Social Media and the Professional: Twitter

In this series I’m looking at my experiences using social media as a business professional. In this entry I examine the rules and policies I personally use regarding Twitter.

In the introduction to this series of blog entries, I asked several questions regarding my use of particular social media services, and how I manage the intersection of my personal and professional lives in them. Here I’m going to look specifically at Twitter. This is the way I use the service and may or may not be how you do or should use it yourself.

I do not have separate Twitter accounts for work and my personal life. If you go to my Twitter account, you’re likely to see several aspects of my personality. I think that’s important: if I had a work-only blog it might sound like a marketing channel.

Who will I follow?

If I follow more than about 400 people or Twitter accounts, I find it hard to separate out what is important from what is not. That is, the noise dominates the signal. (But see update below.)

Every month or two I go through the accounts I follow and drop those that seem to hibernating or otherwise unused. I’m happy to follow someone to see if I find they are posting interesting or informative stuff, but if they are not, I’ll drop them to make room for somebody new. I’m happy to revisit that decision, and do add people back sometimes.

If someone posts too often, I may drop them because they are dominating my feed.

If someone is using Twitter mainly for self-promotion, I usually drop them for several weeks. I’ll check back in to see what they are then talking about and decide to follow them or continue to stay away.

Who will I try to get to follow me? Who will I block?

This is hit or miss. I may follow someone in the hope they will follow me, but my feelings won’t be hurt if they don’t. I could probably be more deliberate in what I say and how I say it to gain more followers, but that seems odd. Controversy always increases  the number of followers, but I need to be careful about not misrepresenting my opinions as those of my employer’s.

I block obvious spam accounts or ones that are obscene or hateful. I wouldn’t want these people talking to me in my living room, and so I don’t want them to be involved in any way in my Twitter conversations.

How much will I say in my profile about myself?

Just enough. There’s a fair amount of information about me that is pretty public at this point. My résumé is online, I’m male, you can probably guess my age with a bit of research, and it would be hard to miss that I now work for IBM. So I include enough for people to decide if they have found the right Bob Sutor, but not much more.

What kinds of status updates will I post? How often will I post?

All my blog entries have their titles and links automatically posted on Twitter. (I’ve used various WordPress plugins for this, and I recently switched to JetPack.)

I’ll post or retweet IBM announcements if they are about areas in which I now or formerly worked, if I see them. I don’t go out of my way to do this, but several of my work colleagues are very good at bringing these to my attention. If I think the topic is cool or innovative, I’ll say something.

I’ll post or retweet news items or articles if they are interesting, in the hope that if you bother to follow me, you might think them valuable as well. (If not, I know you’ll ignore them.)

I’ll say something when an idea pops into my head that I decide is funny, clever, intelligent, or profound. For such an item, however, I try to wait several minutes so that I don’t also decide that it is silly, obvious, dumb, or inane. I’ve deleted tweets that fall into the later categories if I later regret putting them up. I know they won’t really be gone, but they’ll be a bit harder to find.

When I first started using Twitter I had all my tweets posted also to Facebook. My wife (and through her, her friends) thought this was just too much. So I don’t do that anymore.

I don’t seem to hesitate tweeting about television shows I don’t like. I’ve occasionally gotten some customer service problems resolved via tweets.

When will I share content posted by others?

In Twitter-speak, this is mostly retweeting. I usually do these in batches. I might have 5 or 10 minutes here or there to scan my Twitter stream and I’ll retweet the good stuff I see.

How political, if at all, will I be in my postings?

Slightly. I try not to overdo it, though opinions probably vary about that. I’ll do more before elections that will make my US political party affiliation pretty clear. Other than that, I tend to retweet some items I’ve seen that pertain to social issues.

It’s really easy to go too far in this area. Know your company’s or organization’s policies about this.

How much will I disclose about my personal details and activities in my postings?

This is related to the profile question and response above. You don’t need to know where I am most of the time, but if it is public knowledge that I am speaking at a conference, I’ll say where I am, for example.

I don’t tell you every place I go. I’m not the mayor of anything. I may tell you where I was last week, however.

In my blog I talk about hobbies such as sailing, carpentry, and fishing. I may tweet or retweet items about that sort of thing.

On what sorts of posts by others will I comment?

I may comment on something tweeted or retweeted by someone I know. My biggest regrets about using Twitter have been stepping into conversations I really was not and should not been a part of. So I try to bite my tongue, but I fail sometimes.

I’ll tweet or retweet/comment to congratulate someone on a baby, a job, or a project. If I think I have something intelligent to add, I’ll do it. If not, I’ll just let it pass.

I try to run, not walk, from flame wars. Per the above, I may stop following people engaged in them.

What’s my policy about linking to family, friends, or co-workers?

If someone asks me not to link to them, I won’t. Nor will I disclose personal information about them. I try to ask permission before linking to anyone, especially if that person works for me. (Might not be a bad idea if I work for them either …)

Update on March 31, 2014: Not being a celebrity, infamous, or notorious, I found that the number of my Twitter followers plateaued. Clearly content and said notoriety would increase my followers, but I decided that I needed to increase the number of people and aggregators I myself followed. That did give me a bump, but I’m in the midst of a general review of who and what I follow, why, and what I’m getting out of the information I see. The goal is not to increase followers, really, but to make sure that Twitter is useful for me and to make sure that my side of the conversation is heard.

Blog entries in this series:

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