Social Media and the Records Management Professional – Part 3: Twitter

I need to start this post with a confession. I don’t really have any right to give advice on using Twitter.  Every time I think I have it figured out, something strange happens and I’m completely befuddled again.  Never fails.

In my defense, I’m clearly not alone here.  Based on offline discussions I’ve had with other information management professionals who are also frequent tweeters, a deep understanding of Tweeter almost seems to require mystical super powers. And after some of the perplexing decisions they’ve made in the past, sometimes I wonder if the good people at Twitter even have a complete grasp of their own product.

So unlike my previous posts on LinkedIn and blogging for records managers, this post should not be read as a ‘how-to,’ so much as a collection of lessons learned from my five years in Twitter trenches.  (As I spend more time using Twitter, I will try to periodically return to this post and provide new letwitter-logo-vector-downloadssons that I’ve learned or gathered from other users.)

My first recommendation is to try to set some basic ground rules for your Twitter account.  The best way to do this is to ask yourself what you want out of the Twitter and figure out the best way to get it.

Because my goal was to leverage Twitter to promote progressive records management methodologies, I came up with the following set of rules:

  • All my tweets will be business-like and respectful.
  • All my tweets will have some connection to records management and the records management industry.
  • I will only proactively follow other Twitter accounts who were similarly connected to records management.
  • But I will follow everyone who follows me.

Seems simple enough, right?  Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve had surprising luck sticking to my original rules – but only because I’ve been fairly flexible in how I’ve interpreted them.

After a little more than five years on Twitter, here’s what those rules look like now:

  • Everything I tweet is business-like – assuming it’s a Casual Friday before a three-day weekend. And everything I tweet has been reasonably respectful.  Although I frequently read comments by or about records managers that I ardently disagree with, I never attack anyone. (Not that I’m timid, it’s just that there’s no point in it.  Nothing will get resolved and I know I will only discourage people from engaging me in a dialog or following my posts.)
  • All my tweets are still connected to records management…or they are funny stuff I came across somewhere online. (Because, hey, who doesn’t like funny?) And I occasionally tweet about autistic spectrum disorders just because it’s a good idea.  But that’s it. Nothing else I tweet falls outside of those three groups and the first group is the biggest by far.
  • I only proactively follow records management professionals…and people who tweet funny stuff…and some sports teams…and a couple of news outlets…and a few family members. But mostly records management professionals.
  • I follow anyone who follows me – as long as I believe they have a legitimate interest in being connected to me. This would include records management professionals, IT folks, software vendors, analysts, etc., etc.  This would NOT include marketers, recruiters, self-help gurus, or anyone with the word ‘ninja’ in their profile.

Beyond adhering to (and periodically modifying) my original ground rules, here are a few additional Twitter lessons I’ve picked up over the years:

  • After you follow your first hundred people or so, you get to where you can’t possibly read everything they tweet. I learned pretty quickly that the best approach is to quickly scan your whole list of people you follow once or twice a day, but create lists of the people who are the most likely to post tweets I want to read and check those lists on a regular basis.  Well maintained lists are critical to successfully leveraging Twitter, if only to prevent information overload and eventual burnout.
  • Twitter is a good place to start a conversation about a records management topic and it’s a great way to point people to articles that support your point of view. But the truth is, no issue, no controversy, no meaningful problem has ever been resolved by two or more people shooting 140 character blurbs back and forth to each other.  It just won’t happen.  The best you can hope for is to initiate a dialog that you can then discuss in more depth in some other forum (or in an actual face-to-face meeting like we used to do way back in the 90s).
  • Retweet often. People love to get retweeted and it strengthens your relationship with the person who wrote the original tweet. At the same time, you should think of each retweet as an endorsement of what the original post said, because – for better or worse – it will be viewed that way.  If you don’t completely agree with a tweet, but find it interesting nonetheless, it might make sense to ‘like’ it and move on.
  • Just like your blog or your Facebook page, your Twitter account is part of your personal brand. I realize that many people work for companies that want them to represent the company rather than themselves, but I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work that way anymore. You can still support your company with your personal Twitter account (very effectively, in fact), but as a records management professional, your tweets will be considered your opinions and your policies, regardless of who you work for.
  • Keep in mind that the people you follow, and those people who follow you, can be viewed by anyone. Don’t follow anyone you wouldn’t want your mother to know about. And don’t hesitate to block someone from following you if he or she makes you uncomfortable.
  • As I’ve said, I think it is a good idea to follow people who have followed you, but you should be aware that there is a group of people who seem to take advantage of that policy by following someone, waiting for that person to follow them back and then unfollows them soon after. They do this to puff up their number of followers and give them the appearance of having real influence.  For this reason, I will regularly scan the list of people I follow and drop anyone who I didn’t proactively follow and isn’t following me.
  • And finally, for the love of all things holy, steer clear of politics. I know this is not always easy to do (especially given the nightmare this last year has been).  But no matter what you say or how you say it, if you are talking politics, you are going to immediately alienate 50% of the people who are reading your tweet.  And that does nothing to help you meet your original goals for being on Twitter in the first place.

I’m still learning about Twitter every day.  I’ve recently signed up for a service that claims it will help me manage who I follow and who my followers are and increase my exposure.  I’ll come back here in a week or two and update everyone on how that goes in the Comments section below.  So stay tuned.

The last part of this series will be a short catch-all on other social media channels for records management, including my thoughts on Facebook.  I’ll try to get that out in soon.

2 thoughts on “Social Media and the Records Management Professional – Part 3: Twitter

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Don. I recently concluded a three-part series at my blog about what shapes our values. I touched on some of the general characteristics of different professions (archivist, records manager, legal counsel, including litigator) whose work sometimes affects the work of others in the related professions. Individuals in the professions I just named, some of which are dependent on each other, use Twitter in various ways. Following archivists, librarians, historians, and records managers enables me to understand some of the forces that affect their work. The extent to which different people are comfortable with control and structure, or ambiguity, even chaos, can provides clues into why they chose the professions they did. (This shows elsewhere online, as well, and has since the days of Web 1.0). And how they are likely to react and communicate on issues. (This helps me craft communications strategies rather than making the mistake, as I have in the past, long ago, of assuming a common framework, and motivators.) Twitter helps illuminate the particular ethos that underlies the different professions. There’s a spectrum, of course. And as elsewhere online, you learn who has adopted certain characteristics, donned a mask to fit in, so to speak. And for whom the characteristics are natural. I appreciate your adding to that understanding with this blog post. And I appreciate your mentioning “no politics” and the need to be respectful, as failing to do so often isolates and neutralizes professionals in a medium which can be used for engagement, instead.

  2. Just wanted to comment on the Twitter service I mentioned. I just finished a free one-month trial and I must say, I liked how it helped me manage my account. It was particularly nice to be able to track people who followed me, waited until I followed them back and then unfollowed me (as I mention above).

    Unfortunately, the service wanted me to agree to a one-year contract at $21/month to keep using it. (Or $50/month with no contract!) Sorry, just too steep for me, I didn’t sign up. Too bad they can’t provide the same service for $5 or so a month. I bet they’d get a lot more folks to sign up and maybe bring in more revenue in the long run…

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