even if the content of the email isn’t controversial, having to send a quick note to the person you sent it to — “Sorry, that was meant for someone else. Please ignore.” — is still pretty embarrassing.

And it doesn’t take an accident to send the wrong message (literally) to your online friends and fans. Using Facebook and Twitter, we define our online personality, and for some, the one-size-fits-all strategy doesn’t work. The person we want to present to our family and close friends is usually different than our professional persona.

Those in the academic world have to connect with several different audiences: students, colleagues, fellow researchers, administrators, plus personal connections. An article by Jeffrey R. Young in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes how academics “are struggling to strike a balance between their personal and professional lives when using online social media, a realm that encourages widespread sharing of thoughts and opinions.” One of the concerns is whether to connect directly to students on Facebook:

Some professors use only one Facebook page but wrestle with how open to make that information. One of the most-discussed questions about social networking on campuses is whether or not professors should “friend” their students on Facebook. [Christian Brady, an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, has a] policy on the issue is one I’ve heard from many professors: He will accept a friend request from any student, but he never makes the first move. “I think it’s a little creepy when the old guy asks his students, Will you be my friend?,” he told me.

Kirsten A. Johnson, an assistant professor of communications at Elizabethtown College, takes the same approach, and she hopes that students who do join her circle of Facebook friends might benefit from seeing her attempt to have a life off campus while teaching. “I try to be a good role model for them—it lets them see that balancing act that I’m able to do outside of the classroom,” she told me. Students checking out her page quickly learn that she’s in a Christian rock band, for instance—something she is proud of but never mentions in class.

Using Twitter | 2010 Chicago Cares Day of Service.
Photo by Tammy Green. Some rights reserved. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I use Facebook for more personal communications: friends, family, and theater associates. Since most of my students are also involved with me in local theater, I do accept friend invitations from them… but only if they send the request, a policy similar to Mr. Brady’s. My Facebook news feed tends to be fairly theater-heavy, with some humor and personal comments, but only rarely anything political or otherwise controversial.

My Twitter feed, though, is more wide-ranging, and includes links to blog posts and retweets of other items I find interesting. Some of them involve politics, religion and other potentially hot-button topics. Since it’s public — and can be easily found since I use my real name (@TomKephart) — I don’t try to hide very much there. I’m not looking for trouble, but I find Twitter to be valuable in finding others with similar beliefs and thinking. If anyone is irritated with what I post on Twitter, it’s easy enough to stop following me.

How do you reconcile your separate online personalities? Do you use different accounts, or do you use each service differently? Or do you just post and let the chips fall where they may?

Author: Tom Kephart

Actor, director, writer. Social media guy. Higher ed drone. Sings for beer in karaoke bars.