Over the summer, I did a lot of social media training and lots of questions about Twitter came up. One of the most common was ‘what shouldn’t we do on Twitter?’ I collected some of the suggestions people made, and then asked people on Twitter for suggestions too.
Below is a list of the top 12 most common responses. I’ve not included who suggested what because a) I didn’t make a note of that when training and b) some of the replies I got on Twitter were direct messages. If you’ve got any more, or think I’ve got some wrong, please let me know…
1. Don’t …. think that ‘these views are my own’ protects you. Ok, so you tell people on Twitter what you do for a living but stress the views are your own. But if you’re using Twitter, even occasionally, for work, there’s a big risk that if you do say something which causes offence or prompts complaints, your disclaimer won’t count for much.
2. Don’t …. Write anything in direct messages you’d feel uncomfortable seeing on your public timeline. Just ask Kevin Pietersen. His angry tweet about being dropped from the England squad wasn’t apparently meant for public consumption. If that’s the case, then why did it appear on Twitter? He sent it by text to Twitter which would suggest he either sent it to Twitter by mistake, or intended it to be a direct message. There have been numerous cases of people causing offence when a direct message is seen on the public timeline.
3. Don’t …. Block people. Several people mentioned this one to me. On Facebook, if you block someone it becomes nigh on impossible for them to find out what you’re up to. On Twitter, all it does is stop your thoughts appearing in their feed. They can still click on your profile to see what you’re saying, and talk to you. What’s the point of blocking someone on Twitter? If you don’t like what they’re saying, don’t block them. If they’re being racist or somehow particularly offensive, complain about that. Failing that, just ignore them. There’s a danger banning someone ends up reflecting more badly on you than them.
4. Don’t … be too free with your retweets. What you retweet can say a lot about you, so people have told me. So be careful about what you retweet – you’re effectively endorsing it. If people who follow you do so because you’re a journalist, it’s fair to assume that they expect you to retweet links which you trust and know to be reliable.
5. Don’t … link all your other social media to Twitter. Whenever I do social media training and we talk about Twitter, people complain about automated tweets from things like Google Reader, Youtube or Delicious which begin with ‘I’ve read’ or ‘I favourited’ before the headline and the link. Surely if it’s worth sharing with Twitter, it’s worth crafting a tweet to say why the link is worth reading/viewing/digesting? If you do want to share lots of links, set up a separate Twitter account which people know is just the links you find interesting.
6. Don’t … forget about spelling. A common complaint about Twitter and journalists. Abbreviations are one thing, poor spelling is quite another. It’s still a given that we’re supposed to be able to spell.
7. Don’t … get upset if people disagree with you. I like the comparison to Twitter being like a pub – the more you go in and get involved with people, the more you’ll get out of it. But the flipside to that is you’ll sometimes meet people who don’t agree with you. Several people said they were surprised how badly Tweeters react to people who disagree with them. If it’s a conversation, surely it makes sense to keep the debate going?
8. Don’t … get too carried away in defending what you do. For journalists on Twitter, there is always a danger that people who don’t like what you or your publication/outlet do will seek to provoke a debate with you about it. In other words, there’s a fine line between responding to someone who criticises your work and ending up in an argument which is never going to go anywhere because the person you’re debating with. Then again, the fact that some people just don’t like journalists/newspapers and will never miss a chance to say so isn’t exactly news to a journalist, especially a local one.
9. Don’t … just use Twitter as an outlet for an RSS feed or links to your own stuff. If you only use Twitter to promote the stuff you’ve done elsewhere, you may well build up an audience who click on your links – but it’s a bit of a waste. You can get so much more from your followers by talking to them.
10. Don’t … do newsroom humour on Twitter. Newsroom humour can be very dark, as we all know. Sharing it on Twitter is simply dangerous.
11. Don’t … give out too much personal information. Sounds a bit obvious, doesn’t it? But if we have West Midlands Police warning people about saying when they are on holiday, there’s got to be some sort of evidence that personal information can be used against you?
12. Don’t … just write stories based on tweets. Obviously, there are occasions when the tweet is the story – Pietersen being an example. But if someone says something interesting on Twitter which is newsworthy, isn’t it commonsense to at least try and contact them for full quotes?
13. Don’t … forget about your biography. It’s always worth looking at your biography again to make sure it’s up to date, adding in a link as well to a blog or website. It tells people everything they need to know about you.
14. Don’t … get disheartened if you don’t always get a response. Because Twitter is instant, it’s easy to think you’ll get an instant response from your followers. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t, but don’t get fed up too soon.
15. Don’t … feel you have to use Twitter. The evidence of how valuable Twitter is for journalists is plain to see, but that doesn’t mean journalists should feel they have to use it. That said, it’s just as annoying to hear someone dismiss Twitter out of hand without using as it is hearing someone say that you have to be on Twitter….