Twitter is child’s play. Please play safely

I have been showing a newbie around Twitter today. The whole process of inducting someone to Twitter cracks me up every time. The look on his or her face as you explain how it works. The impression of incredulous horror the exude as I explain WHY I follow Andy Crane of all people (of Children’s BBC fame, and most recently Channel M)…

I think Twitter newbies fall into two categories:
1) those who are mesmerised and somewhat baffled by what on god’s earth Twitter is all about
2) people are hostile to Twitter and take the mick, making statements about Twitter users living in the “great blue beyond”.
I thought today’s newbie fell somewhere between the two…

This experience got me thinking about how best to explain Twitter to a lay person. I have a training presentation for Twitter, but this induction was a 5 minute flying tour in between meetings.

Condensing Twitter down into such a small time period was, to say the least, challenging. Twitter is so versatile it is difficult to give an “elevator” pitch which explains what it is, as the reality is that the service can be a different tool to each and every person.

Even handy guides like this example from Mashable , don’t really explain the benefits…

The PR and communications’ industry likes to think it knows a thing or two about Twitter. Everyone in this industry talks about having a strategy for Twitter use.

A strategy is, of course, hugely advisable as reputations can be destroyed within a second. On the other hand, is all this talk of “strategy” making something complicated out of an internet tool which is intrinsically simple?

The most rewarding way of getting to grips with Twitter is through the most basic of human activity: play. Play about. Have fun. Chat to people, but do it like you might at a social event. In other words, don’t be uncouth, rude, aggressive or unprofessional (unless that’s how you would normally behave). Don’t talk too much. Be like the wise old sage.

If you are the chief executive of a large corporate, your idea of play or socialising might involve catching up with the golf or cricket. Or discussing the Today programme. The likelihood is that at this level, you will have been media trained anyway so you will be well aware of the pitfalls of saying the wrong thing. You’ll soon get the hang of hashtags and @replies and all the other strange terminology…
The real risk, I feel, is for middle management and their staff. I expect to see more and more stories of employees blundering online. Spilling the beans about sensitive information to competitors, sharing data that was “for their eyes only.” I smell a disciplinary or two on the horizon. …

Please don’t interpret what I am saying as “don’t get involved in Twitter unless you are an old hand at handling the media”. Far from it. In fact those who are not used to dealing with the media should play, and discover like anybody else, but play with great care. Think long and hard before pressing enter and sending your Tweet. Once your Tweet is out there somewhere, then there is no getting it back. I don’t want to sound like the Daily Mail (what? I am doing? Oh.. Sorry) but look at these high profile examples of inappropriate comments as examples . These could be you! They could get you the sack!

In a nutshell, anyone who is not accustomed to dealing with the media, should think twice about using Twitter without undertaking a little bit background reading, training or seeking the advice of a user.

Before you start Tweeting, have a read of this guide from IBM (which @jonclements found for me) . There are some good pieces of advice here for both Twitter users and employers / HR practitioners.


© James Crawford’s PR and Media Blog.  2009

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One Response

  1. Steph Love says:

    This is a well written post. I can’t express how many people I’ve had discussions with on the topic of Twitter who just don’t have a clue. Even for people who have a better handle on navigating the Twitterverse, it can still be a challenge to tune out the enormous amount of noise. Because Twitter is so vast and used for countless reasons it can be difficult to locate the Good Tweeple (Twitter + People = Tweeple) on Twitter.

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