Tweet Yourself Like the Person You Want to Be

by cv harquail on February 18, 2009

bird mirror In nearly every corner of my blogging universe, someone is excited about Twitter. Other organizations & leadership bloggers, social media experts, branding experts, and even my info junkie friends are all finding something useful in the opportunity to share information in the super-condensed form of 140 characters.

We think that Twitter is a tool for sharing random stuff that’s popped into our attention, for establishing & extending our online presence, and for directing people to great posts, interesting sites, and provocative information. And it is all of that. But Twitter also offers us something more, something very personal , as I’ve only just discovered.

A few days ago, I got a sweet little tweet from a colleague I rarely see, someone I’ve known since graduate school, who is struggling to start up a new consulting business. We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a few months, with him tweeting about client meetings and business ideas and me tweeting about blog posts, provocative news, and the occasional whimsical insight. After one of of my more intellectual tweets, my colleague sent me this dm:

I’m hanging on, barely. “Following you” helps. Every tweet reminds me who you think I am. Then I remember myself.

hedgehog facing me Reminding you of yourself?

Who knew that my intermittent tweets were having that kind of effect? But thinking over my own early research on identity, identity salience, courage, and advocacy within organizations, the influence of Twitter starts to make sense.

Here’s how it works:
When we get tweeted, our attention is tapped and directed at the same time. Each tweet is not just a message, but also is a message to a certain kind of person … the insatiable intellectual who’d be captivated by this research note, the aesthete who trolls Flickr for random beauty, the early adopter who’d want to know about this site yesterday, the curmudgeon who’d snort at this graph, or the old friend who I know harbors an affection for hedgehogs (the I. Berlin kind of hedgehog).

As the social scientist in me would explain:

Each tweet that we receive carries with it the possibility that it might “authenticate” who we think we are. That is, tweets can reinforce a certain sense of ourselves.  Not only can our own tweets present us the way we’d like to be seen , but other people’s Tweets can trigger a certain part of our identity and keep that identity salient. Tweets can affirm for us how others see us,  and tweets can even confirm for us (a part of) how we see ourselves. All of these are psychological processes that help to sustain our self concepts and that also help us to move towards the person we want to become.

You can use Twitter thoughtfully…

Assuming that you’ve chosen to use Twitter to follow people who inspire you, or intrigue you, or support you, or have something to teach you, or have something in common with you, chances are that several times a day, you’ll get a tweet that nudges at your sense of who you are and who you want to be.

  • Do you have one of those little Twirl or TweetDeck or other Twitter apps open on your desktop, down there on the bottom of your active workspace?
  • When you hear a tweet, do you glance over for a quick look?
  • Do you see a friend or colleague whose work inspires you?
  • Do you remember what is is about them, that makes them someone you follow?
  • Then, can you remember what it is about you that makes you interested?

…. so that Twitter reminds you and inspires you to keep alive that sense of who you are.

Much of the conversation about Twitter is about sharing information with others , or establishing your personal brand, or driving traffic to your website, or even stoking your ego. Yet deep down, underneath all this 2.0 utility, Twitter has the ability to remind you to see yourself as who you are and who your interests are leading you to become.

Therefor, Craft your Twitter practice thoughtfully.

It should go without saying, then, that you need to be picky when choosing folks to follow on Twitter. Go ahead and follow the experts in your field, the folks everyone else talks about, the people who regularly discover hidden treasures. But also, be sure to follow people that care about what you really care about, and who remind you of what defines you best.

My advice, in less that 140 characters?

Tweet yourself right.
Choose to follow people whose tweets can trigger in you the person you want to be.

Have you had this experience on Twitter, or seen it in action for someone else? Let me know in the comments…

[April 9, 2009: Here’s a post from Sean Platt, writing at TwiTip, that covers the self-crafting element of Twitter from a different angle: Tweeting Your Best Self. Check it out…]


Elana Bowman February 18, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I love Twitter, I follow publishing houses, charities and people who inspire me. I am trying to learn about marketing and social networking so follow others to read their blogs and listen to what they have to Tweet. If people find me, I follow them as well and if someone Tweets something I comment on it or Retweet it. For me it is both a genuine business tool and for me as @ebbye to have my say and talk about life, work, books or Sydney. There are some incredible people all over the world and I am glad we are finding each other on Twitter

Lisa February 19, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I really like this CV—- and it resonates with me in the following way. When I first went on facebook I found it a bit overwhelming to see everyone (or almost everyone) from (almost) every period in my life in the same place. I found that there was stuff to remember and to process from every time, or, if I may be a touch dramatic, every era, of my life. Now it is an intricate part of my day and all of my selves, or almost all of them—- are awakened, touched and shared daily. My best friend from next door growing up, who thinks college was a waste of her time (she is a painter), tells me the best reality TV show. I can talk trivia for hours with the people I spent time traveling with—- because that is what we did on long bus rides in Africa and China, etc. we got into very creative conversations about who was the best Beatle (John) and why (edge), etc. And I have my genius intellectual friends keeping me plugged into all that is happening in lower and upper Manhattan. I feel, well, revitalized. Happy to have so many authentic selves.

Lisa February 19, 2009 at 1:11 pm

oh and p.s.— we need to see ourselves, all of ourselves, through others. It is impossible to be human without this—-

Ken Colen February 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm

A wonderfully written essay (wow you’re good!) and very interesting content. I’ve been struck by this new phenomenon of “Facebook narcissism.” I never realized how many narcissists are out there! To put a curmudgeonly bent on things for a minute: ‘I don’t f-ing care that you’re making banana bread!’ and, you, the one who posts every ‘clver; thought that enters your self-involved head : ‘You’re not nearly as funny as you think you are.’ Having said that, I’m absolutely addicted to reading all of the status updates on Facebook and I even let my own narcissism shine from time to time. (I’m sure no one cared that I was delayed at the airport for 4 hours last night or even that I was reliving my childhood via old pictures and letters for the past 2 days (I posted both of those things). Why, you ask? I really don’t know, but your piece does shed some light on the subject. I guess it’s because I think I’m more clever than I am (I put the word “flight” in quotes when posting about the air travel delay) and/or that people actually care about what’s happening in my little life. I realize that my commentary is more about Facebook, or “social tweets,” and less about Twitter, which is meant to be more professionally based. Somehow, while I have a Twitter account I just never got into the habit of checking and my network is still very small. I’m in enough meetings in which people love to hear themselves talk to show how smart they are. I’ll stick to banana bread and bad puns… and then roll my eyes when they come. Once again, bravo on your very thought-provoking and wonderfully written commentary. -Ken

“tweets can present us the way we’d like to be seen”

Ken Colen February 19, 2009 at 1:49 pm

By the way, I was lead to this essay by your husband’s status update on Facebook. Finally, a worthwhile post!

(Please excuse the few typos in the above comment.)

Joanna Young February 19, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Interesting stuff. I’m going to have to think about it a bit. I love Twitter and am totally hooked on it. I wouldn’t necessarily have identified these reasons though – for me I enjoy exprsessing myself in 140 characters, and having rapid fire conversations that are still thoughtful, creative, kind, funny, engaging… I enjoy following people who are in turn thoughtful but maybe also funny, different, slightly challenging, quirky… probably they are people who I watch in my stream, but don’t regularly engage with.

Not sure if that’s a very articulate response… still mulling it over 🙂

Alina Popescu February 20, 2009 at 3:12 am

I have to agree with Joanna, it’s a perspective on Twitter that I have to still think about to be able to express an articulate opinion. But if I stop and think about the people I follow, you might be right, they sometimes remind me of everything I am and everything I could be.

Thank you for joining the competition! Don’t forget to also comment on the announcement post, to make it all official 🙂


Alina Popescu February 20, 2009 at 3:14 am

Never mind that last suggestion! Your comments got caught by Akismet, it’s been sorted out 🙂

Hesham February 21, 2009 at 5:56 am

Twitter came with new mening for the internet , media, and communications.
Very nice post!

DaveMurr February 26, 2009 at 8:45 am

Hi CV,

I have to apologize your reply to my blog post was caught in my spam filter and I just saw it this morning.

Your insight to how Twitter reflects who we are and leave footprints is intriguing to me. I am fascinated how all these social media toys reflect deep rooted behavior that has existed in our DNA since we hung out in caves. In my opinion, nothing has changed. We are just now able to communicate how we’ve always wanted to.

I don’t necessarily agree that one should be picky about who they follow. In my anti auto DM post, I shared how I go about deciding who to follow. For me the more the merrier, though I will immediately state that I don’t see followers/followees as a number game. It is a personal preference. If you want to only follow 50 people fine, 30,000 great. Its your account, do what you want. I will share that the more people I connect with, the greater the experience and the opportunities.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, I’ve enjoyed reading yours and you have a new subscriber.

China Deals December 1, 2010 at 11:20 am

Great job my friend. Thanks for a great blog. Keep up with the good work. Stan

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