Todd Wasserman, Business Editor for Mashable, (@toddwasserman) makes a strong case that business people should combine their personal and professional profiles on Twitter. Sure there’s the PhoneDog case where an employer is suing an ex-employee to get the ex-employees personal Twitter handle which they used during their work at PhoneDog. Though the Court has denied the ex-employee’s motion to dismiss, I think the employer’s case is headed south at the end of the day. But using monikers on Twitter prevents people from knowing who you are.
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’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.
Though DKNY PR GIRL has become synonymous with her (public knows it’s one girl, not a company) Licht has no illusions it hers, she knows it belongs to the company. That’s a lot of work on Licht’s part to build a name and reputation for herself and not own her personal identity. Licht is not alone in branding themselves as part of a company.
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. Obviously this was both a personal and professional decision that works for me, while also meeting Dell policies around disclosure and transparency.
But that was 2006, per Wasserman.
[I]n 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.
Twitter is about trust and personal relationships. The reason Twitter works so well as a both an information moving vehicle and a relationship builder is because we know who is on the other end of the line. We can look up who they are, decide if we trust what they share, start to follow them, establish a relationship with them, and share (re-tweet) the information they have shared with the people who trust us. When you break the link of knowing who is at the other (the trust factor) Twitter fails. Fails for relationships. Fails in getting information widely disseminated. Whether using a Twitter handle moniker such as @MAHealthLawyer or @SmithLawFirm, you’re breaking the chain of trust, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You don’t brand yourself as a lawyer by pseudonym, you brand yourself by building relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation in your own name. When people get your name from someone they trust, the leading way (by far) in which people find a lawyer, they Google your name. They don’t Google a Twitter handle you thought was cool. Twitter handles in a law firm’s name? Sure, you can have them, but understand you are severely limiting yourself from a client service and business development standpoint. No one knows who is at the other end. Who am I talking with? Who’s info am I re-tweeting? Who am I building a relationship with? You wouldn’t refuse to have your law firm receptionist, marketing professional, or associate refuse to give their personal name when on the phone or on email. That’s obvious. It wouldn’t be polite. It would be poor client service. And you wouldn’t be building or nurturing relationships with anyone. Why throw common courtesy out the window when it comes to Twitter? I understand many firms are trying to build ‘brands’ in the firm’s name. Do it with marketing. Twitter is beyond marketing, it’s about trust and relationships. I cannot build a relationship with a company. No question that social media is empowering individuals at the expense of corporations. Whether we like it not, corporate brands, as we knew them, are being disenfranchised by individuals. Still build a corporate brand by using social media. Just do using the power of a real person. The ‘real person’ is why social media is growing like it is. The first thing I asked on Twitter when Martindale-Hubbell Brazil (@MartindaleLatam) started re-tweeting my stuff was “who is tweeting for @MartindaleLatam?” I wanted to know so I could get to know the person. I’m curious what Martindale is doing in Brazil and Latin America. Maybe LexBlog looks to explore a business relationship with LexisNexis, their parent company, on work in Latin America. Tough to get started doing by leveraging social media as a trust and relationship builder if I don’t know who’s there. For those afraid of the personal/professional and inability to ‘change out’ when you leave your place of employment, Wasserman points out you change your Twitter name and Twitter handle while still keeping your name and same Twitter account.
[T] 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.
I’m with Alexis Grant (@alexisgrant) a journalist and social media strategist, who spoke with Wasserman, “I suppose you could technically change the handle when you [change your employer] but for branding purposes, it’s better to have a handle that’s all you, so you can keep it forever.” For lawyers, your name means everything. Use it.