Lesson for Professors (And Brands) on Twitter: Be Personal

No matter how much they feign cool disinterest, a new study shows that students will trust you as a professor more if you tweet about your personal life. What you tweet affects how you’re perceived by those you teach – a lesson which can be extended from the classroom to the world of business.

Kirsten A. Johnson, an assistant professor at Elizabethtown College, was curious about how her tweeting affected her credibility in the eyes of her students. Mulling this question, her academic instincts kicked in and she designed an experiment to test it.

Working with one of her students, she created three fictional “professor” Twitter accounts (creatively named Caitlin Milton, Caitlyn Milton, and Katelyn Milton). One account was filled solely with personal tweets like her morning workout routine, another stuck to academics, and the third combined both.

And guess which one the students trusted more? Caitlin number one, the personal professor.

Polling 120 students who had been following these Twitter accounts, Johnson found that the personal professor rated highest across competence, trustworthiness and caring, which she took to add up to credibility.

Johnson believes that students trusted the personal professor more because of their desire to create a bond between themselves and their professors. By tweeting about her personal life, “Caitlin” appeared more like a real person than the other professors.

Among the 120 students who participated, not all of them found the personal professor to be most credible, however. Both older students and students who didn’t use social networks regularly themselves responded less positively to the tweets.

A personality leads to credibility on Twitter, at least in academia. And I think this has implications for businesses as well. Intuitively, it seems that bland corporate accounts are perceived as less credible than an account with a littler personal flair. Being human is something that Twitter makes possible, now that businesses have a low barrier-to-entry method for branding and customer service outside of static press releases and layered menus on their phone services.

Using Twitter, whether you’re a business or a professor, in a way that shows your followers you are more than just a robot will lead to good things – as long as you don’t get too personal and begin oversharing.