Should You Combine Your Personal and Business Social Media Identities?

4/23/2012

If you’ve just got a new job and are now contemplating tagging your Twitter account with a shout-out to your new employer, consider the case of @Phonedog_Noah, a.k.a. Noah Kravitz.

Kravitz, a blogger, chose his Twitter handle when he was employed by cellphone news and review website PhoneDog. But Kravitz left in 2010, and last year PhoneDog sued him for $340,000 for the 17,000 followers he kept after he left the position.

It’s unclear if PhoneDog will get its way — a California court in February denied Kravitz’s motion to dismiss. Meanwhile, Kravitz told Mashable last December that he “would do it differently now.”

While Kravitz’s case provides a clear reason to avoid meshing your professional and personal worlds via social media, it’s not always a bad idea.

Consider, for instance, Aliza Licht, a blogger with 385,000 followers. But it’s a fair bet that few of those followers know who Licht is. That’s because she goes by the nom de plume (or maybe “nom de Twitter”) DKNY PR GIRL. Licht, who started the account in 2009, is credited with spawning imitators in the fashion industry, including Oscar de la Renta’s @OscarPRGirl.

Licht, who had worked in PR at Donna Karan since 1998, kept her identity secret until last October, when she revealed it in the YouTube video below:


Licht’s Twitter handle is sort of an amalgam of advertising and social media. DKNY PR GIRL is a character, as she freely acknowledges, and thus can be thought of as no different than Flo from Progressive Insurance. Yet, the Twitter account became popular because of Licht’s personality and her nearly 24/7 commitment to updating on the platform.

“The account started anonymously because DKNY PR GIRL was envisioned as a ‘character,’ hence the sketch,” Licht says, referring to the illustration on DKNY PR GIRL’s Twitter page. “But as soon as I started tweeting, I realized that Twitter was a conversation, and the voice needed to be consistent. Naturally, people started to realize DKNY PR GIRL was in fact, one girl, but yet it never really mattered ‘who’ the person was — it was the personality and content that mattered. As time passed and the account became more popular, we realized the anonymity didn’t matter anymore either.”

Despite her seamless integration with the persona, Licht has no illusions that she has any claims on DKNY PR GIRL. “DKNY PR GIRL has become synonymous with my name, however it belongs to the company,” Licht says.

Another social media star who melded his online identity with his employer is Richard Binhammer, the director of strategic corporate communications, social media and corporate reputation management at Dell, who is better known by his Twitter handle @RichardatDell.

“Dating back to 2006, when I first started work in the social media field for Dell, the linking of company and personal name to create @RichardatDell has made it clear, transparent and obvious who I am and that I represent Dell,” Binhammer says. “Obviously this was both a personal and professional decision that works for me, while also meeting Dell policies around disclosure and transparency.”

As Binhammer notes, if you intended to be a public spokesman for a company in 2006, then it made sense to put your company’s moniker in your social profiles. However, in 2012, the standard practice is to be yourself and build a social media following, and then act as a hired gun for the companies you represent. A good example of this is Ben Rudolph, Microsoft’s chief evangelist, who goes by his given name on Twitter, though he uses @BenThePCGuy as his Twitter handle.

Also, there are two fields of identification on Twitter: Your name and your handle; you can change both to whatever you would like (as long as it’s not already taken). Consider the case of Ben Smith, the former Politico editor, who joined BuzzFeed in January. When Smith left Politico, he changed his Twitter handle from @BenPolitico to @BuzzFeedBen, yet his name still appears as “Ben Smith.” He has kept his handle intertwined with his company, but remains his own personal brand on Twitter — as a result, the switch from one publication to another is seamless.

The advantages of keeping your name are obvious. For Rudolph, if he ever left Microsoft, he would still be Ben Rudolph on Twitter, even if he became (for example) @BenTheSamsungGuy. “The way the workforce is changing, it’s probably a given that you’ll have to leave that employer at some point,” says Alexis Grant, a journalist and social media strategist. “I suppose you could technically change the handle when you do, but for branding purposes, it’s better to have a handle that’s all you, so you can keep it forever.”

As the PhoneDog lawsuit demonstrates, that’s a major consideration. If your profession involves communicating with the public, then your Twitter following will be taken into account by future employers. Apparently, that’s worth quite a lot: the $340,000 lawsuit nets out to $2.50 per follower in Kravitz’s Twitter audience.

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