I got a strange e-mail today from an online clothing shop. The outreach coordinator said her shop was asking social media consultants for advice on "how to balance one's social media presence with personal and professional style," and they wanted my advice as an influencer in the area of social media - ha!
The outreach coordinator said the shop had written a popular article some time ago about how to maintain one's relationships with others in a digital world, and they are now wanting to write an article on how to balance being professional and personal in social media today. The outreach coordinator wrote, "[w]ith Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter being some of the most popular social media sites it is a challenge today sharing pictures of your life and your personal views without worrying about not getting hired or the promotion one's been waiting for."
But this got me thinking. I often encourage science students and faculty to build their social media presence and try their hand at communicating science via social media, if they are so inclined. But many faculty, and even students these days, are hesitant to use social media in a science communication capacity. I think sometimes this hesitation comes from faculty and students not knowing how to navigate creating an online presence that is both professional, personal and personally meaningful. Students are worried on the one hand that they will put off their current online friends if they start tweeting what they are learning in school, and on the other hand that tweeting professionally means they will open themselves up to scrutiny from potential employers. I see faculty members frozen at the keyboard trying to compose tweets that are so scientifically oriented that they leave no space for the personal story, anecdote or daily-life tidbit.
A little googling will reveal the "golden" 80/20 rule of social media. Books and articles about social media will tell you things like, your tweets should be 80% professional and 20% personal, 80% others' content and 20% your own, 80% about your audience and 20% about your brand, etc. The 80/20 rule is catchy, and I like that it leaves some room for being "you" and getting personal with social media. But this isn't a science...
Or maybe it is. But if social media is a science, it's certainly not just a science of numbers, followers, statistics, retweets and influencer scores. It's a social science. It's about psychology, sociology, network science. But at the base of it all is human connection.
I follow some Twitter accounts that are straight news - facts and links. But I follow many more accounts and interact with the accounts that highlight the personality, interests and lives of the individual users these accounts belong to. While it might be convenient to follow a Twitter handle that features textbook-like science communication research updates, that isn't fundamentally why I login to Twitter every day - or every hour. I login to interact with other people interested in science, science communication, science art, journalism and photography... and acrobatics and dogs. I login to interact with a community of people who not only tweet interesting science things, but have interesting lives and personal insights I value. If you are a scientific research tweeting robot, or if you tweet without having much dialogue with others, I probably won't follow you.
So what does this all mean? In the title of this blog post, I indicated that I'd be telling you something about how to find the "perfect mix" of professional and personal on Twitter. So here it is: Don't be so formulaic. You might start with the 80/20 rule, but in the end you should use Twitter and social media in general in a way that feels most valuable to you.
I have a little over 6,200 followers on Twitter today. Over the last 10 days, I've tweeted about why science matters to our pets, why unconscious people don't like tea, and how storytelling fits into science communication. I've shared updates on my current job search and videos of my acrobatic skills. I've asked for advice on a data project I'm currently working on, which I got plenty of via Twitter replies and follow-up e-mails. I grieved publicly for the victims in Orlando. I expressed frustration with a job application form, and I tweeted about President Obama saying we shouldn't shame women for embracing their sexuality or criticize them for being aggressive in the workplace.
I strive to always be open-minded, fair and respectful on social media, and I never tweet out of anger without sitting on a draft Tweet for a LONG time (minutes to hours). I often end up never sending that Tweet that was drafted out of anger or frustration, unless it's still worth it after a bit of reflection time. But I almost never come across something I find interesting or that I'm passionate about and think "well that doesn't apply to science communication, so I shouldn't tweet about it." Of course, I'm talking about my personal Twitter feed (@fromthelabbench), not an organizational one. But I think there is great merit in any Twitter user, whether individual or organizational, not being timid about revealing their humanity.
I've never really had an issue with tweeting something personal that I later regretted. Mostly, I just follow these two basic rules: 1. Think before you Tweet and 2. Remember that EVERYTHING is public and could be seen by anyone. If you remember these two basic rules, you won't tweet out a picture of yourself acting in a way that a potential employer will find inappropriate because you will think before you tweet and remember that anyone, including potential employers, could see that picture.
But honestly, it is far more likely that anyone reading this will fail to be personal and human and friendly enough on social media to draw an audience for their science tweets, than that anyone reading this will tweet something that is "too personal" and get themselves into trouble.
Be yourself on social media. Be respectful and mindful of your potentially global audience, but be yourself. Share others' content, but don't forget to tweet about your life too, to have conversations and to share your own original thoughts, data, insights etc. Over time, you might turn that 80/20 rule on its head, and be sharing 80% personal, original and conversational content and 20% purely "professional" content or content created by others. And if you get there, you are probably doing something right.
As long as other Twitter users know what you are "about," and they can identify what you are passionate about and why you are a valuable "follow," Tweet whatever the heck you want as long as you are open-minded, respectful, ethical and fair. I have no doubt most of my 6,000+ followers follow me for information about science communication, but also to get to know me.
Above all, don't leave yourself out of your social media channels, especially with regards to your keenest interests, deepest passions, truest emotions and nerdiest geek-outs.