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4 reasons to shut up on Twitter

4 reasons to shut up on Twitter Madhuri Shekar

As any Twitter enthusiast can tell you, tweeting can become an addiction. This platform has given brands, companies, and individuals the ability to broadcast their thoughts and insights on a real-time basis, which allows for immediate connections, engagement, and valuable conversations.

We know that Twitter is a platform that is meant to be used frequently and consistently.

There are times, however, when it is vital that you not reach for your phone or double-click on your Twitter client of choice.

At the 140 Twitter Conference held recently in Los Angeles, Twitter experts expounded on how they used Twitter to effectively reach out to clients and consumers, and to promote their own brands. But a running theme of discussions was that there are definite instances when is it not a good idea to tweet.

Here are a few examples of when it might be best to keep your "twap" shut.

Twitter can be an invaluable tool in your arsenal when your brand or company is plunged headlong into a crisis. However, it depends on how you use it.

At the 140 Conference, Mike Prasad, the brain behind the Twitter sensation Kogi BBQ, spoke about how savvy use of his Twitter account helped Kogi one-up its competitor, Baja Fresh.

This summer, when Baja Fresh announced a new item on its menu -- the "Baja Kogi Taco" -- Prasad was understandably shocked and concerned that Baja Fresh was "ripping off" Kogi's trademark name.

Prasad and @kogibbq wisely refrained from going on the attack and, instead, allowed followers to voice their unhappiness at Baja Fresh itself.

Within hours, Baja Fresh was overwhelmed with a deluge of tweets criticizing the company's move and declaring their support for Kogi BBQ.

Baja Fresh, unable to ignore the power of Twitter, set about changing the item's name from "Kogi" to "Gogi," another spelling of the Korean transliteration for "meat." 


This move alone could have settled the crisis. In an effort to conciliate the Twitterverse, however, @BoldBajaFresh replied to almost every single one of the disgruntled tweets. Each of the replies mentioned and sometimes praised its competitor, with phrases such as "Kogi truck is in a class of its own" and "Kogi taco truck is a marvel."

Kogi BBQ, by wisely refraining from tweeting extensively on this issue, emerged from this episode looking classy and unscathed, secure in the power of its loyal and passionate core audience.

Baja Fresh, on the other hand, not only had to do an embarrassing about-face, but wound up dedicating its Twitter stream -- for a brief period of time -- to lauding and praising its competitor.

Two very simple rules on when not to tweet can be gleaned from this episode:

  1. Don't tweet when your followers can tweet for you. Allowing your core audience to shout your brand message from the rooftops is infinitely more powerful than you doing it yourself.

  2. Don't "tweet down the food chain." Baja Fresh was the bigger corporate brand. Kogi was just a local business. One single tweet acknowledging the change of the taco name could have sufficed. Instead, Baja Fresh conceded power to Kogi by feeling the need to tweet incessantly about its competitor.

Kogi won this round by staying silent, while Baja lost it through its lack of restraint on Twitter.

Think you're funny? Maybe you are, and maybe you aren't -- it's not always up to you to decide. As every good comedian knows, a joke that can work brilliantly with one audience can bomb with another. With Twitter, you don't really have the luxury of choosing, or even truly knowing, your audience. So why risk alienating and offending a significant chunk of your following?
Take the example of agency representative James Andrews (@keyinfluencer), whose snarky tweet regarding Memphis, the global HQ of his client, FedEx, landed him in hot soup. Early this year, Andrews landed in Memphis and tweeted his reaction to the city.


Needless to say, FedEx was not amused, and Andrews was subject to a chastising email that quickly made the rounds of the blogosphere.
The 140 Twitter Conference featured a special panel of professional comedians who use Twitter to stay connected with their fans and networks, and to try out new jokes in 140 characters or less. However, when asked if they thought it would be appropriate to use humor for a corporate or business account, all panel members immediately voiced their hesitation. Since a good joke, by its very nature, always walks the line between funny and offensive, it would not be wise to take that risk.

Stand-up comedian and actress Loni Love (@lonilove) advised that if you can't be funny, focus on being positive and inspirational on Twitter. That will put a smile on your followers' faces without running the risk of a backlash.

In a way, tweeting is like dating. If you know everything about the person by the end of the first meal, then the mystery and intrigue have vanished, and you don't see the point in sticking around for coffee. Or a second date.

During the music business panel at the 140 Twitter Conference, artists such as Curt Smith (@curtsmith) and hip-hop star Chamillionaire (@chamillionaire) discussed the idea that some musicians just should not be on Twitter, as their entire brand is built around their mystique. For instance, could you imagine Jack White of the White Stripes tweeting?

While the advantages of being on Twitter outweigh the disadvantages for most consumer and corporate brands, it would be wise to give some thought as to whether you're tweeting too much. There is a fine line between transparency and over-exposure. If your brand is exclusive, high-end, mysterious, and playful, make sure that your Twitter account stays true to that tone. Make your followers feel special, and keep them intrigued.

Going back to Kogi BBQ -- imagine if it posted a monthly or yearly calendar detailing exactly where the truck would be and when. The long lines would shrink pretty fast, as the main appeal of that brand is its unpredictability.

Don't give it all away on the first tweet, as your mother might say.

That might sound obvious, but clearly not so for ABC's Terry Moran. President Obama, while being interviewed by CNBC, made an off-the-record comment about Kanye West's behavior at the MTV Video Music Awards. "He's a jackass," said the president.

Moran, who was in the room, was so clearly tickled by this rather un-presidential statement that he tweeted about it immediately.

Moran later deleted the tweet, but as we know, it's not possible to permanently delete a post from Twitter. The White House was unhappy about this leak, but the damage had been done -- primarily to Moran's credibility as a responsible journalist.

To learn from his mistake, respect the wishes of your clients, your colleagues, and others who may not necessarily want their remarks broadcast on a public network. Remember, you are not only staking your reputation with each tweet, but theirs as well. Stay mum about breaking news, partnerships, deals, and other confidential or sensitive developments until you are absolutely sure that the news can be relayed to the public.

Frequent use of Twitter may cause us to slip up and momentarily lose our discretion as to what is and what is not appropriate. However, always keep in mind that you can never truly delete a tweet. Never forget that pesky "Print Screen" key. If it's out there, someone would have made a screen capture of it (as our examples so far have demonstrated), and your words can, therefore, live on forever.

Are you really sure you want to tweet that?

Madhuri Shekar is a new media research intern at Sony Pictures Television and a freelance social media marketing consultant.

On Twitter? Follow Shekar at @madhuri567. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet

Madhuri Shekar is a freelance writer and social media marketing consultant. She has previously worked at Rogers and Cowan in the eMedia department, and at Sony Pictures Television in New Media Research.Madhuri holds a Masters in Global Communication...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Etienne Chabot

2009, November 18

Hi Madhuri,

thanks again for your great article and your links to help me establish social media policies for my organization.

Suggestion: since your site is inspired from a blog platform, It would be very useful if you'd add a check box to your comment box to let us be advised when there is a new comment on the discussion topic for which we commented.

Commenter: S T

2009, October 23

Guys, could you please stop posting Bitly URLs? Just give us the full URL. Thanks.

Commenter: Madhuri Shekar

2009, October 19

Thanks Wendy! The photo on my profile is my actual photo- for cover stories the author's picture is usually replaced by a graphic created especially for the article.

Commenter: Wendy Marx

2009, October 19

Thanks, Madhuri, for your excellent article that by "bad example" shows what to do. Quick question: I clicked on your name and saw a totally different photo of you. Is the picture your alias? :)

Commenter: Madhuri Shekar

2009, October 13

Hi Etienne,

There's a great article on iMediaConnection with regards to your question: "5 Steps to a Humane Social Media Policy" [http://bit.ly/14MVw9]. It could also be useful to look at established social media guidelines for employees by major brands and companies, for example IBM [http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/guidelines.html], BBC [http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/advice/personalweb/blogging.shtml] and the AP [http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2009/06/apsocialnetworkingpolicy.pdf].

Hope this helps!

Thanks to everyone for reading and your feedback. :)


Commenter: Etienne Chabot

2009, October 13

On the same topic, is there a document that exists to draft a policy to establish the guiding principles when you wanna let your employee talk about your company on Social Media? (Twitter, Facebook, Linked In. etc)

Commenter: Manasi Subramaniam

2009, October 13

This is a fascinating article. It is crisp, well-written and informative. My congratulations to this talented journalist who seems to be in control of his/her pen.

Commenter: Cindy Goh

2009, October 12

Great article! Wholly agreed with what you have mentioned. We should always keep it positive and inspirational and at the same time don't give it all away on the first tweet. Nice. :)

Commenter: Kevin Nalty

2009, October 10

This is a really nice piece. Read it in its entirety which is rare for me. Also blogged about it at willvideoforfood.com.