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.

Ramaa Sharma (@ramaamultimedia) is a senior trainer, social media strategy at the BBC College of Journalism.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by rosieniven

    on 10 Aug 2011 15:56

    "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."

    That is all fine but the point of social media for me is the conversation. When you respond to someone you often reveal something about yourself. I try not to reveal my politics or other things that might affect my personality but to get the most out of Twitter, I think it would be difficult to draw the line to tightly around our professional life. Neal Mann has worked out where his line is, so should the rest of us.

    "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."

    Yes, this is very true. I don't follow Robert Peston but one of the reasons Laura Kuenssberg set the pace on Twitter for political journalists was her tidbits and off air political anecdotes during the election and coalition talks. When you have a role that brings you in contact with decision makers so regularly, you can do that easily.

    I am a freelance journalist working mainly online - it's much more difficult to tweet about your work. I am quite open and find that having a dialogue with people helps me when I am researching, I also want to maintain my identity.

    You might freelance for the BBC but have other clients. If that's the case it is important to have an identity that is independent of your clients.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by marcdraco

    on 7 Jun 2011 11:19

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

    Let me explain: Twitter is about making money for the venture capitalists who own Twitter. It's not about you, it's not about your content, it's about making a bunch of rich Americans richer using a system that's virtually untouchable by the law.

    For the most part, it's about being able to disseminate puerile, childish and occasionally illegal gossip faster than ever before and the BBC have disgracefully fallen for it hook, line, sinker, rod and fisherman.

    Birds tweet and I think it's about time that journalists at the BBC in particular remember that writers WRITE.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by CASTELLAN

    on 5 Jun 2011 12:48

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 1. Posted by JunkkMale

    on 5 Jun 2011 06:11

    '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.'

    I am a little surprised at the level of 'training' that it seems is needed by practitioners in this sphere, that seems to accept a rather poor level of common sense.

    If anyone involved in 'reporting' can't grasp at what point impartiality goes out of the window, and is clearly seen as plot loss, poorly concealed agenda advocacy or plain incompetence by readers, then no amount of 'training' is going to make any difference.

    A bit like in-theory qualified health professionals apparently needing loadsamunny lobbed their way to appreciate dehydrated patients can benefit from water provision, without accountability (especially in the public sector) the only likely outcome is something unfit for purpose getting slightly better polished.

    I fear that 'the views of the author do not reflect their employer' does not cut it when, to solicit volumes of 'followers', the bio and often twitter name have BBC plastered all over them. With very partisan 'views' then mixed in with 'news'.

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