To be honest, the idea of making your Twitter-stream private always sort of perplexed me. Oh sure, there are some very compelling justifications: bad breakups, office politics, the stalker potential (particularly if you’re an A-list resource), and so on. And so I respect every users’ right to wall their space off.
But for the majority of us, I always thought the costs of keeping everything under lock and key far outweighed the benefits. Now, however, I am being forced to reconsider that view. Because, as John Simonds reports (not to rag on John here, he’s just the messenger), one or more of the professional communities I interact and work with may use the tool to form an impression of me.
It’s not obvious to me that this impression would be anything less than professional. I’m generally not Twittering after a night on the town, every other word is not something that would be considered unprintable, and I’m not posting the intimate details of my day to day existence. But I need to consider it, still, because as I’ve discussed in the past, Twitter is a personal tool for me first, professional tool second. A distant second.
While I will post the occasional work item through Twitter – it’s likely that this very post will be thrown up there, in fact – I typically do not use Twitter for my day to day work. I don’t Twitter conferences, I don’t Twitter briefings, I don’t Twitter my analysis, and so on. For several reasons. One, I personally don’t like to read those sorts of things on Twitter myself (live-Twittering of conferences in particular is not something I’m fond of). Two, I have a professional channel: this blog. I don’t need Twitter for that. Three, my primary goal on Twitter is to entertain, not educate. And most of what I do for a living is anything but entertaining. Last, big portions of the audience I’m generally speaking to on Twitter – which includes my Facebook contact list – could not care less about Twitters of work subjects. They’d much prefer to gather ammunition about my lack of fishing success to use against me later.
In my comment over on John’s blog, I called the usage of Twitter in this fashion unfair, and that was frankly silly. Barbara‘s comment over there is likely correct: the “personal-professional mix that makes Twitter pretty much impossible for AR profs to ignore or treat as an analyst’s personal chat channel.” Fair or unfair doesn’t really enter into this; as the cops tell you, what you say can and will be used against you. It’s the difficulty of addressing a 1:many audience.
While I might prefer that Twitter be something akin to a bar or watercooler conversation, what I’d prefer matters very little. Even if it were considered bar talk, however, those have their risks. If I’m talking to a colleague over a beer, I can assume that it’s private. If I’m talking to a reporter, however, the expectations are entirely different. And via Twitter we can and often are speaking with all of the above at the same time.
This is not unknown to me. I regularly pepper entries here with links to various Twitter comments to illustrate different points of view and opinions, and while I personally would never use an entry that might be potentially embarassing, damaging or the like, it’s not reasonable to expect that same courtesy to be extended universally. Human nature, and all that.
The question, then, is how to proceed.
On the one hand, I’d prefer not to self-censor in spite of the fact that there is probably very little actual need. That would argue for a privatized Twitter stream – one viewable only by the resources I chose to make it available to, which would presumably exclude many of the professionals seeking to use it currently. On the other, the benefits of an open Twitter socially have been extensive, and in spite of my lack of effort it has had positive professional implications. One of our clients – who I certainly do not have to censor myself for – says that Twitter is “like having [us Monks] in the room.” Which has value, clearly.
But at what price? For now, I’m loathe to retreat behind the walls. But as the scrutiny goes up, and unanticipated audiences rush in to try and extract professional meaning from personal meanderings, that may change.
P.S. Because one person’s already pinged me, yes, the 1984 analogy is (mostly) tongue in cheek. Much of your right to privacy is forfeit when you post material publicly; I get that.