Multiple Twitter Accounts

Recently, Kathleen Brandt @a3genealogy tweeted:

“Social media experts: I am avid gardner & cook as well as genealogy. How do I keep my genealogy tweets followers separate from others?” [sic]

As one with 3 different Twitter handles, my answer needed to go far beyond 140 characters. Naturally, I decided this would be a better venue to discuss the question.  Let’s start with:

The Basics

Twitter is a two-way street. On one side of the street, you can create an account and send short outbound messages, or “tweets,” to whomever is “following” you. This is fundamentally micro-blogging — you blog in tiny 140 character bursts which nearly anyone can see by finding your page on Twitter. On the other side of the street, you can follow other accounts and read their incoming tweets in what is often called your “feed” or “stream.” If you like someone else’s tweet, you can “re-tweet” (RT) which shares it with your followers or if you want to respond to a tweet, you “reply.” If you want to highlight any word for easier searching, you place a “hashtag” (#) in front of it. There are ins and outs of these actions, with etiquette and attribution rules.  Genealogists should feel right at home.

If you want to learn more about the basics, there are lots of good resources like Caroline Pointer’s recent post here, or the official About Twitter page.

Why would I want more than one Twitter account?

That’s easy. We genealogists already know “the look” — the eyes glazing over of our friends and family when we start talking about our passion and/or trade. Conversations about IRS rules have a better chance of animated engagement than genealogy with non-genealogists. We’ve seen the look, and we figure our non-genealogy friends will be bored witless if we start tweeting away on our family history topics.

Equally, we can talk SSDI and citation methods till we’re blue in the face with our genealogy friends but do we want to subject them to all of our other passions? This becomes a more pressing question when you run a genealogy business. Will you want to share all of your personal passions with anyone who takes your card at a conference?

Are there other benefits?

Certainly!  Did you know Twitter has a follow limit?  It does. Theoretically, two accounts means double the maximum of accounts you can follow. There’s actually more to it than that, so if that’s your goal, read more here.

Another benefit is being able to sit down, log in, and read all of your genealogy related tweets together. No distractions from other topics. No losing important genealogy tweets if Kevin Smith goes on a bender. It’s a beautiful, focused way to deal with the world inside a world that is Genealogy on Twitter. But if you grok and actually use the built-in functionality of Twitter lists, this benefit can be replicated within one account, at least for reading.

My cautionary tale

I’ll let you in on a secret: whether I agree or not, Klout thinks my most longstanding account is influential about Motorsports, and not the type that goes around an oval track. Three to six times a year, I live-tweet 2 hour races at odd hours and closely follow certain drivers and journalists. Do my genealogy friends want to hear about any of this? Or do they want to hear about the Bay Area food trucks, politics, third-wave coffee or anything else I’ve micro-blogged about for years? I didn’t think they would, so I set my genealogy business account as a separate entity.

I rarely log in to directly to read my tweet stream. Early on, I settled on Tweetdeck to use the same application for my desktop and iPhone. I’ve recently found that between being bought by Twitter, and the associated changes, including reduced customization options and ability to post to other social media applications like LinkedIn and Foursquare, I’ve given up on it. The last straw was the current mobile app always reverting to my personal account when re-tweeting or following new accounts even when the referenced tweet was in my genealogy account stream. I’m currently trying out Hootsuite and finding some nice benefits, though it is still not perfect for me.

What are other problems with two accounts?

Most of the issues I’ve run into have been purely practical. First, you need a separate email address for each Twitter account. Between Gmail and other free services like it, getting distinct email addresses is easy. More difficult is Twitter’s inability to associate one cell phone number with more than one Twitter account. If you want SMS (text) notifications of a reply, re-tweet, or direct message, you can only use that built-in feature for one account unless you have two phone numbers. All of sudden, you have to pick one and prioritize or find another way to manage that functionality. Otherwise, you have to keep track of both accounts throughout the day, tying you to your computer or smart phone in an un-personable way. Or one account suffers from mid-day neglect and the social element that really makes a successful Twitter experience is lost. You come in late to conversations you could have contributed to in real-time and that simply isn’t sociable.

Then there are the ways our Twitter accounts connect to the rest of the Internet. Klout will let you connect “all” of your social media accounts to measure influence across networks, but only one of each so you don’t see the full extent of your reach or influence. You can list different accounts into the contact area of Facebook so friends could find both accounts, but you can’t automatically cross-post to more than one Twitter handle (if you even want to do said cross-posting, something I suggest you avoid). If you do use the Twitter web-page, there is no way to tell at a glance which account you’re logged into and fast account switching is not available so you might need to use different avatars for each. If you don’t use the Twitter page (really, you don’t want to, except in a few special instances, like when you post a tweet to the complete wrong account and want to delete it post-haste), most reader apps still require you flip back and forth between different account streams, keeping yourself out of the loop for a while on things which may be important to you.

Is it worth it?

Look back at one of the first reasons you considered multiple accounts: to spare genealogy friends the tedium of having to read about your other interests, in Kathleen’s case, gardening and food. Is such concern necessary? Twitter power users can exclude tweets from their stream based on search terms, one awesome benefit to consistent hashtag use (no one wants spoilers of tv shows and sports events now that DVRs are common). Any user who follows a lot of other accounts runs into things they simply don’t care about. Twitter allows them to just pass us by while we move on to the next. When you make that decision for your followers, you lose the opportunity for Social Media Serendipity: that moment when you realize you share more than one interest with your followers (or someone you follow). Personally, I’m not much of a gardener but I drool over food posts, even the “OMG look what I’m having for breakfast” type. Who knows what your other followers are into besides genealogy?

If you want to maintain more than one Twitter account, I suggest you think long and hard about your reasons and your dedication to one passion over another.  One of the few circumstances where it makes sense is a business account, but even then, consider trusting potential followers to handle all of your Twitter-self.  You’ll be surprised how often they’re happy to see you as the well-rounded person you are.