The World Forces Split Identities in Social Media

i-am-a-pc Hodge The Cat

Growing up on a farm, as I did, provides a freedom that never leaves you. My parents lived on and immersed directly in their work: the farm. It surrounded them, day in day out. I am sure I absorbed this environment in a way where I expect little to no separation between work and my personal life. From this stems workaholism and dedication. A deep protestant work ethic.

There are significant downsides to total work immersion. Especially in this new world of always-on social media. You tweet a response to a work related question at 11.32pm, and follow up with a tirade against an airline cancelling your flight. The seamless melding of what is work and what is your life is one of the beauties of social media. We are all connected.

Yesterday, one of the downsides firmly bit me on the bum. One of my personal opinions; a flippant tweet has caused an ongoing kerfuffle at Microsoft. This is not the first time I have come unstuck on the social media frontier; and sadly I am not alone. Nor am I the last to be bitten. There are many bums with bite marks.

Until now, I have resisted the urge to have separate twitter identities. To me, creating and using different identities is the antithesis of social media. To be frank, I wish that I could be one identity on twitter.; but there are forces in the wider world does not accept the separation of personal identity and an employer’s identity. As I found in recent events, there is always the risk that someone will take an utterance out of context, and use this as a cudgel in pitiful internal office politics. Or, as others have found, fodder for gossip.

The cleaving of identities is a topic upon which I have struggled throughout my Microsoft career. Being true to myself, whilst attempting to comply with the weight of an employer’s expectations.

As stated yesterday, I have created a new twitter identity @RealNickHodge which is a private, for people only account. Each follower is vetted. I am being careful not to let in bots and sensationalist journalists. I am also wary of "brand name" twitter identities. I follow real people; people who are smart enough to realise my opinions are mine, and mine alone.

My old twitter account is now clearly identified @NickHodgeMSFT, with a profile stating my position and employer. As at the time of posting this blog entry, it has 4803 followers. I do not imagine the follower count will increase dramatically. Thankfully, formal Microsoft accounts such as @MSAU are doing an outstanding job of presenting a formal social face of the organisation.

Within 24 hours of creating the new account, I have about 200 real followers, less noise and I trust more freedom to be real. Or at least the freedom from guilt in speaking as me, being who I am.

13 thoughts on “The World Forces Split Identities in Social Media”

  1. It’s unfortunate that you’ve had to split your identities. It’s something I struggle with too.
    I’m secretly hoping the next wave of managers and employees will force an ‘identity acceptance’ norm. Utopian? Sure. One can dream… 🙂
    I also have to say that I am really glad that I ‘passed’ the vetting process. I for one would certainly miss your presence in my timeline if the unthinkable happened.

  2. Good call. It can be tough to be a real person on the interwebs. More so when people don’t listen to your message. Me, I just make penis jokes till they go away.

  3. When I was studying at university, my course encouraged us to have a stong social media presence, you know, social media being the rage and all.

    Although I was tempted to put my personal account (@sammyjopeters) alongside my work I knew at times I can be a little opinionated, bordering on obnoxious.

    So I made a seperate account, for my uni tweets. (@StinkyCurve)
    Unfortunately this dragged with it a complex net of connections, too. I needed to blog under a different name, post photos and videos under a different name too.

    Now I’m out of uni I feel haggard trying to keep up with both, and I’m debating ditching my uni identities. Yet I fear losing the people I met through that identity.

    It’s all a horrible mess, isn’t it?

  4. I think it’s a sensible call, so I copied you. I am in the process of doing the same thing, even though the company I represent is, for now, just me. Customers will (hopefully) eventually be looking there for news and support, not so much for random gasps of ill-thought out tourettic rants about Huxley and Orwell and Sydney buses.

  5. good call Nick, I suppose that this is why I have not embraced social media so far even though I have a twitter account, facebook etc. I learnt early in my career to keep my opinions to myself so that is why I don’t often tweet, or update my status. As for work. The college I work for still can’t decide what the social media animal is and whether each department needs one. I certainly do not let my students follow my personal account and have it vetted so that I make I know who is connecting with me.

    I certainly hope I pass the vetting process, I would certainly miss your tweets

  6. Thanks all for your comments

    Needless to say, if you are a person tweeting – I am going to follow you back. There is no vetting on differing opinions, etc. That is what makes life interesting.

    My greatest fear are mufflers of comment; spinners of comment for their own purposes and auto-bots that gather vast swathes of social media and filter out “words” that “brands” think they own.

    These filters, which I have been a consumer of, automatically suck up vast schools of comment … and pop out “marketing insight”

  7. Do you have a strategy if a “real nick hodge” tweet does get out and is then taken out of context, or do you think because you’ve made this separation of accounts you’re not liable and covered (in a sense)?

  8. Nick

    Very good question to which I have no immediate answer.

    It would only take a RT or copy/paste for a tweet to leave the confines of a protected account.

    This is very early days — and I am being very careful.


  9. Hi Nick
    I’m just tuning in 🙂 I like the way you are handling this: makes sense to me, and hopefully your employer. What I’d like to understand more is where you say “creating and using different identities is the antithesis of social media.” Using multiple Twitter accounts myself (now 4 personal accounts and likely to increase) I find doing so has allowed me to focus on interests and in particular, people that matter to me, more clearly. I am interested in “online communities” and find I can better serve my communities and be served by them, by having multiple accounts.

    Would love to discuss this over a beer, perhaps at the next BarCamp?

    Best to you,

  10. @NickJosevski

    The better answer to your question is risk minimisation.

    The bio on each of the accounts clearly shows @NickHodgeMSFT my position (minor in the scheme of the organisation) working with Open source developers. Comments as to other areas should really not be taken as gospel; but still as a representative of my employer.

    For @RealNickHodge it is me; my personality with my own beliefs, thoughts, opinions. Not all of which are shared with my employer, parents, partner or family. They are mine. Personal. If someone takes them out of context, it can be shown as being personal.

    This is no guarranteed protection; but is does reduce the risk – and certainly would have aided in this most recent situation.

    Thanks for making me think this through


  11. @hollingsworth

    Sorry about the delay responding to your question. It was excellent food for thought.

    My idealistic opinion on social media is that we can all be ourselves online: individuals, unemcumbered by the shackles of Maslow. We can communicate and deal with each other as individuals, not bland organisations, and all just get along. People would infer context.

    Pragmatically, it doesn’t work this way. The world doesn’t. Utterances have consequences; and will be used for good and bad reasons. People and the world are not so wonderful.

    I see your splitting of identities for different audiences as something more mature than where I had been with one online identity. Careful Venn diagrams of audiences.

    I should have done this sooner 🙂


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