Compliance: 10 tips for succeeding on Twitter without courting disaster

Ten tips to help navigate potential landmines and increase the value of tweeting

Twitter has now come into its own as a social, news-sharing, and promotional network. While there are benefits to merely consuming Twitter’s content, they pale in comparison to those of active tweeting, which range from new networking opportunities to fresh insights from those who view a topic from outside your industry or profession.

Attorneys, corporate officers and other individuals with fiduciary responsibilities often shy away from tweeting for fear of violating disclosure rules, legal obligations, and/or professional conduct rules, or for fear that their tweets may inadvertently put their company or industry in a bad light. Here are ten tips to help navigate these potential landmines and increase the value of tweeting.

1. Twitter is a very simple beast – all sent tweets are public. It does not matter if the tweet lived but a second before it was deleted: it could have been retweeted, copied, and/or photographed. Moreover, all published tweets are archived at the Library of Congress. So treat Twitter as you would a reporter’s question, a blog post, or a cocktail party – if a disclosure is improper under any of these circumstances, do not tweet it. As the IBM Social Computing Guidelines recommend, pay attention to copyright, trademark and fair use disclosure laws of others, and do not disclose confidential, proprietary or sensitive information of your company or its customers and suppliers, or information affecting the privacy of others, including your fellow employees.

2. Placing a disclaimer on your Twitter bio that “all opinions are my own and do not represent my employer” is a useful and, for most companies, necessary clarification, but it does not absolve you of remembering that your comments still reflect on your company and its brand. If you work for a weight loss company, for example, you may not want to tweet about having deep-fried Oreos for breakfast every day. It is also important to identify yourself by your actual name, and if relevant to the subject matter of your tweets, your position at your company.

3. Do not trust Direct Messages (DMs) to keep your secrets (DMs are Twitter’s private back-channel). First, it is very easy to mistakenly tweet what you thought you were DMing (ask Anthony Weiner). Second, just because these messages are private now is not a guarantee that Twitter will not change its privacy policy in the future, or that DMs will not be published through a technical mishap. See, e.g., private messages published on users’ “walls” on Facebook.

4. Learn by example. Watch the tweet feed of some well-regarded tweeters, such as Sir Richard Branson (@richardbranson); Reid Hoffman (@quixotic); and Heidi Moore (@moorehn). There are also many “must-follow” lists for particular industries. (For example, here is a good list for lawyers and this, for life sciences.)

5. Unless you have the newsworthiness of the Pope (@Pontifex) or Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton), just joining Twitter, or even issuing a press release about it, may not garner you thousands of followers overnight. Announce your presence to those who are interested in what you have to say by following them, and a large percentage will reciprocate and follow you back. You may also want to send a tweet to a couple of popular journalists who follow your industry and know who you are. A tweet like “@____, I took the plunge and joined Twitter. Looking forward to conversing here” may result in that journalist tweeting to his followers: “Please welcome @[you] to Twitter! Follow him/her!”

6. Decide who you would like your audience to be and tailor your tweets accordingly. If you want to appeal to a broad, general public, consider specializing in a particular topic. To bring value, identify public sources that others are not likely to read with regularity, and share information from those sources. Ward Plunet’s (@wardplunet) tweet stream is good example – he tweets about advances in science, finding the information in publications that the general public is not likely to read.

7. The greatest advantage of Twitter is its egalitarianism. You can tweet to anyone. If there are particular individuals with whom you would like to connect, try to engage them in conversation. Copy them on a tweet in which you share a link to an article that may be of interest and ask for an opinion, or comment on their tweets. If a person has a large following, it may take a few attempts to get his or her attention, but if your tweets are worthwhile, that connection will likely be forged.

8. Express an opinion. Chances are, many others have read the Inc. or Forbes article you are sharing. But those others do not have your take on it, so say something about why it is worth reading, or why it is wrong. At the same time, don’t let your zeal get the best of you and respect the opinion of others. You are just as liable for slander, libel and defamation as you would be in any other publication.

9. Let your personal life shine through. To an extent. A great example is Adam Feurstein (@adamfeuerstein), a senior columnist at TheStreet.com, specializing in biotech/drug stocks. He leavens his reporting tweets with tweets about his dog, Max and running. His followers know enough about him to feel a personal connection, but not enough to interfere with his personal and family life.

10. Be generous in sharing the tweets of others. Identify a few people who consistently post great content and retweet it to your followers. Your generosity will be noted and reciprocated.

Contributing Author

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Robert J. Gavigan

Robert J. Gavigan is a partner in the Corporate group of Cohen & Gresser LLP.

Additional Contributors: Maria Granovsky

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