Personal or professional on Twitter? It's not actually about you

Thursday 2 June 2011, 19:17

Ramaa Sharma Ramaa Sharma is a multimedia journalism and production trainer for the BBC College of Journalism International. Twitter: @ramaamultimedia

It's not easy for a journalist to come to terms with being social and personable online and an impartial producer or reporter, all at the same time. 

The private/professional identity conundrum is not a new one and has been knocking around the social media sphere for some time. However, despite this, if the enthusiastic discussions at the recent BBC Social Media Summit are anything to go by, it's clear that the issue still has many journalists scratching their head.

From a training point of view, this very debate has made some delegates on my courses pull bemused faces and shift nervously in their seat, uncertain about how much to reveal about themselves and what to tweet about. Sky News Producer Neal Mann - he of 11, 000-plus followers - had some interesting points on the matter. Neil said (I'm quoting from memory here) that Twitter is actually not about you (the hack) but all about your content.

Despite Twitter feeling like it's all about the people on it - actually, is it? Or is it all about what is being said?

Neal's interests and personal life do not feature in tweets on his very popular @fieldproducer account. His account/personal brand is about breaking news, and that is it. But Neal is social in his tone and in the way he engages with his followers. 

And this makes perfect sense. Unless you are a celebrity, when people look at your Twitter bio they are looking for an indication of the value you are going to provide them with. If you're witty/funny that's a bonus, but, ultimately, when you tweet the question is: are you giving them what they expected?

BBC Mundo recently launched a separate account dedicated to breaking news events. To its surprise, despite having an established account already with 128,000 followers, Mundo found its new account gained a huge following over a very short space of time. Again, all because it was clear about what it was offering and met the audience's expectations. 

So how does this help with the private versus professional identity debate?

If a journalist knows exactly what they want to offer on Twitter, this will help them to come up with a relevant bio, know exactly what to tweet about and amass relevant followers. The conversations with these followers, who will invariably share similar interests, will in turn help to produce quality output.

This is a lot easier, intuitive even, for correspondents with specialisms (the Robert Pestons and Laura Kuenssbergs of this world), but so much tougher for news producers, daily reporters and brands. How can one be specific when the news you produce is general? Investing the time to think about this, however, does appear to be key.   

I'm fully aware that what I'm saying will be self-evident to some, and I also think it would be a mistake to come up with any 'rules' for such an evolving medium. But, after training experienced BBC journalists in this area for almost two years now, I know these issues need to be addressed. A loose framework needs to be provided so that, once the need to engage is established, journalists are not left floundering and confused.

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