Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Twitter = Speaking in Public

Last week, for a day or so, I broke one of my key rules for participating on blogs and social media sites:

Don't discuss politics or religion.

But in spending some time on Twitter last week, I was shocked at some of the political 'talk' I saw. I was stunned to see very intelligent people throwing around generalizations and insults as if they were candy. Others have seen the same thing, I'm encountering more and more people that say that they are either spending less time on Twitter now, or have stopped going there at all, now that we are in the height of the political season.

Still, the experience reminded me how much passion that people have invested in some topics. And it drives home the point that when you are participating on social sites, you are speaking in public. I'm amazed at how many smart people that REALLY get social media, forget this. Many of us are dealing with companies and teaching them about how 'Google never forgets', but we seem to be ignoring the very lessons we are trying to teach.

And it's not just political talk, I've been noticing people blurting out distasteful comments that I can't see them ever saying in public. Even companies are getting in on the act.

So I think we all need to step back and remember that when we get on Twitter, our personal brand comes with us.

BONUS: Beth Harte has a wonderful post on twitter and your branding. She raises many of the same points I do here, but does a better job with them.


Mike Driehorst said...

Great point! I also try to veer away from politics, other than with my immediate family -- and that's only via verbal communication.

Emotion-based comments + eternally searchable Internet can = some moments we'd rather forget. Not saying the comments were bad, but as you indicated, they may not show our best professional face.

Beth Harte said...

This needed to be said, well done Mack. Whatever the topic, people on Twitter need to consider what a potential (or current) employer, client or donor might think when they see an isolated tweet.

First, given how Twitter works it's easy to take a tweet out of context and second, the next thought could potentially be ‘what if they will talk about our CEO, us, or our competition in that manner? How could that damage our brand?’

So when talking about politics, religion, employers, companies, competition, etc. we all need to remind ourselves how our tweets can be misinterpreted and that they are PUBLIC forever.

We talk about corporations leveraging social media, but these types of comments are exactly what scare them away from it.

And yes, we need to be transparently ‘human,’ but I think you can show your personality/character without damaging your own brand.

Thanks for the link to my post, I appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Well said.

This issue reflects an aspect of "social marketing" that we should all keep in mind. A relationship is dynamic, i.e., all relationships don't have the same depth.

If someone you know well in the heat of discussion says something unfortunate you will attribute their behavior to the circumstances. If someone you don't know well or at all says something equally unfortunate you will attribute their behavior to them.

In social marketing the vast majority of participants don't have a deep relationship with you so, unless you want them to think you're an ass, watch what you say.


Ari Herzog said...

Very true, Mack. But it's not just for Twitter users but every other medium out there (including your blog) that is archived on the web.

Moreover, you can take the position that even if something is not available for the public to see, enterprising individuals can share it, such as comprising photos you posted on MySpace for your friends.

Warren said...

Excellent advice. Too often, we forget about it in the fish bowl of Twitter and the social web.

Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

Very good article!

I enjoyed the read and as you mentioned: it is important for us to remember that when we use twitter, we are representing our brands...unless of course we are twittering for ourselves only.


Anonymous said...

I personally dropped a Tweeter because his comments were rude and inflammatory during the DNC last week. I have no problem with an individual expressing his/her opinion but it doesn't have to be done in a manner that is insulting to the other side. We can agree to disagree RESPECTFULLY.

Nedra Weinreich said...

Amen, Mack! I have unfollowed several people on Twitter over the past week, not because of their political views, but because of how they stated them. There has been a lot of ugliness out there lately. I decided that whatever benefit I derived from their nonpolitical comments was not worth being exposed to the person they became when they talked about politics.

I think when people assume that everyone else has similar views, they feel more comfortable to let it all hang out. You make a good point about it affecting their personal and professional brand.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree about minding one's manners when it comes to any discussion, be it online or otherwise, regardless of the tool one uses. Anyone who hides behind the internet's partial (or total) anonymity just to sling mud deserves to be judged accordingly.

I'm guilty of discussing politics publicly from time to time, always in a polite yet completely biased fashion. I most certainly (carefully) consider those comments with the knowledge that people are listening. As in, "this is what I believe, take it or leave it." It's a matter of tact, I suppose.

FWIW, I'm Canadian, and even here, we can't help but get wrapped up in the action. Our opinions don't actually even count for anything, but that doesn't stop us from commenting ;)

Anonymous said...

It’s true sometimes people forget that as much as twitter is online it’s still like speaking public.

Mack Collier said...

"And yes, we need to be transparently ‘human,’ but I think you can show your personality/character without damaging your own brand."

Great point, Beth. For example, Karl Long and I were discussing the WholeFoods tweet, and he said it was ok because 'that's how humans talk'. But I don't think that ALL humans talk that way, so why would a company offend SOME of its customers even if others are ok with the language?

Mack Collier said...

"I think when people assume that everyone else has similar views, they feel more comfortable to let it all hang out."

Nedra I think this a great point. If you come out and slam either candidate, the odds are that you will immediately get a few 'hell yeah!' replies from your followers. I think that leads to the false assumption that 'I'm right, and everyone thinks the way I do'.

But the problem is, how many people are reading your tweets and thinking 'this guy's a jackass, that's it, he's unfollowed!' I've done EXACTLY that in the last week, and it sounds like others here have as well.

Unknown said...

Mack, I think it's hard to always avoid those topics. We're human and we are in election season. However, your post reminds me to be mindful about what I say in public. I never want to offend anyone or turn off a potential business contact. Thanks for the reminder and the link to Beth's great post too.--Karen Swim

Anonymous said...

I think it's the fact that we are networking behind a screen that allows people to say whatever they want to say without thinking too much about it's consequences.

I do agree that it's personal branding, whatever one say or not say in the virtual world. Online reputation should always be monitored because you never know it might come back and bite you :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mack. My Twitter follow list is shrinking, too. It's not just that some people are talking about politics nonstop. It's that they're saying things that are so worn and cliched, it makes me question their judgment on the stuff they supposedly know about.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. And it's easy for folks to get in the mix.

Since I work for a news organization, I have to really be careful with what I put out there!