Saturday, December 3, 2011

Emily Post's Twitter Etiquette

Many of you probably remember IFC 2009. What you might not remember is that there was a twitter hashtag for it. Howard Lake, JohnLepp, a few others and I were pioneers. (sorry I don’t remember the “few others”, so please claim your cyber moment in the comments). At IFC 2009 we tweeted for the first time - that we were aware of - from a fundraising conference. In fact, I even walked the halls of IFC with John on Skype so that he could “be there”.

Two years later, tweeting from a conference is now a big part of the experience. Conference committees initiate hashtags, we have twitter boards in public areas so you can follow the online conversation and this year at congress, AFP Toronto Chapter even appointed an official twitter team.

The AFP Toronto twitter team was made up of people who have “more advanced” twitter skills. They have followers, understand the medium and have carved a place for themselves in realm of social media. This is excellent, I’m very proud of my AFP chapter and colleague Sylvie Labrosse for trying something new and formally organizing this aspect of congress for AFP. A lot of new people joined twitter and participated in the online conversations. IRL (in real life) experiences with twitter groups were incredibly fun. There was more twitter action at this conference than any other I have witnessed. This is all good stuff. A positive evolution.

And of course with any new innovation questions are bound to surface. Skeptics will emerge. Faux Pas will be made. Boundaries will be crossed. And then we need to ask ourselves: How can we make this better next time?

After Gail Perry’s excellent session on the soft side of major giving I started to ask myself what is the twitter etiquette? If Emily Post were to write a new book about the online social space, what would she say? I thought of a couple of things and I hope you will add more in the comments.

Tweeting in sessions
If you are the speaker, ask at the beginning of the session if anyone is tweeting. This lets other people in the room understand that something good is happening with the phones and that people generally aren’t being rude and texting about rubbish. (hopefully) Next establish some ground rules. For example: I encourage tweets (because which speaker on the planet wouldn’t want their wisdom broadcast across the internet!) but I ask that you don’t tweet donor stories or anecdotes that I might share about my work. Those stories are the reason you pay and invest the time to be there in person.

If you are the delegate tweeting BE NICE!

I remember this tweet from last year: “Wow so many people walking out of this “so and so’s” session is a total fail.”

I simply do not know what would motivate someone to tweet that and frankly it is a little embarrassing for everyone. A different view point is fine, healthy debates are good but some tweets just seem mean. Don’t tweet anything about a person that you wouldn’t have the courage to say to them in real life.

Establish some boundaries

Fundraising conferences can be incredibly fun. Fundraisers work hard, are often misunderstood, have extraordinary pressure from all sides of the organization. When we get together with peers sometimes we need to let off a little steam. I think this is something one needs to experience in real life. At a certain point the phones need to be put away and the party needs to become private. 

For example: Harvey McKinnon and I like to dance as if no one is watching. You are welcome to join us anytime. But it isn’t pretty – in fact it is a wonder that people don’t end up hospitalized. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that the spectacle does NOT need to be on the internet. Just come dance with us.

Further, use your smartsense when tweeting from a cocktail party. Before you publish a photo of someone with drinks in their hand or looking slightly intoxicated stop and ask yourself: Would I put this up on the internet if it was me? Will this picture add value to anyone’s life? Or is the photo too gossipy?

Again the twitter team did a fabulous job last week and I congratulate them for their leadership and commitment to this new dimension of conferences. Emily Post did all major gift fundraisers a great service all those years ago. It is important to have a good base of etiquette to draw on in high end social situations. I feel the time has come for Miss Manners to write a new online version for tweeting in social situations.  Or at the very least before we tweet from a conference we could ask ourselves: 

What would Emily Post do?

If you were to write a Miss Manner’s book for tweeting in social situations what would you be sure to include? Let’s talk about it.

Thank you for spending time here,
PS Another question surfaced about whether people should have two twitter accounts - one for business and one for more personal tweets. I thought that might fit into this post but it is a different topic so it deserves its own page.


  1. It's true that most of us are still figuring this whole thing out and I want to thank you for sharing these thoughts and want to thank AFP Toronto for providing a platform for conference tweets this year.

    Because of geography, I can't go to everything, but I love following along in the conversation at events I can't be at. I think one aspect we need to think about when we're tweeting, is whether the tweet has value for your twitter personal brand and whether what you have to say adds value to someone who might not be there. So, if possible, link to a slide or a source, tell me a great insight, let me hear about a new presenter's name that I might not encounter otherwise.

    Another conference I was at had limited wifi access and it was a bit disappointing - I hope organizers will keep that in mind when planning events as twitter becomes a bigger part of the experience.

    Christina @GPtekkie

  2. A number of good considerations there Kimberley. Thank you, and for mentioning us as early adopters.

    It *is* an issue of permission at this stage, until it becomes so common that it passes unnoticed. I try always to ask a speaker's permission to photograph and video them, especially since I usually share those items with other fundraisers online.

    With Twitter I tend not to ask permission if I know the speaker has a Twitter profile, but perhaps I should. I assume that, since I'll be quoting their Twitter name, they'll find out soon enough.

    I think the Twitter 'back channel' is a fabulous new kind of resource, not least for those unable to be present at the event, but also by facilitating the creation of curated content - summaries of the presentation, feedback from those there, plus links to other resources quoted - books, videos, sound clips; and a sense of being there - live video or still shots of the speaker and delegates in action.

    But then I'm somewhat biased ;)

  3. Thank you Christina and Howard,

    The importance of wifi in confernece venues is an excellent point Christina.

    Like both of you I really like what Howard refers to as the Twitter 'backchannel'. I wonder though, do you think when people are keen to share the experience with the world they are actually getting the most out of the learning opportunity? I'm starting to think less is a little bit more in this regard, especially now that more people are tweeting. Thoughts...

  4. good post and food for thought KM. It's true, things have come a long way since the heady days of 2009 in the twitter world... lol... and here are a number of things you touch on, as do Howard and Christina that are all worthy topics themselves.

    I tweet, like I am. If i hear something in a conference or online or in a meeting and I think it has value to people who follow me, like IRL, I share it.

    People have said to me time and time again -" wow - you sound exactly how i would expect you to sound and talk" - what is personal? what is professional? i think of myself as professionally personal. All the same person. I am barely different as a person to my professional colleagues as i am to my personal friends (baring a few little differences).

    Twitter is another channel in our universe that we can use to reach out and touch someone(s) and most people that i know who use it that way love that we can sit in on a conference half way around the world, make friends with like minded people who live in different countries and share jokes and stories with people who care.

    The rules of social engagement are the same every where, treat people as you would want to be treated and don't be a jackass (unless of course you are one).

  5. I really adore people with proper etiquette. For me they have the best education.

  6. Proper Etiquette should be to anything you do as this is of the basis that you are educated.

  7. I agree 100% to adding value. Everyone could all use some Twitter Etiquette essentials since we’re engaging with real people with real things to talk about.