Please Don’t Tweet This

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I was sitting in the room at SOBCon in Chicago over the weekend. It was a wonderful event. Though numerous times either a speaker or an attendee led their thoughts with “please don’t tweet this.”


Because the people wanted to be able to express a a strong opinion or position as a way to create a deeper, more engaged conversation and stay authentic, but were concerned about how their comments would be taken “in the wild.” You know, that place where context is a fleeting fantasy and soundbites rule over understanding and accuracy.

I’ve actually had a similar experience in a number of other settings. In an odd way, it seems channels known as the protectors of transparency, authenticity and truth have created a dynamic where people are increasingly scared to be transparent and speak the truth, because of the risk of being taken “the wrong way by the wrong people.”

Always on, all the time doesn’t always work when your goal is the cultivate an environment where participants in a conversation feel safe enough to get real.

So what do you think? Is twitter the ultimate transparency catalyst or is it a truth killer?

Or something in between?

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43 responses

43 responses to “Please Don’t Tweet This”

  1. Quentin Randall says:

    It’s likely the same as when people say “don’t quote me on this.”

    Twitter is a basically soundbite service which makes it easy to be taken out of context.

  2. Context matters. Tweets taken out of context can be very damaging.

    Also, if you’re “reporting” then you’re not really listening or engaged. Nothing ruins the experience for me more than feeling like I have to offer a live report on events. I’m practically dead on twitter during conferences.

  3. Twitter is great for proverbs – ideas simplified into a clear sentence – and sharing information such as links.

    I’m not a huge Twitter user for this reason. A lot of my ideas cannot be shortened to 140 characters. They need context, questions, and observations, which is why I enjoy blogging. Yanking such an idea out of context can ruin it. Somewhere within that idea are probably a few tweetable proverbs, but it doesn’t mean the idea itself should be shared without context.

    For me it’s not a matter of transparency, it’s a matter of accuracy. Twitter is not about accuracy, it’s about sound bytes.

    • Michelle says:

      I agree with Jonathan V. My field of animal hospice and end of life care is too complex to convey a real message in 140 characters or less. In fact, much of life’s essence is lost when we are compelled to hurry up and get stuff done. Just be with the message for a time in order to learn more and gain followers along the way.

  4. Great convo! Something inbetween. (What, you expected me to take a polar stance?)

    The challenge is that the Twitter backchannel often twists statements and/or doesn’t provide the context. Good communicators work long at hard to craft the message and then it gets out there in the wild and it changes. Ever been part of one of those games where one message has to pass from person to person, and, by the nth person, the message is no longer really the same? That’s the worry.

    Of course, the upshot is that the message has a potential to go further. If you’re in the business of spreading ideas, that’s what you want.

    There are at least two alternatives:
    1) Craft messages that are already Twitter friendly. If you can get your idea in 120 characters, it’s easier for people to retweet it than to change it.
    2) Let go of the idea that you control your brand and message. What it is in the wilds is what it is.

    Oh, and please don’t tweet this. 🙂

    • Charlie,

      Well suggested alternatives, esp. #2: “Let go of the idea that you control your brand and message. What it is in the wilds is what it is.”

      I agree with this and looking ahead a few years such a request to “please don’t tweet this” will be obsolete. Rather, tweeting what’s said in public will be the norm. Maybe it’ll force more authenticity and ethics from speakers? Hope so.

    • Duffboy says:

      What you wrote about the distortion of the original message reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Bart plays the teachers versus Skinner during strike threats: “Purple monkey dishwasher”, that’s part of the “added value” that the multiple reporting carried in the end.

      Tweetcams are the worst in certain scenarios, no context whatsoever.

  5. sukhi says:

    Life is all about perceptions. Past experiences influence our CNS and that creates the lens through which we observe and experience life. When I speak I invite all participants to tweet and FB anything I say from the platform. It’s brought controversy at times yet I love critical thinkers and have grown from it.

    Fear is the only reason I feel peeps would discourage this. If they were more secure in where they stood they wouldn’t let the ideas and opinions of others influence them so strongly. They would be FREE and would allow others to express themselves freely as well!

  6. Jeffrey Tang says:

    I remember the keynote speaker at SXSW 2010 talking about how once, personal information and interactions were private by default and public only through effort, but today are public by default and private only through effort.

    I’d definitely say it’s somewhere in between. Because so many things are public by default, people primarily think about what to keep private. So you have the natural tendency to be public (more transparent) fighting against the conscious efforts to keep certain things private.

    I wouldn’t call Twitter the ultimate transparency catalyst; I’d say that it’s simply reversed the default setting.

  7. If you want to add value, you have to say what you think, and then stand by it.

    The secret to not being “taken the wrong way” is to say what you thing, but say it well.

    If someone is protecting their perspective from scrutiny, I can’t see why I should pay attention.

    I prefer the risk takers who take the time to stir things up.

    The world needs too much help for people to be covering their butts instead of speaking truth.

  8. Mark Dykeman says:

    Hey Jonathan, good to finally meet you in person at SOBCon over the weekend.

    This topic reminds me a bit of the federal election we had in Canada yesterday. Election officials were quite adamant that Canadians (or anyone) were not allowed to Tweet election results. The fear goes back to how Canadian media has always had blackouts in place throughout Canada due to the number of time zones we have: if people in the West knew how the election was going in the East and in Central Canada, it might have an impact on their voting. This approach is not feasible in the Internet era: too many voices to police.

    I can understand why conference organizers and presenters might not want certain things Tweeted: information is seen as a tangible benefit that gives value to the cost of attending a conference, a benefit of exclusivity that can be destroyed by a Tweet, Facebook status update or blog post.

    And then, as you say, some people want the freedom to speak their minds without fear of reprisal or loss of reputation but Twitter impedes that. In my view, it’s the speaker’s dilemma. It’s up to them to decide. However, if people choose to clam up because they are afraid to be heard by the masses, then a conference is kind of a poor place to do that. I don’t think you can lay blame at Twitter’s feet… I think it’s human nature.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Mark, great hanging out with you as well. What was interesting to me, too, was that it didn’t dawn on a lot of the speakers that the whole thing was being live-streamed, too, so it didn’t matter whether anything was being tweeted or not, it was out there

  9. Tonya says:

    Twitter is definitely somewhere in between. I read more than I post on twitter. I don’t think I could be completely transparent in 140 characters of less. I also find that if I just type what Im thinking or feeling I can come off sarcastic offensive rather than sarcastic funny – which is the way I view myself. But I have that issue face to face so I find myself not commenting at all. So don’t tweet this comment.

  10. MJ says:

    It varies – I have been to some luncheons as an association member (also I video and record them so I always ask for permission if I can do so before posting on the big bad world of the interwebs) and it comes down to:

    – Our lawyers won’t let us

    – I would not be able to be honest and open otherwise

    It seems that anytime you speak to someone out of your workplace that would make the topic/subject/info open and out there so why not?

    People are afraid of the repercussions.

    Remember a while back when the CFO (or some guy in finance) for Sirius/XM expressed his views on the business side of the Howard Stern Show? He was regretting that for quite a while.

    And didn’t they not want a recent appearance of Pres. Clinton to not be tweeted by those attending? But I think they changed that policy.

    If you are not sure about what info/opinion you will be revealing and how it will met, do not say anything as it will get out if it is interesting and newsworthy.

  11. Ivan Walsh says:

    Mark Twain had it right – publish and be damned!

  12. Kristi Hines says:

    It’s interesting how some speakers encourage tweets (I was thanked in the middle of a session because I tweeted one of the speaker’s comments), and others would ban smartphones from coming into the auditorium if they could. I can see where it’s an issue if you want someone in the audience to share something they wouldn’t necessarily want public. I think the best solution to that was the anonymous questions approach I saw with a panel – everyone just wrote their questions / comments on a card, so no one would know who was making a statement, good or bad.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I’ve done both as a speaker, Kristi, but the reason I sometime institute social media bans has nothing to do with privacy, it has everything to do with attention. There’s simply no way to simultaneously report an experience and fully experience it simultaneously. often times, I’d rather have people as fully engaged as possible, even if it means I lose some of the marketing value from their tweet-streams.

      • Jonathan,

        I think that you nailed my reaction in one of the responses. I absolutely understand presenters who are inviting their audience to be mindful and present, instead of having the split attention that Tweeting a talk requires. And I don’t think that a request for mindful attention is a commentary on the value of Twitter, or a reflection of fear on the part of the speaker.

        I have Tweeted one presentation, and while I appreciated the chance to share the information, I felt worn out by the split attention. At a conference, I’d rather listen and take notes–and then maybe Tweet the notes later.

  13. I am a firm believer in being the walk, versus talking about it. That is the reason I use my real name on my twitter account and every blog comment I leave on the internet. If you are too afraid to speak your mind, perhaps you should not speak. I say let then tweet until their thumbs fall off.

  14. Twitter is a tool and like any tool, it can be used well or poorly. To say Twitter is only about sound bytes is inaccurate. Case in point, folks use #sqlhelp to get accurate and quick SQL Server help from those in the Microsoft SQL Server community. It has also been used to get truth out quickly when other means weren’t available (like things going on in Iran, etc.)

    Therefore, it’s really a mix of both. Folks that understand that can better utilize Twitter to communicate their message, even from a presentation. Anything and everything has the potential to be taken out of context. Look at how many interviews suffer from this, where the context was clearly given. Therefore, assume it’s part of the cost of using the medium.

  15. Jonathan Fields says:

    Part of the challenge here, too, is that many folks work on the doctrine of radical transparency – that everything should be completely out there for everyone to see and judge — and it’s either dishonest or disrespectful to keep things private.

    I don’t agree with that stance. There are many times where the ability to cultivate transparency within the limited scope of those party to the immediate conversation should take precedence over the right of everyone on the planet to also be privy to that same level of transparency.

    Some examples might include certain business negotiations, marital conversations, family interactions, etc.

    There are many scenarios where forced public radical transparency stifles the opportunity to create great private opportunity.

    This is also one of the foundations behind mastermind groups. There are plenty of times where confidence should and must take precedence over the public’s “need to know.”

    So, full-time radical transparency…not a fan.

    • I agree, Jonathan. I think the transparency must be mutually beneficial in order to be valuable. Putting it “all out there” just for the sake of transparency creates liability and fills up the airwaves with uncessary clutter. Being honest and open in the right venue and context can move relationships forward. It can put people at ease, encourage sharing, and help your audience identify with you more easily.

      There are always parameters to keep in mind though – pesonal boundaries (yours and those of the people you interactiwith) and professional confidences come to mind, and there are others relevant to different kinds of situations.

      I am on social media, but I never signed up to be part of an all-access expose. I share personal stories when they will help move my people forward. Otherwise, what’s personal is personal.

  16. Twitter doesn’t lend itself to really thought out discussions. Very few writers can articulate a complicated concept in 140 characters. That is a short-coming of Twitter. However, I don’t really think Twitter was made for that

  17. steve frank says:

    Somewhere in between. It’s a means for communicating, connecting and networking. And, yes, it’s easy to misinterpret someone’s true meaning any time you read their written word. When you add on top of that that you are reading what someone else’s recap of what you said, and they condense it to 140 characters…it’s easy to imagine something being innocently taken out of context, or not having the full impact it was meant to have.

    However, another reason for banning tweeting during a presentation is to reduce multi-tasking. There is a different level of concentration when you are fully paying attention to a presentation vs listening for “sound bites” to tweet.

  18. Scot Herrick says:

    People here are asking the wrong question. The correct perspective is this: you’ve paid hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend an event, sacrificing your income and choosing to come to this particular event. Do you want to then pay for all that critical information when everyone else gets that information for free?

    All the critical information you’ve paid to hear ends up on a hash tag on a free service via Twitter and blogs by the attendees.

    Your choice now is whether the information presented by all those nice speakers during the event is going to be worth more than following the hash tag or if the people attending the event are worth more from a networking perspective than listening to the speakers at the event.

    My choice (and I’ve attended SOBCon and think Liz and Terry do a bang up job) is not to attend. This particular event is focused on a small group building a business.

    It’s not thousands attending a blogging event. There is specific information you want from the speakers that you have paid to hear — not to have broadcast on the Intertubes. And you are to interact with the other attendees to help form bonds to build the business and those bonds are on Twitter as well. Worth it?

    Now, this year the entire event was also livecast (and I don’t think that was told to people before they put down their money and time to attend). Once you livecast an event, tweeting doesn’t matter a hoot. It’s all live; it’s all free.

    At that point, it’s really all about networking with people who are there and deciding if that is worth the money. The content from the speakers? Who cares? It’s free on the Internet if you are interested. As a speaker, I’d never speak at an event like that because what I have to say has been earned and I won’t give that up for free.

    The networking? That’s the only value because the rest of it is free for the asking and the research.

    So it’s not about Twitter. It’s about the people attending. Is it worth hundreds or, in my case when I went from Seattle to Chicago, thousands of dollars to come and meet the people there and ignore the two days worth of content?

    Maybe I’m crazy, but I think the content should be worth more than free.

  19. Jeff Fairbrother says:

    One element that seems to be missing from this conversation is that effective communication is often based on trust. When you are tweeting to your “tribe”, especially if you are a leader, you likely already have the trust and readers either interpret your comments positively or overlook your missteps. This is not unique to Twitter or other social media outlets (although the brevity probably exacerbates the problem). I’ve been a reviewer for years and in my experience authors (and reviewers) can easily take things the wrong way even when plenty of context is provided because they don’t know you well enough to trust that you are trying to help. Moreover, previous negative experiences with others may predispose them to not trust you initially. So, I don’t think this is a twitter issue, per se. Context is important, but think about how much time, effort, and money go into developing trust. Good teachers, financial planners, and health professionals (for example) all do this to facilitate continual communication in established relationships. Corporations work tirelessly on establishing the “trusted brand” so they can communicate effectively in new relationships (because those new relationships are a big part of their mandate).

    Very thought provoking post (which I should have written at the beginning of this comment and now my iPad won’t let me go back to the top of the comment box to add it! :)).

  20. I love Twitter and people have the right according to my beliefs to express their opinions.

    As long as it is opinion or POV oriented then there is no problem with saying it.

    Censorship is the last refuge for a coward.

    We will someday soon live in a society where people are free to be who they really are without the fear of a public backlash.

  21. Tara Gentile says:

    Interesting! I’ve been asking people to tweet my private, paid-for information for a bit now. I’m actually going out of my way to say: “please tweet this!”

    I’m very interested in hearing (and understanding) what is or could be taken “the wrong way by the wrong people.” I want to know if something comes off weird. Or if maybe a little thing that I didn’t think was very important strikes a chord with a lot of people.

    I see that kind of transparency as very educating FOR ME.

    I’m also not so lacking confidence to think that my reputation can be sunk by a few people on Twitter who don’t get what I’m trying to say.

  22. Andy Mathis says:

    I say somewhere in between- both good and bad.

    I don’t think someone can really pay attention while driving and chat on a cellphone- hands free or not. Our brain isn’t wired to multi-task like that. Same with listening and talking/texting/tweeting.

  23. Jodi Barnes says:

    I think my bigger concern, more than being taken out of context, is that a human being with whom you’re trying to communicate, cannot fully engage / hear you when they are typing. We all know that a disproportionate amount of a message comes from non-verbals, context. That’s why face-to-face is so rich. My second concern is that it’s rude. There. I said it. Not a hater of technology at all, but unless the sky is falling, what’s the big deal in waiting for a speaker to finish?

  24. Bonnie says:

    Anyone tells me not to tweet, you can be damn sure I’m going to tweet my ass off.

  25. Dino Herbert says:

    In today’s world, saying “Please don’t tweet this” at a tech conference is like saying “This is off the record” at a press conference. (feel free to RT)

    Dino Herbert

  26. Sean Cook says:

    I think it depends on what you mean by “transparency catalyst.” Since a catalyst is something that moves an interaction forward toward a reaction, let’s extend the metaphor. If you are looking for a reaction worth studying and monitoring, you add a little catalyst. If you want an explosion, you add a lot.

    So asking for some discretion is similar to saying to a chemistry student “don’t dump the whole thing in there!” Like anything else you can put out there, truth in the right context and amount is incredibly valuable. In the wrong context or amount, it can be destructive.

    The problem with Twitter is that there’s only so much context you can get in 140 characters. So live-blogging runs the risk of stripping comments from the vital elements of context and amount, just like watching Headline News does with news, in contrast to the New York Times.

  27. cv harquail says:

    Sometimes what’s necessary is not a “don’t tweet this” request about a particular comment, but a larger shared agreement about what’s ‘for this room’ and what’s for public sharing.

    In some shared spaces we know each other well enough that 98 times out of 99, we get it right and re-share (only) what the speaker would feel comfortable with.

    At conferences like SOBCon it’s easy to assume that everyone shares a sense of what’s to be kept personal, what might not bounce right in the wild, how a particular person shares and protects authenticity, and so on. AND

    It’s important to remember to create an explicit, shared understanding, especially with temporary groups like conferences. Who knows how the dynamics might have changed, even to make “don’t tweet this” unnecessary, if the community had created that understanding in the first place.


  28. JB says:

    I think it’s both, but mostly the truth killer. Knowing what you say can get on Twitter, out of context, faster then you can finish saying it means you’d best not speak something you don’t mean. At the same time, more and more people will not open up because of it. Ask Gilbert Godfry what he thinks about it. Give Rashad Mendenhall a few days and see what he thinks about it. But at the same time, I’ll bet neither of them thinks the same thing as Charlie Sheen.

  29. Pat Hayes says:

    People who live in glass houses often don’t want to take off their clothes. Which makes some things difficult, at times.

  30. I’m pretty sure that as Twitter matures, people will gradually realize that quoted tweets are out of context. Just like, by the time you’re a senior in High School, you realize that most rumors you hear about other people have been grossly exaggerated. That will take a while though.

  31. i agree with the commenter above (jodi) – how can you possibly convey the essence of what a speaker is trying to say when you are passively listening and fully engaged in tweeting?

    i often need to gently remind myself to put down the phone, computer, whatever and just listen.

  32. Not tweeting can work some talks/events, but would not be a disservice for many others. Context matters. Which is better? Path or Facebook or Twitter? Depends on what you are using it for?

  33. Twitter to me are just opinions just like blogging – we all have opinions and unfortuantely when you are in the public eye just like Pittsburgh Steeler running back and he tweeted what was his opinion you get slapped on the hand….so is it a truth killer – no because staying TRUE to self is of the essense. It can be a transparency catalyst….


  34. Judi Knight says:

    I guess it may be kin to saying “Don’t quote me on this”. But I think that phrase is used more when people don’t know a fact or figure rather than making a sexist or other reprehensible stupid comment. So if the “Don’t tweet this”, was meant in the vein of “I am not sure about this”, then fine.
    However, if not, it is really pompous sounding and people shouldn’t say things that they wouldn’t want someone to repeat. I had a client that would send a snarky e-mail and then send another e-mail five minutes later telling me to disregard the first one. Well, that is not how it works. The cat is out of the bag. I say, if you said it you should stand by it or learn to hold your tongue!

  35. Cat says:

    I don’t use Twitter. And I’m glad I don’t. It would just be another site that I would feel that I HAD to check and read through, even if a lot of it was meaningless to me.

    If you’re really excited about something you heard I don’t think it’s bad to share it after. Whether you use twitter or speaking face to face it gives publicity to the original speaker and you probably would have said what you were thinking about sooner or later anyways. Just maybe not during the speech…

    In terms of transparency-sharing everything can turn away the potential for positive relationships and make building relationships more difficult because that person already seems to know everything about you. Or maybe they judged you on a first impression which was wrong to begin with. Where’s the potential for growth and connection?

  36. […] borrow the title to this post from a recent Jonathan Fields blog entry, Please Don’t Tweet This. Most of us have been there, mainly in social (instead of corporate) scenarios, where something we […]