While attending the 2011 Excellence in Journalism Conference in my hometown of New Orleans, I convinced myself to sit in on a few social-media sessions. I wasn’t participating in social media personally, but I knew its influence was continuing to grow and that as a journalist I would have to join in at some point.
Sitting in the audience, I felt really out of place. Not only wasn’t I on Twitter, I didn’t even have a Facebook profile. Meanwhile the presenters were talking casually about tweeting about their families and other personal details. During the Q&A, I asked the panelists, “How do you separate your personal and professional lives?”
Their answer? “We don’t.”
This terrified me — and I added it to my ever-growing list of reasons for not being on Twitter.
Then, last September, I finally changed my mind and joined.
So what took me so long? I’ll give you six reasons — fears I now realize were largely unfounded. My hope is explaining what scared me and what I’ve learned in the last six months will help other journalists who are still resisting Twitter.
1) I didn’t want to mix my personal and professional lives.
Before I joined Twitter, I was convinced that my tweets had to include personal as well as professional information, and so I feared being on Twitter would mean surrendering my privacy. But I’ve found I can be personal on Twitter without sharing every private detail of my life. Being personal can mean sharing a quote from a book I’m reading, or posting a picture of my town during some special event. It doesn’t mean I have to tweet about the gifts I gave and received on my anniversary, or share pictures of my family.
2) I wasn’t sure what I would share on Twitter.
I was worried that day in and day out there just wouldn’t be enough information to tweet — which actually led me to start a blog before I joined Twitter so I would have content to share. I now realize that I can link to more than just my own news articles — I consume plenty of other articles and bits of content daily, all of which are perfect for sharing on Twitter.
3) I feared seeming biased.
I’m no ideologue, but I prefer not to share my opinions publicly and was afraid these might “slip out” on Twitter. I’ve found it’s possible to stay politically neutral on Twitter, though it does take some effort. Before I follow someone or retweet something, I try to imagine how a reader might interpret that action. If it would make someone question my objectivity, I don’t do it — just like I don’t put campaign signs in front of my house or bumper stickers on my car.
4) I didn’t want to add another time suck to my day.
I had an all-or-nothing approach and didn’t want to join Twitter if I’d have to spend my entire day tweeting and reading tweets. Now I know that I can put in as much or as little time as I wish. It’s OK if I don’t tweet every day, and OK if some days I tweet a lot. I can also use Twitter lists to keep up on incoming tweets by organizing people into topic-based lists. If I haven’t been on Twitter for a while, I can pull up a list — for instance, of my friends or local news sources — and catch up quickly.
5) I didn’t want Twitter to be a professional liability.
I’d heard horror stories of people being reprimanded or fired for their tweets. Admittedly most of those stories were of people being really irresponsible, but I was still worried about getting myself in trouble. My approach has been to treat Twitter as a “professional tool” and not as a way for me to keep in touch with my friends. While tweeting, I imagine an editor or boss over my shoulder.
6) I didn’t see the value in being on Twitter.
Before I joined Twitter I was an RSS fan — and I still am. I look at my feeds throughout the day and use them to discover content. Within my private RSS bubble, I didn’t see what I could get out of Twitter or how I would find interesting people to follow. Now I know that I missed a lot by staying cooped up in RSS land. Twitter has let me find information from people with a variety of interests, and participating in Twitter chats and live-tweeting events has been a great way to find interesting people to follow.
When I joined Twitter I started by following only a few accounts — friends I knew were “good at Twitter,” a few local businesses, and media-news sources such as Poynter and the Society of Professional Journalists. I tweeted occasionally and listened a lot. Eventually I got more comfortable — and pretty soon after that I went from being scared of Twitter to being a Twitter advocate.
Six months after I finally stopped letting my fears hold me back from Twitter, I realize for the most part I had nothing to be afraid of. Since joining Twitter I’ve connected with journalists from all around the world, found communities of like-minded people that I had no idea even existed and experienced a renewed passion for my profession. I look forward to what I will learn and find in the coming months and years.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is a freelance journalist in the Washington, D.C., area and a web editor for a national health-care association. She has more than 10 years of news-writing experience and recently won the Economist-Nielsen Data Visualization Challenge. Follow her on Twitter at @S_Yamkovenko.