First off, allow me to say that if you’ve checked my twitter, I’m sorry. It’s a sad thing, I don’t maintain it very well, and I usually don’t have much to say. In fact, I tweet (on average) once a month. I was amazed when people started following me. First it was family members, then friends, then recruiters, then people I didn’t even know, then it was other organizations. I’m no celebrity, and I am not sure if I have anything valuable to say, but I have followers.
If I have learned anything from Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and the like it is that people are listening. In fact, someone is always listening, all the time, to everything. For an organization, this is fantastic news. This means that no matter how small your town, or your network, your budget, or your inventory, someone out there will be listening to your message. Any message. And they will be taking it seriously.
For an organization, this is also terrible news.
Traditionally, whenever a company wanted to share information about itself with the world, the message was carefully crafted by communications personnel. It was vetted by multiple persons in the organization. It was often painstakingly reworked by a team of lawyers. All in the hopes that not a single word would be taken out of context, that there was not even a comma that might mistakenly offend the delicate ears of the listener.
This is no longer the case. Organizations are finding that they have shockingly little control over their own image. Individuals are finding the same. Working in the space of social media, I am surprised daily by how few truly grasp the power (and danger) of Twitter and Facebook. Idealogues and political campaigns, non-profits, educators, whomever – flooding listeners with information without knowing who is listening, saying whatever comes to mind. They press “post” without reviewing, without a legal team, without anything except the delete button to save themselves. And sometimes that comes too late, and thousands of unknown eyes have already seen what you wish you’d never said.
In some ways, the dangers of social media remind me of my early forays into the workplace.
Because I was young, and naive, and didn’t know who was listening, I said whatever to whomever. All the time. The result of this of course was an endless string of miscommunications. I hurt people’s feelings, opinions of me developed that weren’t true, and I ended up in more than one difficult situation. As time went on, I learned that what comes out of my mouth in an office space can be overheard, that I should close my door before cursing, to take a long deep breath and listen to flute music before pounding out an angry email.
When an organization uses twitter (and when its employees use twitter as individuals), every post becomes a conversation with the brand’s listeners. The information shared is synonymous with the brand. And that can be both a bad and a good thing. Companies with a stodgy and staid appearance can now use Twitter to “lighten up” and open their proverbial doors to outsiders. Innovative companies can get feedback on ideas before they are pushed out of the nest, making them smarter and less likely to fail. And individuals can share their views, find solace in not being alone, and develop relationships with like-minded people hundreds of miles away. Or organizations can have one company member post a racist ‘funny’ video, and find their reputations ruined within hours. Individuals can criticize their boss online and have it read aloud to them by their HR Department the next day. And people who are icons of a community can find themselves looking like backstabbing shitbags who turn on their friends in an instant. These one-time posts may say little about who or what the organization is really like, but to those who are listening, one post may say everything.
I literally cringe when reading the tweets of celebrities, organizations, or CEOs who simply do not realize how incredibly idiotic (or arrogant) they sound to the average reader. Be assured, if you have written even one unprotected tweet, someone has read it. Someone has read your words and formed an opinions, just like they would if you had tapped them on the shoulder and spoken to them face to face.
Plenty of studies have been done (including one by giv.to!) about the power of communication via twitter. Studies show that it is not only tweeting itself that brings followers, but specific types of tweets. The entities (persons, orgs) with the most followers are ones that tweet news, share personal details, interact with listeners by answering questions or commenting. In short, they engage in a conversation with the listener, not just information sharing. But at the same time, you want to engage the listener without alienating them. With this is mind, perhaps we can refer back to the basic rules of conversation making that are used in dating:
- Say something interesting
- Don’t always talk about yourself
- Expect positive and negative feedback
- Be respectful
- Know when to shut the hell up
So next time you post on twitter, and you wonder if anyone can hear you? Just know that yes, they definitely can.