Keeping it Real

So, footballer Ashley Cole is in trouble for posting an offensive comment about the FA on Twitter. It perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise to many that a hot-headed footballer would do such a thing, forgetting that no conversation is private when it’s online. What surprises me, however, is the number of companies that still use that potential negative of global online exposure to justify their decision to avoid the Twitter-verse completely. Time and again when I have outlined how social media can provide an excellent tool for networking online, finding out about your customer base and developing relationships across the delivery chain, I have received the same response: “but when it’s online it’s out there, anyone could see it.” That’s absolutely true……and it’s absolutely the point: anyone could see it, which is why it is such a magnificent – not to mention cost-effective – vehicle for communication.

The only problem with the ‘anyone could see it’ nature of social media is that not everyone remembers that fact all the time.  Doubtless, Ashley Cole made his comments expecting empathy from his fans rather than reprimands from the FA and the England manager.  In a business context, that ‘anyone’ includes your own staff, your customers, your supply chain, your peers and your competitors so making sure that any information you post is neither commercially sensitive or otherwise contentious is rule number one.

The most useful analogy for Twitter is to see your account as an enormous dinner party – it’s not your dinner party and you have not been in charge of the guest list; you’re simply at the table along with everyone else.  There will be people there that you like, people who are useful to you, people who hope you can be useful to them and people that simply want to eavesdrop on your conversation.  Providing that you don’t say anything that could offend or reveal anything that could leave you vulnerable, it’s up to you how you use the gathering at that dinner table….whether to stay quiet and listen, whether to converse with just a few or whether to really take the opportunity of having so many contacts in the same place.

It can be hard to maintain important business contacts offline, which makes the Twitter-verse a very useful online environment, but the golden rule is that you must never lose sight of the fact that every single one of those followers is a real person.  If you keep that in mind you will always self-edit your Tweets to ensure that they would be suitable in a real world environment where words spoken cannot be erased and can easily be overheard. Once that’s ingrained as best practice, the potential to promote, explain, influence and understand by interacting with others online knows no bounds.