A Cautionary Tale of Twitter

Social Media

At KiwiCommons.com, we recently cross-posted a blog called “The Terrible Things Tweens Tweet About Their Parents.”

It made me feel sad to read the post.  Combined with our photo of tweets complaining about what teens didn’t get for Christmas, I’d strongly advise those parents to start following their teens’ tweets and have a serious talk about what’s coming through those keyboards/smartphones.

I used to think that tweets weren’t a thing to worry about.  Maybe some people caught them; the majority didn’t.  Lost to cyberspace like farts in the wind.  They’re kind of hard to find, aren’t they?

Well … you’d be surprised.

Unless your tweets are protected (you specify who can follow you and grant permission to people before they can access your page), they’re pretty much fair game for public access, for quoting you, for posting your tweet in headlining stories around the world.  Major news sources will depend on celebrity tweets, because they’re firsthand and unfiltered through a publicist or other such public relations-oriented employee.  If Paris Hilton wants to tell the world where she is, she can do it in 140 characters and nobody had to do more than check her Twitter feed.

Unfortunately, tweets can be taken out of context for publication, and unfortunately, I had that happen to me.  I’d been tweeting all afternoon about an issue that I was totally against, but in collecting responses from the public, a news reporter swept up ONE of my tweets and used it out of context to look like I was FOR the cause.  The reporter was nice enough to notify me that I’d been quoted, but all I could do was respond to the tweet with something fewer than 140 characters long and subsequently lame.

So here is some advice when posting on Twitter, that may save you from embarrassment, help and not hinder you from getting a job, and keep people’s feelings intact.  Ideally, if you’re under the age of majority, you know everyone who follows you and who you follow, but with Twitter, that’s not always the case.

Remember that Twitter is not like a diary, and not even a blog.  It’s microblogging, which is awesome for expressing yourself to the world, but that certain tweets can be taken out of context.  That is, if they’re public, they can be retweeted, e-mailed, and shared … without having the seven other tweets that are supposed to belong in a series.  They can also be randomly Google-cached, which means that the embarrassing thing you said about your outfit (or worse) could be in cyberspace for years to come.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter is way more public.  Though Twitter may feel like it’s a different “audience” than Facebook and the people who know you, those tweets can still make their way to the eyes of the unintended audiences with the search of a keyword.  Your Twitter profile page is still open to people who don’t even follow you, and this could mean bosses, parents, grandparents, teachers, ex-significant others – you name it!

Be prepared for a response.  If I make something particularly awesome in my kitchen, like a peach cheesecake, I often post it online.  And still, it surprises me when people comment (in real life / IRL) and say, “Wow, I love your foodie updates!” or “You are so funny!  I saw that thing about the …” because in my mind, they don’t have time to pay attention to what I post.  I don’t know if they’re checking Facebook or Twitter from the bathroom, but apparently, they have the time.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to have a particular person in mind as the standard for what you put up.  A grandmother or former boss might be a helpful gauge, then you can audit yourself for language and ask yourself, “Would so-and-so really need to know this about me?”

Use proper spelling or standard short forms.  If followers are what you’re trying to build, don’t alienate people who don’t have the patience for tweets written like text messages.  Or if you do that, you’ve got to be really funny.

If it’s a conversation, people can expand the thread for context, but otherwise, pay close attention before hitting “Tweet.”  If you’re aiming to build followers, the aim is almost for the equivalent of great sound bites that can be retweeted to a larger audience.

Hashtagging opens you up to a wider audience, and you never know who’s watching.  Like hashtag games for clever one-liners, anyone can chime in and turn your hashtagged tweet into a group conversation.  Avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself if it’s a particularly contentious subject, like the Montreal student protests (#manifencours #ggi), and you don’t agree.

Be careful about posting your location.  Unless you know that your address isn’t listed publicly or you have a super-common name (e.g. John Smith), you could be making your place of residence vulnerable to potential break-ins or alerting stalkers as to where you are.  And then they’re not even guilty of stalking you, because it looks like “coincidence” after you announced where you were.

You don’t even have to contribute to get the usefulness of Twitter.  Or like the About section of Twitter says, “You don’t have to tweet to get value from Twitter.”  It’s really in who you follow, like news sources, retailers and friends.  Sometimes the beauty of social media is getting in touch with someone (like a celebrity!), but Twitter is really about being in the know, and at a much faster pace than a regular news source.

Use it as a communication device.  As a writer and somebody who works in media, I’ve found Twitter particularly helpful in connecting with game developers for getting the latest scoop on releases or reporting bugs; connecting with retailers in alerting them about services that weren’t up to par; and telling authors if I really liked their books.  Of course, I get annoyed when there’s no response, but the point is to expect it from social media, which promotes connections and exchanges between people.

Social media isn’t always easy to navigate, but there’s a reason why companies are now taking out social media insurance on tweets and posts that damage reputations.  It only takes a few seconds to send something out, but only a few seconds more to think about it first.

You can find Deborah Chantson on Twitter as @DebChantson.

Image Source: Shiny