“Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter”.
This was the last in a list of rules issued to employees of the Wall Street Journal last week, as reported by The Guardian’s Emily Bell. Her interpretation? “Journalists […must keep] private and professional completely separate when using these platforms”.
Now, I am the first to advocate that any company would benefit from having a presence on social media platforms such as Twitter, and my advice is generally that the more “personal” you can be, the better.
In other words, the more your customers are able to see you as a real person, the more engaged they are going to be with your product, and the more belief they will have in your message. This kind of approach works particularly well with small businesses: your Twitter stream might record how excited you are with a new product, how tired you are after staying up all night working, or how grateful you are to each and every one of your loyal customers – and with each tweet, you’re increasing their stake in your success.
But journalists? Journalists are another story, and I agree that the WSJ is right to be wary. Even in these days when columnists such as Jon Ronson seem to write as much about themselves as their subject, it seems prudent to draw the line between professional and private. Do I want to read that a journalist is off to meet a famous celebrity? Yes, quite possibly I do. Do I want to know that he’s feeling a little queasy because he sank twelve pints the night before? Ah – suddenly, we see some of the WSJ’s concerns.
There’s a question, too, about how much we want to see the mechanics behind the artifice. Do we want to know HOW a fantastic piece of journalism was put together, or would we rather just read the finished article? There have always been interviews with celebrities that begin with an account of how difficult it was to agree on a date, or how many times the journo was stood up, or how rude the interview’s subject was, but that’s different. The completed feature is still a contained piece of work, not a sprawling series of tweets with no discernible beginning or end, an episode that spills out of a ‘lifestream’ of many others.
However much they may pretend otherwise, the ‘personality’ journalists are presenting a considered image, in any case. If we see them as fallible, as risible even, it is because they want us to. Mixing the truly personal with the professional on a Twitter stream would potentially show us their truly weak moments, and in an industry, as polished as the print media, that must never be allowed to happen.
Still, if the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian are debating Twitter etiquette, that points to the medium’s current power. I’d still urge you to take up tweeting in the name of your business, and while I’d encourage you to be personable, I’d expect you to know where to draw the line when it comes to the personal. A good concrete piece of advice is to keep separate Twitter accounts for your business and your personal lives – and I guess the WSJ would agree with me.