Representing Yourself Online

9 minutes, 34 links


Updated January 28, 2020
Using Twitter

If you’re just getting started navigating social media and presenting yourself online, or are hoping to enter a new professional field or community, you want to show people who you really are. Use your real name and, in most cases, make your professional affiliations and interests known.

Your Name and Handle

Your handle is what follows the “@” on Twitter. Try to keep it short and simple. There are a few options for your handle:

  • Your real name (if it’s not taken)
  • A nickname
  • A made-up handle associated with you
  • A handle (or username) you’ve used on existing social media or blogs.

Your name on Twitter is changeable and precedes the handle when you tweet; they are usually different. People generally use their real name for their Twitter name, and you can easily modify the name field to include details you might want to communicate to your followers at different times, like being at a specific conference or being on vacation:

  • “Tina Jenkins in SF for TC Disrupt (Oct 2-4)” or
  • “Kevin Lee OOO until March 3”

Fair warning: your Twitter handle may become a nickname in real life, so choose something you can live with. (Holloway’s co-founder and CEO, Andy Sparks, is frequently called IRL by his Twitter name, @SparksZilla.)

  • Saku Panditharatne uses @asteroid_saku, which associates her with the company she founded, Asteroid AR.

  • Diana Fleischman uses @sentientist, which underscore her belief in the value of all living and sentient organisms, something she discusses and tweets about frequently.

  • Jessi Hempel uses @jessiwrites, which emphasizes her work as a writer and journalist.

How to change your username.

Your Photo

There’s a case to be made for keeping your profile picture the same over the years, even if it means it’s not always up to date. The Founder and CEO of Product Hunt, Ryan Hoover, keeps his profile picture the same, saying, “On Twitter, your @username is secondary to your profile pic. People recognize you by your avatar. Once changed, followers need to re-associate the new photo with your person.”

While the safest bet is to use a photo of yourself, some people opt for cartoon avatars or an illustration.

This practice is more common if you’re already well known. Here are a few examples:

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It’s also common to use an illustrated avatar if you’re demonstrating an affiliation with a well known company.

Notion employees use avatars in the same style:

New Yorker employees also have illustrated profile pictures in matching style:

If you don’t fall into one of these two categories, and your goal is to help people get to know you, it’s probably best to use a photo of yourself.

Your Bio

Your Twitter bio serves to give people a reason to follow you. It’s common to mention where you currently work and where you’ve worked in the past. You can list these companies in plain text or, if the company you work for is lesser known, @mention them. In most cases, it’s a good idea to give people a sneak peek on the kind of tweets they might expect if they were to follow you.

caution Try not to be self-aggrandizing—watch out for words that make people cringe: “thought leader,” “provocateur,” “innovator,” or “contrarian.” Often a one-liner on the type of work you do and what interests you will be more effective than those cliches. Use the link section of your bio to link to your company’s website, personal website, online portfolio (i.e. Dribbble), or your newsletter subscription page.

A Twitter bio can signal which professional community you belong to or the corner of Twitter you inhabit (like “Design Twitter” (#designtwitter), “History Twitter (#twitterstorians),” or “Black Tech Twitter” (#BlackTechTwitter). Different corners of Twitter or Twitter “communities” have different Twitter bio conventions, for example:

  • Members of “Writer Twitter” will include the books they’ve written or where their bylines are featured online (like @IjeomaOluo or @CherylStrayed)

  • Members of “VC Twitter” will include the investment firm they work for and a list of their investments (like @BrianNorgard or @bgurley)

Here are a few other conventions to keep in mind:

  • Users sometimes disclose their significant other and tag them, often mutually (like couple @briannekimmel and @andrewchen) as a way of supporting each other’s work.

  • Some people choose to display their preferred pronouns: (She/Her, He/Him, They/Them).

  • It’s common to add the phrase “Views my own” to the end of a bio. This denotes your tweets and thoughts are not reflective of the affiliations you may have mentioned. You may also see the phrase, “Retweets are not endorsements.”

Anonymous Accounts

Sparking conversations in real life is different from doing so on Twitter. The results are magnified; saying something that resonates with your group of friends is different from saying the same on Twitter and having it spread—liked, RTd, and commented on—by tens of thousands of people.

For the most part, using Twitter is an asymmetric risk. Posting is generally low-effort and will yield few responses or nothing at all. On the other hand, if an idea you share is embraced, you might get thousands of comments and a host of new followers. Enough of this over time, as the community around your tweets grows, leads to new relationships and potentially being viewed as someone to follow. On the flip side, on a platform where people can be equally compelled to engage with positive and negative, and someone disagreeing with you can lead to Twitter mobbing.

Anonymous accounts provide a viable solution; they allow you to express yourself freely without any of the potential downside. However, none of these benefits of Twitter are gained if you shrink under the pressure and anxiety of potentially being called out and opt, instead, for an anonymous account. To a lesser extent, this is also true of having a private account. Posting as yourself is often the best way to establish an online presence that helps you meet others and learn about opportunities. Test out saying things under your own name and owning your opinions and ideas. Without this skin in the game, you won’t be afforded any of the upsides of being on the platform.

At the same time, anonymous accounts are increasingly common and can earn acclaim for their creators once unmasked.

  • @StartupLJackson, an anonymous satire account taking aim at Silicon Valley culture, was started by Parker Thompson (@pt) as an experiment to see whether ideas from an anonymous account could gain traction.

  • NOTAWOLF (@SICKOFWOLVES), an anonymous account started by writer and comedian Dan Sheehan (@ItsDanSeehan), has garnered over 165K followers. As a result, he’s established himself as a comedic voice, gained a personal following, pursued additional creative projects, and earned acclaim in mainstream publications.

Parody accounts can be interesting to follow because their creators, under the veil of anonymity, often bring light to unexamined phenomena or feel comfortable enough discussing topics outside the Overton window.

Tells that an account is either anonymous or parody on Twitter include the following:

  • A profile picture that is a stock photo, random graphic, or in the likeness of a well-known historical figure or celebrity.

  • Their name is non-specific and doesn’t belong to someone who can easily be Googled or affiliated with a certain workplace or association.

  • The tweets on their timeline can be categorized under a singular theme or idea.

  • The tone of their tweets is often marked by humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, nihilism, or solemness.

Parody and anonymous accounts are distinct from fake accounts, those which purposefully impersonate someone, or bots, computer-generated accounts.

Choosing Who to Follow17 minutes, 29 links

I mute the nitpickers, block the outraged, like the kind, follow the insightful.Naval Ravikant (@naval), founder, AngelList and Epinions, investor*

Who you follow matters. The thoughts, likes, and retweets of those you follow will make up nearly the entirety of your timeline. Beyond that, who you follow will determine the recommendations you see, the ads you’re exposed to, the content that percolates into your mind and shapes your opinions and points of view.*

Have Criteria

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