Someone asked me if I had any guidelines for how I use Twitter, and I thought I could think of maybe five things that I believe to be true.

I’ve been on it for a few years now, and have made lots of mistakes. I’ve been boring, I’ve been funny, I’ve been not funny when I thought I was being funny, I’ve been argumentative, I’ve shared too much information, I’ve killed Gordon Lightfoot.

When I sat down to write down what I thought, I came up with more than I expected. So, here are my personal guidelines on how to use Twitter as a beat reporter. I often forget to follow many of them.

  1. You are one tweet away from being fired.
  2. Be positive. Be nice. Don’t argue with people.
  3. There is no difference between a professional account and a personal account.
  4. Be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. Unless you’re a jerky know it all, then be someone else.
  5. Engage with people who respond to your tweets. If an exchange is longer than a bunch of messages two messages each way, use e-mail.
  6. Sometimes people want to talk about where you work, which is mostly OK. But if someone is picking a fight, direct them to someone who is senior enough to actually do something about the problem.
  7. Mistakes happen. Fix them and monitor to see if error repeated. Contact anyone who retweets, give them more information.
  8. Libel is libel. Don’t do that.
  9. Retweet. But it’s often better to add something to the link to explain why you’re doing.
  10. Give credit, but don’t go crazy pointing out the trail of tweeters that led you to a story that is widely distributed.
  11. Wait for the link before tweeting facts from your story.
  12. After story hits, use Twitter to provide supplemental info that isn’t in the story.
  13. Point to source documents.
  14. Share links to your story. Once is enough, unless you’re super impressed with yourself and want to make sure readers at other peak times see the link (I’ve softened on this considerably since writing this a few months ago… just don’t overdo it, you’ll know when it starts to feel dirty).
  15. Tell people what you’re working on, because the benefits often outweigh any competitive disadvantage.
  16. Know when people are reading – for me that’s usually just before work and later at night.
  17. Don’t report rumours/speculation. Either you know stuff or you don’t, and people expect you to know stuff. Attributing rumour to someone else isn’t a free pass.
  18. Don’t ever tweet about a death. It’s not worth being wrong.
  19. Mix in as much personal as you are comfortable with to break up the news – people like people who are people.
  20. Don’t follow everyone who follows you, everything moves too fast. You can use lists to manage large, specific groups.
  21. Only tweet details of your job if they are relevant or insightful. Complaining about process is boring.
  22. Inside jokes are confusing to most people.
  23. Follow people on your beat, but remember they are only a small portion of the world. Remember that Twitter is often an echo chamber.
  24. Executives and PR departments are watching what you tweet, and making big spreadsheets to monitor what you’re saying. Stick to facts, lay off the snark.
  25. Open a bottle, close the Twitter.
  26. You are one tweet away from being fired.

(UPDATE: if you like this list, I made one about LinkedIn too)

Ps: I’m at @sladurantaye, or here.