Social networking: Twitter ye not?

twitter bird

The tweeting accountant’s view

Twitter seems a bizarre concept. In theory you post brief messages (up to 140
characters at a time) about what you’re doing and these are seen by your
‘followers’. Equally, you can read what other people who you’re following say
they’re doing.

In practice ‘tweets’ are far more varied than some of the media would have
you believe.Through twitter I have secured attendees at my seminars, traffic to
my websites and to my blogs. I have also benefited from having my messages
ReTweeted to wider audiences than the people who ‘follow’ me. And following
links from other people’s tweets has led to useful material for my blogs.

I’ve also started to build online relationships and have experienced
strangers acting as my advocate.Each time I add new posts to my Ambitious
Accountants blog, my TaxBuzz blog or my Accountant Jokes blogs, an automatic
Tweet goes out with a link back to the new blog post. And it’s not only my
‘followers’ who get to see them. Many people search twitter for real time
commentary and then tell others.

So, for me twitter is shaping up as a fun business tool. But, are many
accountants likely to become active on twitter? No. It’s too time consuming as
compared with other ways in which they can achieve their business objectives. In
a blog post last December in which I explained why ‘Twitter is not for
accountants’. My views are unchanged despite knowing a handful of accountants
who are now active on twitter ­ some are even enthusiastic about it. Maybe more
will try it out, but I doubt many will stay the course (for business).

Twitter is the latest phenomenon in the area of ‘online business networking’.
Business or social? It depends how you choose to use twitter, what you tweet
about and who you follow. If you follow all the internet marketing enthusiasts,
the celebrity twitterers and the novices who don’t really ‘get it’ you’ll
certainly consider twitter a waste of time.

You may know some of your ‘followers’ personally. Others will find you
through friends, through real time searches to do with accountancy and tax or
subjects of mutual interest. There are loads of would be twitter spammers ­ but
if you don’t follow them they can’t spam you! And you choose who you follow. If
you don’t like the way that someone tweets, ‘unfollow’ them.

I doubt many of my followers read all of my tweets. I certainly don’t have
time to read all those of all the people I follow. Many of them in fact only
tweet occasionally.

As well as friends and business associates I follow other commentators, some
journalists, some firms, some publications and some organisations. Many are
still experimenting with their twitter strategy ­ as am I. If you decide to join
in, by all means follow me.

Mark Lee is chairman of the
Advice Network

The legal view

Online social networking services have long had a troubled relationship with
businesses. Warnings that those who fail to embrace new communication technology
will be trampled by a stampede of wealthy under-30s are offset by equally dire
stories of indiscrete employees, intoxicated by the freedom offered by such
sites and playing fast and loose with corporate reputations.

Bringing together the benefits of blogs with the immediacy and very short
format of instant messaging, the ‘micro-blogging’ service Twitter is the latest
technology promising to keep managers up at night ­ either with new work or

More than with previous such phenomena, however, the appeal of Twitter is
spreading quickly beyond the usual entertainment and fashion brands, with many
professional advisers ­ including lawyers and accountants ­ keen to take

This enthusiasm is quite understandable. Twitter’s growth among a
commercially attractive, tech-savvy demographic has been meteoric, while the
medium itself allows personal but far-reaching communication in a competitive
and fast-changing market.

The vast majority of entrants to this emerging market are likely to be fully
aware of the legal and regulatory risks potentially associated with any form of
electronic communication. However, it is still important to understand whether
data retention standards, for example, should apply and if this may present
problems in future, particularly where communication takes place on a service
operated by a third party.

There is also clearly a practical limit on the types of communication for
which Twitter
will be appropriate. Marketing activity, for example headline news flashes to
potential clients, is all well and good, but a tweet is unlikely to be suitable
for properly detailed responses to technical questions.

Beyond core regulatory obligations, the main risk posed to businesses
encouraging or allowing Twitter use is also, ironically, the medium’s greatest
draw: its relative informality. Without some clear parameters ­ set out in a
formal policy ­ the perceived freedom of the internet can lead to some highly
unprofessional and damaging behaviour. Just as with email, the harm caused by
employees who “tweet in anger” can go beyond the hurt feelings of the recipient.

A recent example from Canada was a Financial Post reporter who took umbrage
at a call and subsequent tweet from a marketing professional he was dealing
with. Although he had not been named online, the reporter posted a furious and
colourful response, prompting his employer to issue an apology to its readership
for his conduct.

It is perhaps this scope for public instant messages – visible to anyone who
cares to look ­ to cause instant trouble that makes micro-blogging a little more
risky than other social media.So, even for businesses not actively embracing
these services, it is highly advisable to introduce policies setting the
boundaries of employees’ online activity. Such a policy should deal with
protecting confidential information, conflicts of interest, cyber-bullying,
defamation and, more generally, respecting the privacy and dignity of others.
Finally, it should also be kept up-to-date with new technologies as they emerge,
as well as tackling workers’ internet use away from the office, in a way which
balances privacy against the need to protect corporate reputations.

Alan Delaney is a senior solicitor in the employment,
pensions and benefits team at
Maclay Murray & Spens

You can follow Mark Lee on twitter:

UK accountants are listed on the UK tax and accountancy twitter league here:

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