Do you need separate personal and professional Twitter accounts?

Is it necessary to separate your personal life from business on Twitter? This author offers his opinion, as well as five types of corporate Twitter accounts.

Someone recently asked me a common question: “I like to tweet with my friends, but I also tweet for my company. Do I need two Twitter accounts?”

It’s a great question.

What is the proper balance between personal and professional outreach on Twitter? If you are using an account to promote company and client content, is it appropriate to have personal conversations about sports, recipes or your favorite charity? Do you need two accounts?

I’ll address this question on two levels: philosophical and practical.

Twitter’s networking power

Twitter has many uses, but when it comes to business, Twitter is a powerful networking tool. Many companies and individuals don’t understand this. They view Twitter as just another way to broadcast company advertising and press releases. By trying to force-fit old media thinking into this 21st -century platform, they are sub-optimizing Twitter at best and hurting their brands at worst.

Think of yourself in a networking situation, say, an industry conference or chamber of commerce meeting. Would you stand there and read press releases?

Of course you wouldn’t. You would seek out people to connect with, discuss subjects interesting to them and look for ways to work together. Twitter can work in the same way.

Even if you play a business role on Twitter, there is no reason you can’t be yourself—unless you are a mean and terrible person. If you are mean and terrible, either stop being that way or get off Twitter.

Building trust through Twitter

The most powerful relationships are built on trust and friendship, so it’s OK to let people know a little about your personal life, like your love of sports, charity and family. Tweet what’s interesting to you, as long as it is appropriate and professional.

In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to have a personal and business account. You’re not two people, and being yourself is a great way not only to build your network, but also to humanize your organization.

I’ll get off my soapbox now to examine some practical realities. Even if you have this concept down, your organization might not. If it’s your job to tweet on behalf of your organization, you probably have marching orders or a social media policy to follow. You might even have (gasp!) a script.

If so, follow the corporate policy. Don’t lose your job over Twitter. You can change attitudes over time. Buy your boss a copy of “The Tao of Twitter.

The five types of Twitter accounts

There are several ways to blend personal and professional approaches on Twitter. Here are the five types of organizational Twitter accounts. Which one works best for your business?

1. All business all the time: In some cases it’s appropriate to broadcast over Twitter. Here’s an example:

Citi has an account (@CitiJobTweets) that broadcasts only job openings. It doesn’t have to engage in conversations, and it doesn’t try. The account doesn’t follow anyone. Citi has jobs and people want them, so people subscribe to the account. It’s that simple.

Citi could probably work to build a community here, but why? The account is simply a broadcast channel.

2. Tweeting under cover : Many of the world’s most important brands have teams of tweeters who engage with the public behind a corporate logo.

It’s a common practice for the tweeters post their initials at the end of each tweet, and to offer a place where people can learn about the tweeters. This could be a link on the Twitter profile page, or a list of names and initials on the Twitter background.

This allows for real human connection, even in a corporate environment. An example tweet might look like this:

Glad to help you @username. Thank you for using our product! – MWS

This is a low-effort, low-risk option to humanize the organization while still operating under one brand banner.

3. Blending personal and corporate: In some cases, especially in customer service, corporate accounts are assigned to individuals.

For example, you might have an account called @ATTSusan or @CiscoJeff. A real person would run these accounts, but the company would own them. When that person moves on, a new person would take on the account.

4. Real people in real time : The best option is to have real people represent your company. For example, my friend Chad Parizman works for HGTV. His profile states: #SocialTV for HGTV & DIY Network. Yankee Fan. Web Analytics Geek.

The ultimate goal for many organizations is to have employees serve as brand advocates. Parizman clearly identifies himself as an HGTV employee, but he’s free to build connections through his own personality and content. Of course, he knows he is always “on” for HGTV.

5. Fake and fun: A recent trend is to create entertaining Twitter accounts based on fake characters. Coke created a hilarious account based on quips from the company’s long-dead founder. A restaurant in Seattle has an account for its French fries, and GEICO unleashes the company mascot:

A version of this article first appeared on Mark Schaefer’s blog, {grow}.

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