Do you think before you tweet?

When you publish your ordinary 140 character messages on Twitter, it’s easy to forget who your total audience is. No, not only your followers on Twitter and those users who might have subscribed to your stream via RSS. In fact, it’s everyone on the Internet. Almost 2 billion people, who have access to your daily Twitter updates, if you didn’t set your account to private (which hardly anybody does on Twitter).

That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? I hear you saying “Well, that’s the same for any public web page and blog”. Correct. But the difference is that it takes much longer and more effort to publish content on regular websites/blogs, and since you are not limited to those 140 characters, you write longer texts, and you have more time to think through what you have written before you press publish.

From my personal Twitter experience I can say that this is totally different on Twitter. Twitter is the leading tool of the real time web, and as such a communication channel where everything is about speed. Twitter is the place where news break first, and as we explained last week, the way Twitter works even helps spreading less important information to a lot of people within a very short amount of time.

But the nature of Twitter with quick messages that are being tweeted and retweeted in (near) real time comes at a price: quality and trustworthiness. While there are tweets that give the impression of being well thought through – especially of users who focus on humorous or ironic Twitter updates – the majority of tweets and retweets have been put together in a few seconds.

So because of that, and because everyone on the Internet can see your tweets, it really makes sense to always think twice before pushing something to Twitter – or at least to think once.

I would guess that every regular Twitter user knows the uncomfortable feeling of having sent a tweet that she/he regretted afterwards.

Since there is no way to edit a tweet, the only thing you can do is to delete it. Some Twitter clients offer a useful option to do that, but I also have used apps that didn’t. Instead, I had to rush to Twitter’s website, log-in to my account (when you are in a hurry, you might mistype your password twice before you succeed in loging in), and then delete the tweet. With a bit of luck, I was fast enough so that nobody of my Twitter followers did see my weird/stupid/incorrect tweet. Sometimes, I wasn’t.

Recently, Twitter has launched the new User Streams API and is now step by step rolling out access to it. If the API is enabled for your Twitter client, all the tweets are appearing in real ‘real time’. Before, it could take 30 seconds or longer for your personal stream to update with new tweets. It was rather a bulk updating process than a real time updating.

What that means is that it will soon become completely impossible to hide a tweet from your followers by deleting it. Because when everyone has access to the new API, your followers will see your tweet in the very second you sent it.

That means that thinking before twittering will be even more important in the future than it has been so far.

Because of this, I personally try to stick to some ground rules when sending a tweet. It doesn’t always work, sometimes the temptation of being first out with a specific information/news is just too big. Still, I think it is good to have some criteria in the back of your head while using Twitter. It could help you to avoid embarrassing situations.

These are my suggestions. Feel free to add a comment with your input:

  • Is there a link I can attach to my tweet to show the source of my information?
  • Does the information sound reasonable and realistic? What does my intuition say?
  • Do I offend people with the tweet (more than necessary)?
  • Have I been twittering about the same thing too many times?
  • Is the spelling/grammar correct?
  • Does this tweet fit together with my opinion in earlier tweets/blog articles, or do I contradict myself?
  • Could the information in my tweet be something that everyone already knows?
  • If I’m about to retweet somebody else, do I know this person (from Twitter)? How much do I know about her/his credibility?
  • Should I add a personal comment to my retweet in order to explain to my followers why I thought this information/link was valuable?

Of course the process of thinking through these points is something that happens within the fraction of a second, in best multitasking tradition. And as I said – it’s not always working, we are all humans and act like them. Nevertheless it has helped me to establish a basic quality assurance for my tweets. If I would stand in front of almost two billion people, I probably would be very careful with what I’m saying. So I think it can’t be too wrong if Twitter user’s think a second before they tweet.

/Martin Weigert

(Photo: stock.xchng)

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