With Twitter now such a pervasive phenomenon that politicians are using it to seek feedback on policy, the question of whether or not you should be on Twitter has been asked and answered.
You need to tweet.
If you are serious about building your business, you need to have a twitter account. Use it to build a following, engage in conversation, expand your reach, update your customers, make an offer or just simply float out an idle thought or two.
There is however one question which remains up in the air:
Do you mix personal and business under a single account?
There are many Aussie startups who keep them mostly separate (@rentoid vs @sammartino, @haul vs @scottkilmartin, @magnation vs @sahilmerchant, @pollenizer vs @liubinskas), but plenty of others choose to merge.
Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) is a prominent example of someone who chooses to mix personal and business under his personal account, but he is upfront about it. If you are subscribing to @fredwilson in order to keep track of VC and startup activity out of the states, then you are also going to have to read about the joys of watching Brett Favre play football.
Let me illustrate the issue by way of a personal story.
A few weeks ago I stumbled onto a great new Australian startup called SourceBottle. According to their website they “help small business and SMEs get media publicity and a raised profile”. They do this by posting requests from journalists for article sources (i.e. experts in a particular field), and if you think you qualify you can respond to the request and hopefully get some media out of it.
Over the next few days of following @Sourcebottle on Twitter, I began to get more and more annoyed. This had nothing to do with media opportunities imagined or otherwise, but with the way the twitter account was being used.
I signed up for media opportunities, so that is really all I expected to get. Instead I got some great media call outs:
“MED C/O: BRW/CFO journo wants to i/v a male who has suffered executive burnout”
interspersed with personal retweets and conversations:
“LOL!!! RT @snappysentences: @SourceBottle an Aroma. An Aroma so bad it needed a noun to describe the permeation and offence!”
“LOL! RT @lollipopbub: I want to live in my husband’s car (because his air conditioner rocks!) *roasting*”
Now I may be getting old and grizzly before my time, but to me business accounts are for business, and personal is for personal. I want to know whether News Limited is looking to interview a founder from an online ticketing startup (*cough cough*), but I’m not overly interested in what you had for breakfast.
@Sourcebottle your service rocks and your company is fantastic. Rebecca Derrington (the owner) is a lovely person to deal with. But I want my tweets on topic or not at all.
It’s not you, it’s me.
Being the egocentric entrepreneur that I am, I figured everyone would feel the same! So I politely suggested in an email to Rebecca that her service would improve substantially if she removed her personal tweets from her business account. Her response was everything you could possibly hope for from a company when you give them feedback.
She acknowledged the feedback via email. Thanked me for it. Thought about it. And then within 24 hours, posted this to Twitter.
“A tweep made a good point today. Need to separate media call outs and requests from personal messages.”
“So by Monday @SourceBottle will be media call outs and SourceBottle requests only…”
Wow! I facilitated change (or at least I thought I had). Over 3,000 followers can offer feedback pretty quickly, and the requests not to change flowed in! Not 15 minutes after posting the change in policy, came a change of heart:
“Should @SourceBottle be media call outs only with no personal messages/broader RTs etc (which would be under a personal avatar)? Yes/No?”
So the people voted with their “tweets”, and the result was………
“Morning all… decision’s in… > 80% voted not to separate call outs from RTs etc. So, for now, still together :)”
I requested change, got it, and then had it overturned. All in the space of 48 hours!
To me this goes to the larger question of whether a twitter account can successfully straddle the divide between business and personal. I say no, but it appears I lost the argument.
Not only did I lose the argument, but in retrospect I was probably wrong. The personal tweets and anecdotes are valued by the followers of Sourcebottle. They make an important contribution to the brand and identity of the company, and without them the service would potentially be poorer for it.
So what do you do? Do you combine business and personal, or do you keep them separate?