Blog post

Social Media is for Personas not People

By Anthony J. Bradley | February 22, 2011 | 4 Comments

So a group of guys walk into a bar…. This is actually not a joke but a real situation. A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night in Austin TX, I went into a bar with a group of friends as an esteemed member of the bachelor party for my friend Chris (last name withheld to protect the guilty).

I quickly noticed that on the numerous HD TV flat screens throughout the bar they were streaming Twitter traffic with the bar’s hashtag. I thought, how fun, I can launch some “late Saturday night bachelor party appropriate” tweets about my buddy Chris for the entire bar’s amusement and edification. So I whipped out my iPhone, launched my Twitter app and began writing a tweet appropriate to the situation. I’m happy to say that before hitting the “Tweet” button, my better judgment kicked in. 

Why was it good judgment to stop the tweet? Because my Twitter persona is my analyst persona and my followers on Twitter are expecting me to behave accordingly. What was appropriate for the current situation (probably barely appropriate) was not appropriate for the audience and certainly not reflective of my upstanding analyst reputation. I’m not sure if I would have joined the ever growing “fired for tweeting” crowd but I’m sure some at Gartner would have been less than enthused and amused.    

I believe strongly that the age old adage of “know your audience” applies even more so with social media than other collaboration/communication channels because the audience will get mixed if you let it.

I’ve spoken to some who believe there will be no such thing as persona as everything will blend. I don’t see that happening. I actually see the reverse happening as we mature in our use of social media. They often point to Facebook as the persona neutralizer. Since Facebook is one heterogeneous pool of people we must get used to, and as companies, allow people to behave in a mixed manner across the social Web spectrum.

But we are humans and humans like social circles. I don’t want to communicate the same messages and in the same manner to my family, my boyhood friends, my college friends, my work friends, my co-worker, my former co-workers, my “followers” and the general public. Do you? Do you not reserve certain sides of yourself for particular social circles?

As powerful as Facebook is, I think saying Facebook will change human nature is a bit of a stretch. I believe that if Facebook doesn’t build in the capability to manage social circles then they will open the door to significant competition. I originally established my Facebook page under my analyst persona but as I let more and more family and friends in I realized that Facebook is not the appropriate environment for that persona. So I am shifting my persona. Facebook won’t lose me entirely. They will hold onto my personal persona but they will lose my professional persona. I will go to a competitor because my family and friends don’t want to hear about my technology adventures and frankly, I don’t want to tell them (they already think I’m a geek enough so why feed the fire). 

And I wouldn’t expect companies to just accept blending either. I have seen many an organization striving to get more clear on defining personas and more clearly articulating Web participation policy and when it applies to employee posting, including Gartner. Check out Gartner’s new modified Web Participation Guidelines and see if you can spot personas.

I realize the title of this post is more provocative than wholly accurate. But then again, I am trying to provoke some thought and maybe a response or two. So let’s hear it, and take on any persona you like Smile

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment


  • Anthony J. Bradley says:

    I probably should have spent more time on the whole, know your audience and don’t flood people with a bunch of information about which they couldn’t care less. But that is kind of basic. The social Web doesn’t mitigate information overload, it can exacerbate it.

  • Pretty interesting article, I found I have run into similar problems, where I try to keep Facebook for personal and LinkedIn for work, but you get requests from friends/family/colleagues on both.
    Sure its possible to limit what certain groups can see on things like Facebook, but then you are also limiting the effectiveness of the tool.

    I believe personas will need to be something the social media needs to address further to ensure that they stay relevant. To some extent its a continuation of the arguments around using personal devices in the workplace and corporate liable vs. individual liable; just from the flipside – everyone sees social media as individually owned.

  • Roy Wells says:

    Great Article Anthony,

    Social networking/media is all about providing value to your audience. If your audience is interested in you because of the personna you project professionally, then being concerned about how your reputation can be impacted by a tweet or series of tweets is an important lesson as people develop strategies on how to most effectively utilize these channels. I know I have caught myself on more than one occassion when I was in a social situation and asked myself would I offend any member of my audience or project an image that might be less than flattering.

    But I am also reminded that what I might think is a trivial tweet or status update, might not be trivial to the audience of the person I am following, connected to, or friends with. Audience members need to realize that the people they are connected to may have different audiences comprised of friends, colleagues, family members, team mates, etc, and that you may not be the audience that a tweet or update is directed to. Obviously though, every tweet or update can impact your reputation – and I think your point is well taken.


  • Anthony J. Bradley says:

    Thanks Mat and Roy,

    You raise a very interesting and important dilemma. Is it better to target a very broad audience (network) and run the risk of your message only resonating with a few or is it better to run the risk of limiting the audience but delivering messages that highly resonate?

    My expereince has shown that with social media communications you can get away with the former but to really engage a community to particpate and act (i.e., social media collaboration) you must take the latter approach.