Who the hell do I think I am?

Chris reflects on how managing a Twitter account that he uses for personal and professional reasons can sometimes look a little confusing to the outside world and why the choices we make about what we put on social media have implications for those in positions of leadership.

Hidden identity - Unmasked! by JD Hancock from Flickr
Unmasked! by JD Hancock CC-BY2.0

Managing my identity on Twitter when I use it for personal and professional purposes can be both interesting and tricky. This week has been a case in point.

And it’s got a lot to do with Halfords.

On Tuesday night an embargo expired on a PR piece by the retailer. I knew this was happening because I follow the Twitter account of cycling journalist Carlton Reid who teased it last night saying he was “spitting blood” about it.

It caught my attention as I cycle a lot so caught up on it on the train this morning. Without wanting to fall too far into playing Halford’s PR game, it was a press release claiming a majority of survey respondents thought bikes should have license plates and people on bikes be “required” to wear hi-viz.

I’m not going to go into details here but you can probably guess that I think this is NUTS.

So I tweeted it, it got amplified by Carlton and I got into some brief conversations with a few others in the cycling “community”.


…my other job that day though was to do with my professional identity. I was attending a work event for experts in technology-related teaching and learning. One of my tasks was to live stream video of the main speakers so I’ve been trailing that on the event hashtag since Tuesday.

So my Twitter feed was looking a little peculiar this week for those that don’t know me well.

I’m acting as a node that connects the rather niche group of people who are interested in both technology-enhanced learning and cycling policy.

Not an issue for me but it might look odd to people following me who don’t cross those 2 communities.

So what?

It’s no big deal. The world will not shift on it’s axis but it did make me reflect on another part of my work which is about helping leaders in education make use of social media for their own practice and of their institution.

The tension of managing multiple aspects of personal identities is a key feature of this.

I’ve made a conscious choice to combine the personal and professional on Twitter. It’s a platform I’m heavily “resident” on and to be authentic I feel my social trace and personal “narrative” needs to reflect multiple sides of my personality. Each part of me informs the other parts. I can’t properly separate them in my head so it feels wrong to do that completely online.

Having said that, there are elements of my life and identity I choose not to share. I could tell you which ones but then I’d have to kill you!

The important thing here is choice. You owe nobody access to any part of you that you don’t want to share. There are implications to the choices you make, both on you and those you are connected to, and not just digitally – regardless of whether that choice has been to be constrained or to share more freely.

Part of what we do on the Jisc digital leaders programme is to explore those choices and implications more fully. Social media can be an invaluable tool for communication and collaboration but can also be a source of anxiety due to its complexities and perceived risks. What we do is give people a framework to think about online behaviours, breaking down the mystery and helping people develop their own practice. It leads to very surprising conclusions for some people and quite transformative moments.

It’s one of the most satisfying and interesting things I do in my job.

By Chris Thomson

I'm a Subject Specialist at Jisc focusing on online learning and digital student experience.

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