What kind of Twitter identity do you seek?

There are some very interesting psychological theories used in Marketing and Business which explain why people behave the way they do. Put simply, people buy different brands and products to fulfill external and internal needs. These needs reflect their sense of self. And people can generally be placed in one of three categories:

1. Affiliation needs – people who primarily want to ‘belong’. For example, think of teenagers and their need to buy the latest fad.

2. Leadership needs – people who want to be seen as innovators and want to be seen as cutting edge. A good example is all those people looking for the latest and greatest new phone!

3. Achievement needs – people who buy things to demonstrate they’ve ‘made it’. Often, buying that sportscar or a First Class plane ticket fulfills that need.

My current research on discourse analysis on Twitter suggests you can identify people working to fulfill these same needs on Twitter! With just text to convey how we want to be seen by everyone, the things we decide to Tweet and whom we tweet with demonstrates us ‘working’ to fulfill one of these needs.

Someone with an affiliation need on Twitter will use lots of hashtags. Ways of belonging. They will identify themselves as part of popular movements on Twitter. They want to be part of a particular crowd. Mommy bloggers. Lots of RTs and @ conversations with people they want to be associated with.

Someone with a leadership need will probably not ‘life stream’. Instead they’ll stay on one topic and tweet links to specific cutting edge stuff in their field. They will talk with just about anyone as long as it’s on the topic they want to be seen as a leader in. They don’t stray from that path. It’s like they’re almost the Twitter expert on a particular subject.

Finally, someone with an achievement need will want to be recognised as having ‘made it’. These, I claim, are the type of people who un-follow bulk numbers of people so they can appear accomplished. They’re more likely to be focused on follower numbers than anything else. They might life stream about their accomplished lives, and even lead calls to donate to ‘people less fortunate’, to further identify their separateness from them.

The way we behave on Twitter reflect identity work where we want to be seen by the community as one of these types of people.

What Twitterers can you think of that fits one of these categories? Where do you fit?


  • I have been thinking about the Twitter identity issue a lot lately too. I am struggling a bit with Twitter, even though I really am drawn to the medium. Do I choose to be the ‘work’ me on Twitter? If yes, this greatly limits what I can tweet about, as I can’t talk about anything I am working on, researching etc. I am reduced to providing links, and banal stuff about what I ate for lunch. Being the ‘private’ me though, would mean not disclosing the industry I work in (government), and then probably not using my real name either, which is not what Twitter is designed for. I think I would love to be in the ‘leadership’ category, just for the chance to talk about the big problems I am thinking about and working on. I certainly follow these people, and in an ideal world would be a giver and not just a taker. Apologies for the long comment, this is a really interesting issue that I would love to read more on!

  • Hi Rebecca! Thanks for your response. I still find it fascinating that people believe they can ‘create’ a single identity in an online environment. With tools such as http://www.spokeo.com out there, nothing is secret. Ultimately, while you might want to start off tweeting about a limited range of things, you’ll find yourself drawn to other people who share similar interests with you beyond that limited range you decided on, and suddenly you’re a full person. And that’s not a bad thing. Take your time with it, and enjoy the journey. Good luck with Twitter!

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