Will You Self-Censor for Social Media?

You may have noticed that WebWorkerDaily now publishes many of its authors’ tweets beside their articles. The syndication of contractors’ and employees’ tweets like this is becoming more common as everyone from fitness instructors to real estate agents seeks to take advantage of social media’s personal branding possibilities.

If your tweets haven’t been syndicated yet, that day may not be far away. When it comes, you’ll probably need to decide whether you’re going to self-censor for the benefit of whoever’s paying your invoices. What will you do?

A Matter of Perspective

One thing that can definitely be said for social media is that they allow users to express themselves freely, and as users, we relish such unrestricted opportunities. For many, social networks may provide the only opportunity to engage online with a broader “public” completely as ourselves.

The problem is that those who want to syndicate your tweets — to give you wider exposure, to help you engage with their company’s clients or customers, and to promote you as an expert — may not appreciate the degree of personalization and even personality that comes through in your tweets.

The appropriateness of a tweet depends on the context in which it’s read and the audience that reads it. That fascination you have with your cat, religion, politics, margaritas, and/or Elvis may be at odds with the thrust of your employer’s broader marketing efforts. The  occasional swearword or politically incorrect comment — no matter how tongue-in-cheek — may see you lose your chance for syndication instantly. You don’t need to have made the inappropriate comments in the last five minutes, either. Companies considering whether to syndicate your Twitter feed may look back over months of your activity — or longer.

Does the prospect of a client or employer syndicating your tweets fill you with excitement or dread? If they syndicated your tweets, would you change the way you presented yourself through social media?

Expecting Exposure?

The issues of syndication are really a question of audience. If you haven’t been expecting your tweets to be broadcast in a corporate arena, it’s time to accept that the possibility is real. Smart employers looking to harness social media may be asking to use your tweets soon.

Those who set out to create a professional online brand for themselves are likely to shape their engagement with social media accordingly, and may have no problems when their boss or client asks to syndicate their tweets.

But many of us love to merge the personal with the professional through social media. The question is: if you’re yourself on Twitter, will your tweets be fit for a client’s or employer’s Twitter stream? If not, would you change the way you tweet? The things you say? The topics you discuss?

If you don’t think your tweets would be suitable for corporate consumption, you may face a moral struggle when someone asks to syndicate your tweets — especially if you’d enjoy the extra exposure.

Even if you don’t think you’d change the way you interact through social media, the knowledge that your tweets are to be syndicated on a company web site may make you feel uneasy posting things you never thought twice about before. All the pundits’ harping about “authenticity” may fall very flat when you spot your latest tweet about Fluffy’s mouse-chasing antics on the homepage of your employer’s web site.

In these kinds of situations, you may self-censor without seeing the act as a negative. You may even do it without making a conscious change in your behavior. But self-censorship may reduce your enjoyment of social media, decrease your sense of freedom and self-expression, and undermine your self-confidence online.

A Solution in Segmentation

My solution to this quandary has been to approach social media — Twitter in particular — from a perspective of segmentation. Each social network tool I use reaches a reasonably discrete audience “segment,” and I target my communication accordingly.

For example, I use Twitter predominantly for professional purposes, and I tailor my tweets to those needs. This is not to say my tweets are stiff and impersonal, but it does mean that I don’t discuss my cute pets, vegetable garden or wacky family holidays on Twitter. However, interested contacts can access updates on these exciting matters through the other social networking sites I use.

This segmented approach works for me — when clients ask to syndicate my Twitter feed on their company sites, I’m happy for them to go ahead.

How will you respond when someone wants to syndicate your tweets? And are you preparing for that eventuality now?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Social Media in the Enterprise

Photo by stock.xchng user nkzs.

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