How NOT to Use Twitter for Business

As the recently unfolding saga of Representative Anthony Weiner — and the inappropriate photos he posted online — has taught us, there’s a right way and a wrong way (and OK, a VERY wrong way) to use Twitter.

Social media can be just as much of a danger zone for businesses as they are for wayward politicians if you don’t use these channels the right way.

So let’s look at the lighter side of the latest (and sadly, probably not the last) Twitter scandal to learn how not to use Twitter for business.

Don’t post photos you don’t want shared.

Seems obvious, right? But what any people don’t realize is that photos shared via Twitter aren’t actually posted on Twitter, at least not right now. Currently, you must post photos to a third-party photo hosting service, such as Yfrog or TwitPic, and then tweet the link to the photo on Twitter. This means your photo is available in two places: the link on Twitter and the photo service site. This gives users two places to access your photo.

So even if you delete your tweet quickly, a la Weiner, the photo is still living out on the web somewhere. (Caveat: there are rumors that Twitter might enable photo and video hosting soon.)

Don’t mix up public and “private” messages.

When you post a regular message using Twitter, it’s published to your public Twitter “feed,” a web page that lists all of your postings. For example, here’s the Innate Twitter page. If you include another Twitter user’s username (such as @innateagency) in one of your public posts, that causes your message to show up in their public feed, too — where everyone else can also see it.

If you want to send someone a private message on Twitter that only shows up for them, you need to use the direct message feature. Note that this only works for someone who is following you. Companies that use Twitter for customer service, for example, may ask a customer who is having issues to direct message them with their email address so the company can follow up with a lengthier conversation; this keeps the user’s email address out of the public feed.

Don’t consider anything to be private.

Even though Twitter has “private” direct messages, keep in mind that nothing is really private on the internet. A direct message (DM) can be copied, screen-grabbed and otherwise shared. So can those photos you just posted to TwitPic. Don’t share sensitive business information or negative messages about your competition or anything else you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the New York Times.

If it can damage your business or its reputation, it can get out. And it probably will.

Don’t assume you know who you’re communicating with.

Obviously you don’t want to second-guess every Twitter user you’re interacting with on behalf of your company; we’re not trying to make you paranoid. But as the New Yorker cartoon famously quipped, “On the Internet, no-one knows you’re a dog.”

Treat everyone fairly but be aware that brief user bios on Twitter can be inaccurate or misleading.

Don’t assume your employees know what to do.

This isn’t to say that your employees aren’t intelligent or trustworthy, but if you don’t provide them with clear guidelines on what can and can’t be shared or how you want them to use social media, you’re just making it easier for mistakes to be made — inadvertent though they may be.

Innate can help your business navigate the sometimes choppy waters of Twitter and social media. Contact us to learn more.

Your Turn

  • What are your “dos” and “don’ts” for using social media?
  • Have you learned any lessons the hard way?
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