What’s Your Position – Do You Maintain One or Multiple Identities Online?

This morning I attended the GovDelivery Social Media Summit and an interesting question came up that got me thinking – how many identities do you have online? The question originally came up when an audience participant asked Adam Conner of Facebook if Facebook will ever allow users to create mulltiple log-ins for Facebook accounts, to make managing Facebook pages easier. Adam responded by saying no, because multiple identities on Facebook is counterintutive to the philosophy at Facebook.

The debate came up again during a panel discussion. The debate could basically be based around your privacy settings preferences on social networks. Although never directly mentioned, the panel discussions debate seemed to centered around the intuitive nature of Google+ Circles as opposed to Facebook’s more challenging privacy settings. In other words the debate can be framed:

1. You only have one identity, social media should not limit the flow of information, content and knowledge to your network (think of new Facebook social integration with Spotify and Washington Post and the challenging/confusing privacy settings to filter posts to specific groups)

2. You have different identities and your identity online should reflect each identity (Intuitive Google+ Circles, “Work Pat,” “Weekend Pat,” “Recreation Pat,” all these Pats’ interact differently within each network, so content should be customized for each)

This was a really interesting discussion that I wanted to bring back to the GovLoop community. I fall mostly into the first category. I don’t really mind if my co-workers are friends with me on Facebook, know what song I listened to on Spotify or can see what I am reading – in fact, I wish more people shared this kind of content.

Essentially, my view is if there is something that I do not want my entire network to know, I will avoid sharing it online. This is why I have always had an issue with Google+. I don’t like that I am constructing different identities for different groups of people. If there is something that I don’t want to share with my entire network, why share? There are always exceptions and discretion always needs to be used, but for the vast majority of the content I am interested in and share online, it is almost never an issue. The real issue for me is if by posting am I infringing on someones privacy, so photos and tagging in posts is something to always consider.

I am curious to know, how do your manage your identity online? Do you maintain different identities or one? Do you lean towards restricting some information or open to all?

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Pat Fiorenza

Thanks for you comment, Jason. You make a fair point – what bothers me is the idea that I need to protect something or have a different personality/identity with a segment of people. I doubt you and most would disagree with that position. If people choose to interact with me online, I feel like what I post should not be considered spammy or irrelevant, but for sure see where you are coming from. Always exceptions, but an interesting discussion to filter through.

Melba Davison

I use Facebook to keep up with distant friends and family members (particularly the younger ones). Before I post, I always think about what I enjoy seeing on their pages and that helps keep me from sharing the irrelevant or uninteresting stuff – i.e. I don’t care if an old friend from high school is at the grocery store right now but I like hearing briefs about their trip to the beach (with photos included.) I do have co-workers and acquaintences as friends, but I would never put something out there in public that would embarrass me or anyone else. I can’t support more than one personality at a time and this one is it.

Allison Primack

While I see the value of circles on Google+, I already have something similar on Facebook. Even before the newest version of Facebook lists you were able to put certain people in groups, and “block” content from these groups. I’m sorry, but I don’t think my entire family/coworkers need to see pictures of all the goofy themed parties I went to in college, but I like to keep them up there for my college friends to laugh at. My judgement as a 19 year old is not the same as it is now for what is “appropriate” to put online, so while I prefer maintaining one identity online I still block some information.

Pat Fiorenza

Facebook has never made it easy to set up lists and filter information from groups. Coworkers don’t need to see you at college parties and probably shouldn’t – I think photos fall into one of the gray areas and exceptions. Posting photos requires discretion, people still need to be careful because photos can still leak out, click the wrong button, not add someone to the right list, etc. I get weary of posting photos, because I know a lot of my friends are uncomfortable with me posting photos of them. I also find more value of a friend sharing links/stories/music as opposed to photos, just the kind of relationships I have developed.

Jay Johnson

I’m a multi-faceted individual with diverse interests. As such I appreciate the ability to filter my sharing output. Not because I’m hiding content from certain groups but that I share info in the hope of provide value to those I’m sharing with. As bombarded by information as we all are, I try my best to not add to that by senting links to things others could care less about. That’s why I share most of my stuff via Twitter vice Facebook.

Chris Poirier

One persona: Simply put, nothing to hide here. I don’t see the point in having to “manage” multiple personas simply to lazer target certain groups of people. I am who I am and by means of that my brand is my brand. This eliminates having to “think” about what “audience” I am writing for or posting for. (Honestly, I think it also increases my “brand” as I can never really be called “fake” as I don’t pull any punches, etc.)

So, the issue here, at least to me, is what do you use social media for? Are you staying in touch with friends and family? or are you presenting a “social media persona”, “brand”, etc? I think that makes a huge difference in how you handle your online engagements. If you are public facing for the purposes of branding and/or persona, etc then I think THAT is your persona (singular..one..only one.) if you are just networking and telling everyone that you went shoe shopping over the weekend..then go nuts..there’s nothing to maintain there..you are who you are (..sorry..but that was not a Ke$ha reference..seriously..i mean that..)

I think the moment we go running down the rabbit hole of attempting to maintain multiple personas, etc then we’ve crossed a line of being something we’re not. Transparency, honesty, integrity etc is top dog here. (Truth be told, I think this is why facebook has not overly focused on providing ways to seperate out your content..) It’s as it has been mentioned with Google+ circles, this help you manage information flow, not a different identity and/or persona.

Now, that said check out this discussion from 4chan founder Chris Poole on his feelings about how google and facebook “handle identity” http://mashable.com/2011/10/18/chris-poole-4chan-web-2/ (Given this latest article, I’m positive it’s why this topic came up as I’m sure that Facebook and Google are attempting to distance themselves from what Chris is explaining here..well that and he mentions twitter..A LOT..lol.)

…and discuss.. 😉

Kevin Lanahan

If part of your job is to participate in social media, I would prefer to be allowed to have a separate identity. Facebook says that administrators of pages get walled off, but I just don’t trust them.

But apart from official work duties, I think one identity is fine. I hope more people get on Google+ just because I can fine-tune my content better.

Valerie Kushnerov

I’m two-faced. I have my personal facebook and the official work page which I manage. Then I have a facebook page for my position as a trustee on our school board. Anyone can follow it, but I don’t have to be concerned about someone taking my personal posts and twisting them into something they’re not. I also have the personal twitter and the work twitter. It sometimes gets complicated with friend requests on facebook. When people who are employees of the school district ask to be my friend I just let them know that I don’t “friend” any employee who I wasn’t friends with before I was on the school board. It just allows both of us to be who we are without concern for whether a comment or picture could be misconstrued. Seems to have worked for the last few years so I don’t see any reason to change it.

Chris Poirier

I think @Kevin and @Valerie make an interesting point about work vs “personal” however I would suggest that when at work you’re really the face of your organization and not you (unless that’s what you were hired for..and that comes back to my main point of then you shouldn’t be concerned about multiple personas). So those administrative tasks and company forward facing is a seperate persona. Although, I would say people are becoming a bit nieve to think that their personal comments, etc being seperated from their work when people know and/or find out about a connection is something that this current “social” world just does not allow for. Whether you purposefully keep things seperate or not, people will make the connections and you have to be comfortable with that and that your opinions, etc will be applied to both personalities no matter what you say or do. It’s in fact easier to protect your company by reminding people that your personal opinions are in fact your own and not that of your company. Not so much to try and sit there and claim to your company that your personal opinions don’t link back to them..you’re an employee..so no matter what you are always part of the company..I think what we’re starting to see is that companies are becoming more aware of their employees and the impact potentially against them. (Thus we now have the “social media background check”..)

Bottom line with an open internet is this: if you think something could be taken wrong and/or you are not willing to be seen or interpreted a specific way..you probably shouldn’t post it..period. The two-way street of transparent and open means that you have to remain transparent and open and I just don’t see how outside of “work” vs “personal” accounts (and work being a “business and/or organization” master account) people can be transparent/open/etc.

Valerie Kushnerov

Chris – I get what you’re saying. But on our work facebook page, I don’t state opinions. I’m a PIO, like you, and am not paid to give my opinion (in that context) but information. And I don’t rant about political things on my personal page because 1-that’s not my personality and 2-as I tell my kids, everything you ever post will live forever digitally, so if you don’t want your future spouse or boss to hear you say those types of things, don’t type them. 🙂

Chris Poirier

@Valerie – You got it, that’s EXACTLY the point I’m making. Having that “PIO” role at work separate from your personal persona is completely legit. (For the reasons you just stated.) I do feel, however people who are purposefully creating multiple personas for different purposes (e.g., one for sports, one for politics, one for my parents, one for my crazy college friends, etc.) are missing the “open” part of the internet and social media. The concept of a “fake persona” still bothers me as it ends up being the polar opposite of what social media was truly intended for.

My persona here on Govloop, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google+, etc is me. It’s who I am. Some people like it, some people don’t. That’s the bueaty of America 😉 I’ve been quoted A LOT this week about #USAJOBS30, I’ve just asked every time that I’m quoted as me and not my agency/department. Sure, people can find out who I work for and that’s fine. That’s a HUGE difference between Chris Poirier (me) vs. my employer. (though as I said, people can make that connection, and that’s fine by me as everything I wrote is my opinion or direct fact confirmed by third parties.) C’est la vie!

Dick Davies

One identity. Gets stronger the more I use it.

Agree with your point about things you wouldn’t want people to know about you online. Why would you want to?

Second, if you think it’s down your center, post it. There is a wide range of readers and I’ve had some pleasant responses from people I couldn’t ordinarily reach due to off-center work.

Julie Chase

I have multiple personas. My FB has my name, but every other site I go to, has a different name. When you are small fish in an even smaller pond, anonymity is the name of the game. I don’t post pictures of myself in compromising positions as that would be stupid and I’m not 17 anymore. I enjoy GovLoop because outside my little pond, there are folks who have moved to the 21st Century technologically and though I read about all the “innovative” ideas to help gov work for the people, I know it my heart that it will never happen here. I enjoy reading and admiring the guts some of you all have at posting with your reall names.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Initially I was very uncomfortable with the Facebook vision of “just one persona” but after about five years I have come to agree with Zuckerberg. Wherever you go, there you are…may as well just be yourself. That said, you probably do want to be courteous to others and post content appropriately to specific contexts – like I’ve shifted my Jewish biographical stuff more toward Facebook and am thinking about writing for some Jewish sites. Versus branding stuff goes to Quora and my blog on branding (which gets piped here automatically so GovLoopers do have to suffer through some of the more esoteric stuff…I just don’t have the patience to post things separately.) Govie stuff goes to my blog and here. Have a strategy but I strongly believe – don’t try to hide who you are. It’s bad for you emotionally, quite honestly, and embracing all facets of yourself helps you to be a better integrated professional. Plus, once it’s out there, it really is out there. And if it’s not appropriate to post then don’t post it anywhere, at all.

Allison Primack

A lot of the replies on this thread are about Facebook, but do you all have the same reaction about having one versus multiple Twitter accounts?

Hope OKeeffe

Decidedly multiple, to the degree I have an alter ego avatar for some purposes to emphasize that I am not speaking in my professional capacity. On the other hand, nothing to hide here, and my networks tend to bleed together.

That said, I was somewhat entertained recently in a social media training (that I was giving) to be cited as the poster child for unprofessionalism based upon a deliberate cross-contamination of my personas in response to the agency-blog interview question “What is something your coworkers don’t know about you.”

Avatar photo Katelyn Keegan

I have two distinct online socia media identities. There is me – as you see me and there is Bella Ripley. In high school, I started playing an online government simulation game and my parents didn’t want me to use my real name, so Bella was born. Although Bella is a lot like the real me, I keep them as seperate as possible. Both have their own facebook, AIM, Google+, Emails and Twitter accounts. I have never had an issue keeping them seperate, even when the two are combined offline. You just really need to know yourself and keep in character.

Kevin Lanahan

I agree with Chris and Danielle about having one persona for your online presence. Anything I post on my personal FB or Twitter is me, but I’ll post stuff about my life on FB but only use Twitter for work-related stuff. That’s just posting the right content to a target audience.

But when I am posting on my agency’s Facebook page, I am not posting as me, the person. I am posting as a personification of my agency. Completely separate role, with completely separate rules. And when I go, that persona no longer exists.

To me, that is the only reason to have separate accounts: work/private. Depending on whether you are a Boomer, Xer or GenY, the difference may be blurry.

If you think in terms of salad dressing, I take a vinaigrette approach. Oil and vinegar stay separated until I choose to mix them up. Some people are more like ranch dressing and don’t have separation.

Steve Radick

I’m Steve and I’m Steve all the time, whether you meet me in a bar or in a conference room. I never understood the different identity thing – do we really think it’s a good idea to have multiple alter-egos in real-life too? Sure, you may act a little differently when you’re in a bar vs. a conference room, but it’s still YOU. Can you really be a button-up conservative suit at work and an emo-rocker at night? If so, would you be mortified if someone at work saw you at a bar? If so, you’re in for a rude awakening because it can and will happen. I don’t think we get to choose that in one environment, we can act like a total idiot because hey, I happen to be out of the office. My boss might be across the street and see me. Instead of trying to create fake personas of yourself to come across as many things to many people, I recommend just being yourself all the time.

I like how Gary Vaynerchuk puts it – “be you, and be you 100% all the time.”

Anna B. Sandoval

@Steve Radick – in my blog post I make the point that we are complex people and in different spaces, online or offline, we deploy different parts of our identity. There is some research on this phenomenon that I cite on the post. There is a lot of murkiness on how different people manage different parts but we do manage our image – for some it may be that it’s all out there for others it’s segmented. This is not about creating fake personas by the way, its about managing what others want to see about you.

Wendell Black

It seems pretty cut and dry to me, LinkedIn is for professional networking, FB is for social networking. Manage accordingly.

Shannon Donelson

I realized pretty early on that you have to have a good balance of restriction and openness on social networks. For instance, I created two different Twitter profiles, one more professionally based and completely open to the public, and my personal account, private to anyone who I do not approve. I realized this was a good idea when work-related tweets started causing friend-follower drop off. I tweet about life and football with my friends and discuss communication, innovation, and all things government on my professional.

Facebook is my personal social network. Being in the social media world professionally, I obviously have contacts and co-workers to connect with on Facebook, but they are strategically listed. This way there is a good balance between work life and personal life!

All in all, if done strategically, you can have it both ways!