I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Twitter in the University world. Namely, is a faceless university presence serving us well? Would we do better if students, alumni and other interested followers knew who the man behind the mask was? As I began tweeting orientation, I realized that perhaps it would be ok to let it be known I was also @jesskry. I’d been having conversations with people via both and found it could confuse some. Off the top of my head at 8 AM, here’s my quick pro/con list.

Pros:

  • Make it more personal by showing the personality that is tweeting: I’m not just a ‘bot.
  • Stand out from other university tweet streams that primarily look and feel ‘institutional’ not ‘conversative’.
  • Provide a rotating personality for regular followers – like a DJ. :)

Cons:

  • No separation of work and home for some followers.
  • Application of your personal thoughts to the university by those who dont know any better.
  • Being found by those who you do not want to find you (co-workers, bosses, etc.)

I’m leaning toward thinking its worth the few cons. What do you think?

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29 Comments

  1. Jess – Good questions to ponder. Are you referring specifically to your personal Twitter presence/persona, or the university’s “official” Twitter presence? For our university presence, @MissouriSandT, we consider that an institutional site, with more of a university “voice” than personal Twitter accounts. We do use it to interact with followers, but for the most part it’s an RSS feed of blog posts (which have a personal voice), news releases (which don’t), etc.

    As for your personal Twitter account, I don’t think any of us can totally separate our work lives from our personal lives, so there’s bound to be some spillover. You’ve got to be careful, though, since everything you tweet can be archived and is discoverable.

  2. One quick point – don’t hide because you’re afraid of being found. It’s the web, and if you’re putting your presence out there it will be found. Your boss or colleagues might not be on Twitter today, but one day they may discover it and all your past tweets will be there for them to read.

    If you would act differently if they were reading then you’re not being honest with yourself or them. It’s the same as blogging – don’t change your personality based on who might be reading. Just be yourself.

  3. It can be really dangerous to associate yourself publicly with a university (if you want to keep your job anyway). It’s not that users necessarily care but at some point in your personal life, you may do something that administrators feel brings a bad name to the school…and then off with your head.

  4. I think it’s definitely worth putting a face behind a university’s Twitter profile. Doing so will help engage students and other constituents and encourage a dialogue among everyone. As with other forms of social media, I think some information restraint is necessary – you don’t want university twitter followers knowing that you drank too much last night or had a fight with your significant other, but other things like your take on university news/events could prove useful at encouraging conversation among followers.

    – Jenna Spinelle (@jspinelle on Twitter)
    Penn State University

    1. @booboo3000 says:

      I agree Jenna -putting a face to a university’s account is part of the benefits of having higher ed use web 2.0 interfaces (no pun intended).

      The difference between traditional information exchange (newsfeeds) and 2.0 interfaces like Twitter, Fb, etc., is that it allows us to connect with other people around common interests -whether those interests are kittens crawling out of sofa cushions (@YourDailyCute) or conversations about how to make the world a better place (@Everywun) or higher education.

      Nevertheless, the line between reasonable self-disclosure (personality) and appropriate professional conduct (self-censure) can be easily blurred. I’ve been thinking about a similar issue -how much info about what I do for work do I share online? It’s near nothing at this point. However, I then thought…is how I use social networking sites much different then what I would consider in real-world scenarios such as off-site social events, after work happy hours, or running into a professional contact in a non-work related setting? Hmm.

  5. I am all about personalities, but is my personality as a representative of the university all that interesting? Do people care about what Georgy thinks? Maybe Dean So-and-so, who all the students love, or Professor This-and-that, who has interesting things to say on Subject X. I can see having those people on Twitter, as themselves, representing the institution. Same goes for admissions officers and deans, with whom prospectives seem to develop personal relationships anyways.

    I try through my tweeting to give the university’s Twitter presence a personality and a voice, one that is friendly, engaging, not super serious and is immersed in the things the university cares about. I’m not sure people feel less served because it’s not “Joe Jumbo” or Georgy talking to them, and it’s MyUniversity instead.

    I don’t post anything on Twitter I wouldn’t want my boss or mom or future kids to read, but I don’t want to conflate work-related talk with my personal life’s voice.

  6. Social media is about building relationships… how is a masked crusader suppose to build relationships when people have no idea who they are? That is why with the @eduguru account it pretty much strictly just spits out RSS. If you want to engage with us well all the writers on the blog also have twitter accounts and LOTS of other social media accounts.

  7. Yes. I totally agree with you. The minute you don’t have real people there you cut out the heart of “social media”. Without the social, all you have is another print outlet that will get ignored.

    I think the main draw of social networks is the chance to interact and relate with real people. I love Twitter because it’s the Anti-Facebook. The whole service centers around conversations and relationships without all of the distractions of Zombie Invites and surveys and crap like that.

    When it comes to marketing to prospective prospective students, they’re pretty good at figuring out when something is fake and they respond better, I think, to real people with real stories that take a real interest in them. Telling your school’s story in as honest and varied away possible — I think — only makes it that much more appealing.

  8. I agree, Jess. A good non-university example of personalized Tweeting from an institutional account is the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times (@wdtnews). Full disclosure: I did work there as a bureau reporter a few years back.
    But, I think they do a very good job of personalizing the news and, I would imagine, engaging readers. The two reporters even have their own pictures on page.
    Hell, I follow them and I have very little interest in their coverage area anymore.
    In other words, it beats the Twitterfeed model. Boooorring.

  9. I work for a small college and am starting to plan our social networking policy and “briefing” that will occasionally be offered to people that have been tasked with creating/maintaining Facebook and Twitter accounts for their group on campus. I am 100% for associating identities with the general account (alumni, admissions, etc) that rotate (ideally on a regular schedule if possible). Part of my thinking is that we are a small college that can’t be “on air” 24 hrs a day or even 8 hours a day, so I want to be able to tell prospective students and other audiences that from 1-3 pm Student 1 who is an Econ major, student gov. representative and tour guide will be tweeting, responding to questions, etc. and that from 5-6 pm an alum that runs her own business will be tweeting as a “special feature” for recent grads with questions about find jobs and life after college. Has anyone else taken this approach?

    Erin
    http://twitter.com/erin_stewart

    1. I should add that you can put a name and face with the person running the Twitter account at a given time without associating their “personal” account. Some of our admissions people have individual admissions accounts in addition to the group admissions account. Maybe that’s a good way to go for people that work for the college/university to allow the conversation to continue when they’re not official “on air” for the official account? Even if no personal account is attached to the identity you can still rotate the bio and name (and even picture) as the person tweeting rotates.

  10. I’ve thought about this, but haven’t made any moves on it yet. I would have no problem revealing who I am- my name and title. But I would not freely give out my twitter username.

    But it’s not because I want to hide. Frankly, if you are saying anything that you don’t want your bosses to find out about, you shouldn’t be posting it on the internet (but that’s another soapbox for another day). I just don’t want to make it so *easy* to be found. :)

    I think the only thing holding me back from revealing my identity is trying to figure out the smoothest way to do it. I don’t want to just tweet “By the way, my name is Ann and I work in marketing.” :) So I’ll be interested to hear what others thing.

  11. I kind of like being nameless and faceless because I don’t want to take attention away from the institution. At, work, I want people to follow the stream because they like the content. For personal use, I want people to like “me.”

    But I really like your rotating DJ idea/analogy.

  12. Weird, I wrote a comment and even signed up for comment notification e-mails, but my comment is gone. Sigh. Technology :-)

    The gist was, I’m all about university personalities on Twitter, but maybe more along the lines of the popular dean, the engaging professor or the admissions officer all the prospectives know. Nothing about me is particularly interesting to our audiences.

    Through our Twitter presence, however, I give the university a personality and a voice that is engaging, friendly, not super serious and interested in the news and messages we’re trying to promote. I don’t think that sticking my name to that really adds anything. Maybe it even distracts or confuses?

    And as for my personal account, while I don’t tweet anything I wouldn’t want my boss, mom or future kids to see, I want to keep it personal and not conflate it with institutional chatter.

  13. Great question! I tweet for @UTexasMcCombs and after many months of that bio stating that tweets were from our Communications office, I updated to say “tweeted by Tracy in the McCombs Communications office.”

    I did this for the reasons you mentioned above, but also to clarify who is NOT tweeting for McCombs. I’m not an admissions officer, I’m not a professor or an administrator. I also felt like it gave me the freedom to tweet in the first person and show a bit more personality.

    I chose to use “Tracy” instead of “@tracymueller” to help with those first 2 cons you mention – to distance work and personal, and because I thought that might prevent someone from immediately looking up my personal profile and applying it to McCombs tweets.

    As far as my coworkers and bosses finding me – we’re pretty much all on Twitter and follow each other already. I maintain my personal Twitter account with the full awareness that anyone can find it and that as a professional communicator, anything I say could be somehow connected to my job/employer.

  14. Great question, Jess. So many excellent points already and I agree with many of them. It’s difficult to keep personal life and professional life separate.

    When I “came out” with my twitter handle I found that my content did change. There was much less blatant and useless bitching. In a number of instances I was forced to confront a problem rather than just bitch about it on the back channel.

    You definitely have to be more aware of what you’re posting when you talk about the institution that employs you, but you probably should be regardless. There is no such thing as anonymity on the Web.

  15. I, for one, think our faceless accounts work well specifically when it’s reporting. Either events on campus or the latest news. Where I think it breaks down a bit is when we reach out to help. That’s where the personal touch helps.

    I have a twitter search set-up for “WVU” as well as one based on location. If I notice a question I can answer I’ve used my personal account, with a slight disclaimer, to try to help the student, alum, or prospect. It was a little awkward at first (is big brother watching?) but so far it’s been a positive response.

  16. There can be value to putting a human face on the institution, but when that human face generates content that blends personal and professional lives, there is potential for the approach to have unintended side effects.

    Proceed with caution.

  17. One reason we don’t get too personal in the Ithaca College Twitter feed (http://www.twitter.com/ithacacollege/) is because there are several of us who post to it. I think it would get confusing to our readers if we tried to be too specific about who was saying what — not a lot of room for subtlety in 140 characters!

    I like Erin’s (post #9) idea about having guest tweeters do Q&As and other “special events” – I think that could add tons of value to any institution’s Twitter account!

    To us, using Twitter, like any other tool, is about building our college’s brand in a conscious, strategic way. And last time I checked, our branding guidelines did not mention what I ate for breakfast this morning. Instead, we prefer to spotlight other individual voices who speak for the College, be it our president’s blog, a student-written article, an alumni accomplishment, or what have you.

  18. To clarify: I’m talking about adding my personal handle in my profile as the person behind the tweets.

    I feel to create a separate account as my ‘work’ persona is bad practice. I see it a lot on Facebook and feel its a no-no = its tastes of marketing and negates the ‘real people’ and connectivity of social media IMHO.

  19. bevinhernandez says:

    I don’t think you can escape the personal/work life blending any more – it’s just not possible with the web.

    Is it a risk for institutions to allow for personal voice/accounts?

    I would posit that riskier is to NOT allow for personal voice/accounts. Just like the social media mantra “they will talk about you whether you’re participating or not” – employees will represent the organization on social media tools whether you allow them to or not. EOS.

    So, it’s time to focus *inside*. What problems have you been able to “cover up and smooth over” because “official channels” were the way to present your best foot forward. You can do so no longer.

    The strongest indicator to me of a healthy organizational culture is when people not only have a voice, but that employees who do participate in social media are on message and willing to help. I don’t care whether they have a few beers after work – but I see right through mindless robot PR messages, and I will see if they are disenfranchised through unhealthy organizations.

    Whether you like it or not :)

    Time for organizations to get healthy and transparent!

  20. Rick Hardy says:

    Thanks, Jessica. Good post and comments. While I do not think it’s a good idea to talk about one’s personal life on a university account, I do think it’s beneficial for the audience to know that there is a person with a personality behind the tweets. Otherwise, if you are just pushing out news, isn’t it just old media/PR? I think of admissions counselors who get to know their applicants. They connect with them and in so doing express the personality of the college. I think that’s true of whatever audience you’re tweeting. The world runs by relationships. While Twitter is not face to face, it has to have a personality, IMO.

  21. Again: personal account is separate (@jesskry) university account would just reference me as the person behind the Tweets. I’d not talk about me in the university account at all – I’d wear my University persona and only tweet about events, news, happenings and engage with followers. But I would ‘let it all hang out’ in a sense in terms of people being able to find me and know that I’m the one DJ’ing the feed.

    1. +1 to this idea then. will have to keep it in mind if i get control over our official account.

  22. bevinhernandez says:

    I think that’s critical – people want to develop a relationship with whomever they are interacting with!

  23. I second JamieHS… I really like your rotating DJ idea/analogy!

  24. Depends upon whether you’re tweeting on behalf of the U or whether you happen to be working at the U and tweeting on your own behalf. If you’re tweeting for the U, I believe it’s OK to insert some of your personality into the stream of tweets, as long as you don’t go overboard on it. Most people will follow for the U content, not the “you” content, but the personal stuff rounds out your Twitter stream. On the other hand, if you’re someone who works at a university and happens to tweet, I might follow you for your perspective on marketing or social media, or some other topic you tweet about, but not necessarily because of your university connection.

  25. insidetimshead says:

    Great stuff, Jess! I like to give our college’s account a little bit of personality, whether through daily roundups or showing a sense of humor, but in a way it’s necessarily institutional. I’ve done interviews about Twitter and say I’m the one who does it, but it’s as if that’s a different arena. But I do know that when small businesses I’m following change their avatar from a logo to a face, that does change the level of connection.

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