By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University
Most people are familiar with how to use Twitter or at least have heard of this social media platform. Although it is not the most popular or widely used social media platform in the world, it is currently ranked around 12th for usage.
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In fact, individual tweets are often used to promote news stories, blogs and marketing efforts. But Twitter also helps create and exacerbate countless real and fake scandals every day.
Twitter is an amazing platform that can connect people all around the world by using a limited number of characters for individual tweets (up to 280 characters). With this platform, you can communicate ideas quickly, efficiently and effectively on a global scale.
So with so much possibility for worldwide communication, should professionals of every age use Twitter? I would say no…but it depends on the situation.
Twitter and Other Social Media Platforms Are Available 24/7
To use Twitter, you establish a Twitter account and send out short messages (tweets) to your followers. Over time, you can build up a group of like-minded followers from around the world.
Comedian Michael Che once said in a funny Tonight Show interview, “Twitter’s like, if everyone you hated had your phone number.” Michael Che’s point was that anyone can search for your name or Twitter username and find you. This 24/7 availability to others on a worldwide stage can be very disconcerting, especially if you are a public figure, have opinions that are not mainstream, or just say something that gets positive or negative press.
One of the unfortunate realities of social media is that logical, well-rounded and articulate arguments do not get that much traction on platforms like Twitter. A Vox video notes that behaving badly is rewarded on social media, because people react to salacious, mean, and extreme content versus well-reasoned and logical thoughts and ideas. In a way, social media is a reflection of basic human emotions that have always existed but are now amplified via social media.
Reasons Not to Tweet
IgniteVisibility lists several reasons you should not use Twitter:
- Tweets get lost.
- There are large amounts of spam.
- Many people are talking, and not everyone is listening.
- Celebrities and news topics are the rulers on Twitter.
If you decide to join Twitter, you will compete with around 350 million users who send about 500 million Tweets every day (as of 2019). With millions of accounts, there are also millions of fake accounts that send millions of spam tweets.
Fake accounts and spam are a serious issue on Twitter, and Twitter is working hard to shut down fake Twitter accounts but the company also struggles to keep up with Twitter garbage and abuse. The reality of this platform is that fake accounts are used by people for many nefarious reasons, including spreading hate and misinformation.
Another issue with Twitter, as with all social media, is the propensity for people to just talk at each other and not listen to each other. This is a typical human behavior that is experienced all the time in interpersonal communication; one person talks incessantly about themselves without asking the person across from them anything meaningful.
Even though Twitter has so much potential to connect people, most still just want to talk about their own issues and their individual likes and dislikes. They prefer not to listen and learn from others who come from different places, have different backgrounds, and can educate you in truly meaningful ways.
The logistics of tweets are another challenge. It is almost impossible to have a prolonged, meaningful conversation with someone because of how tweets are organized once they are posted.
Imagine that you wanted to have a conversation with a well-known public figure such as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Twitter, and you took two minutes to respond to each tweet. In that time, potentially thousands of other people will be reacting, tweeting or retweeting what is said, which will clutter up your conversation. This problem cannot be fixed with hashtags or pinning your tweets.
It is also difficult to get noticed in the Twitterverse, because celebrities and news stories are extremely popular and timelines get cluttered. Of the top 20 Twitter accounts, three are politicians (two U.S. Presidents and the Prime Minister of India), three are organizations (Twitter, YouTube and CNN) and 10 are musicians (such as Selena Gomez). Other popular Twitter accounts include two comedians, one athlete and Kim Kardashian.
Reasons to Use Twitter
While there are multiple reasons not to tweet, there are also valid reasons to send out tweets. For example, if your job is about current events, news or politics, being on Twitter is essential. Similarly, if you are in a field where you need to network with people around the country or the world, then you should be on this platform.
Another reason to be on Twitter includes marketing yourself professionally. For instance, you may be an artist or a business owner seeking to build customers and keep them informed through updates.
There are many professional reasons to be on Twitter and as with any social media platform, you just have to be careful about how you use it. If you are going to tweet, send out information that is unique to you and your life. Also, observe the following rules:
- Do not compete with Twitter accounts that have high follower numbers on and become concerned with how big your audience is.
- Do not compete with celebrities.
- Have a plan to deal with trolls. Ignore their hateful messages and report them if their behavior escalates to harassment.
- Use Twitter to really listen to others, rather than just talking at people.
There are numerous guidelines you can follow when you use:
- 20 Essential Twitter Rules You’ve Probably Never Heard (from Muse)
- To Twitter or not to Twitter (from Medium)
- Best practices (from Twitter)
Another Option: Having an Account But Not Tweeting
Another possibility when it comes to Twitter is to have an account but not tweet. By having an account, you can observe what people are saying, get up-to-date news and follow people whose tweets interest you. This is a good way to see which political figures are tweeting and what celebrities are doing. It is also a useful way to get updates from local, national, and international organizations (private and government).
My Recommendation: Find Another Social Media Platform
Twitter has been around for a while and we all have to decide if we are going to participate or not. But because this social media platform is not a fair representation of U.S. demographics and the negativity that you will quickly encounter, I don’t recommend using it for your own mental health and long-term professional success. Instead, use another social media platform that allows you to control all of the messaging that is viewable on the screen, such as having a LinkedIn profile, a professional website or a blog.
About the Author
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.
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