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Twitter, social media, and unmashing the mashable

Posted in: June 4th, 2008

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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