Twitter 135: 10 Reasons to NOT Protect Your Tweets

Note: This is part of the Twitter curriculum on SMUG.

In the last week or so I’ve had some great interactions with Lisa Fields (@PracticalWisdom on Twitter.) She gave me the heads up about Marc Slavin, the hospital PR guy who ignored a reporter’s repeated requests to “stop touching me!” as described in my recent Manual Spam post.

In our back and forth discussion I realized that Lisa had “protected” her tweets, and I asked her why. Her response:

Protect Tweets: Open to coaching. Have gotten requests from “less than splendid” Didn’t want to be associated. Will take your advice.

So I asked Lisa for her email address to send her some reasons why she should change her tweets to “unprotected.” What you see below is what I sent her, and I’m happy to report that as of right now you can follow Lisa without having to ask permission.

I did, however, ask Lisa’s permission to share this story, as well as the reasons I had outlined for her, to help others who may have similar questions or concerns. She agreed.

Here’s what I told Lisa:

It’s understandable why you might instinctively choose to “protect” your tweets. Especially with the controversy over Facebook and its privacy settings, it may feel like protecting your tweets is safer, and would better safeguard your privacy.

That’s true, to a point. And depending on how you want to use Twitter, it COULD be a valid choice.

I think that’s highly unlikely, though, particularly in your circumstance. For almost anyone (I would say more than 95 percent of Twitter users), protecting tweets is counterproductive.

Here are 10 reasons why you should NOT protect your Tweets:

  1. Twitter isn’t Facebook. Facebook is for your friends. Twitter is for the friends you don’t know yet. Here is an example of how I got to meet someone through Twitter who has become a good friend.
  2. Following isn’t Friending. This is related to the first point. On Facebook you can require that only your friends can view your profile. People have to ask permission to see more details. That’s entirely appropriate, because you probably have personal information there, such as your birthday, phone number, family members and other details that you likely want to keep private. On Twitter, your entire bio is 160 characters. You may also have a link to your Web site or blog, but that’s the extent of the really personal information.
  3. What if everyone did it? If everyone protected their updates Twitter would be much less useful as a networking platform. You would connect with people you already know, as on Facebook, but wouldn’t meet people with common interests who are tweeting about topics of interest to you.
  4. Protecting your Tweets is a barrier to connections. Given your business, I don’t think you can afford that. Ideally, you want people to find out about you and connect with you, which will lead to more speaking engagements and training opportunities. More business. If your tweets are protected, it will keep others from finding out about you, because they won’t discover your tweets.
  5. You can block the bad actors. In one of your messages to me you said “Have gotten requests from ‘less than splendid’ Didn’t want to be associated.” If an unsavory character starts following you on Twitter, and it really creeps you out, you can block him. (Most of the creepy ones would probably be “hims,” wouldn’t they?) But they won’t be around for long anyway. Spammers get identified and blocked by others, and if enough people block them the accounts are suspended.
  6. The solution to some unwanted followers is to get a LOT of followers. As my friend Andy Sernovitz says, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” Then if you have some “less than splendid” followers it won’t be a big deal.
  7. Why would you want all the burden of networking to fall on your shoulders? Why not make it a mutual thing? If your tweets are protected the only way you’re likely to make new connections is by initiating “follows.” But by practicing unprotected tweeting you will find that people who are interested in what you are saying will want to follow you. Many of these will likely be interesting people for you to follow. You may find this post interesting, because it has some data about protected tweeters, and particularly that they have fewer followers. That makes sense, that if people have to ask permission to follow you, fewer will.
  8. The Cocktail Party Analogy – This is a metaphor many have used to describe the right way to behave in social media. If you wouldn’t do it in person at a party, don’t act that way in social networking platforms. In these illustrations, most often the undesirable example is Ed the Egomaniac. He comes in and just talks incessantly about himself. But there is another type that’s just as likely to kill the conversation. Eva the Eavesdropper. She doesn’t talk at all. She just listens in on others’ conversations without contributing (and often without their knowledge.) It’s unwelcome behavior in real life, so don’t do it in Twitter.
  9. You’re in a tiny minority. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, of course. But the default for Twitter is to not protect, and if everyone else is interacting freely you are not going to be as fully connected, which will put you at a disadvantage.
  10. Be smart. For your own safety, you might not want to tweet a message like, “Home all alone. Locks on my front door don’t work. Sure hope that $25K in cash under mattress is safe until I can call the locksmith Monday.” But if you’re just tweeting conversationally and sharing links to interesting reading, you won’t have much cause for concern about personal safety or privacy violations.
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18 thoughts on “Twitter 135: 10 Reasons to NOT Protect Your Tweets”

  1. True enough, *if* you are using Twitter for professional or personal promotion. I do have an account that I use that way, but I also have an account that I use for personal conversations with people I know and for following accounts that correspond with personal interests, and that one is (appropriately, I think) protected.

  2. Good point. Certainly there could be applications and reasons why someone might want to protect tweets. If you’re mainly interacting with friends, I think Facebook is better. For most people using Twitter for professional networking, I believe unprotected will be more productive, helping them to accomplish their goals. I had said:

    “depending on how you want to use Twitter, it COULD be a valid choice.

    Thanks for sharing one of those examples of how someone could decide to use Twitter in a “protected” manner.

    1. I have to say that if someone who has protected his Tweets starts to follow me, I immediately block him. The view I take is that protection conceals the individual’s motives for being on Twitter. I’m happy to be open, but I expect openness in return.

      I’m sure that many other Twitter users adopt the same principle, so the consequence must be that if you protect your Tweets, you get fewer followers – which rather defeats the purpose of joining Twitter.

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  4. I’ve been converted! I’ve always been stuck between making the decision of protecting and unprotecting my tweets. To the extent of turning that function on and off several times over the course of a few weeks.

    After reading your article, I’m gonna give it another try and see how it goes. Really looking forward to meeting new people on twitter!

  5. Interesting points and in my opinion they’re all valid. However, I’ve found at least one situation in which it seems smart to protect tweets. Within our company we have setup a protected Twitter account from which we share internal news. Often we accompany the tweet with the direct URL to our internal collaboration environment (intranet). While there is also some classified info in there, I don’t want to share those URLs with the rest of the world. From what I see, this way protected tweets provide me with a fast and safe way to communicate within the company. For communication with the rest of the world we have a separate twitter account of course. Curious if you think we have chosen a smart setup of our communications.

    1. Certainly there can be applications in which setting up an account with protected tweets makes sense, and I think the one you outline is one of them. For more people in their own personal Twitter accounts that would not be the case. Thanks for sharing this example.

      1. Hello guys could you please tell me if I have a protected account. No one will be able to receive my tweets even when I follow them? If this is the case so what’s the point to tweet if no one would receive them. I had the idea that if you @ mention directly someone they will receive your message even though they are not following you. And you’ll be safe not to have your tweets directed to different people read by others. Could you guys tell me what really happens then?

  6. Please Lee, can you follow up with another article “10 Reasons to protect your tweet’? That will be very helpful. In case an article is too much to ask, a reply here will be quite helpful for me. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Tom. I’m sorry for the delay in responding. I suppose I can think of some situations in which protecting tweets might make sense, particularly if you have a defined group you want to reach and you want to use a special Twitter account as a relatively secure message-delivery vehicle. I think almost everyone else should leave tweets unprotected if they want to connect with others. I mainly wrote this post because some people treat Twitter like Facebook, and apply a privacy standard on Twitter that is more in keeping with Facebook. They instinctively protect tweets because they think that’s what they “should” do to be cognizant of their privacy. My point is that the presumption on Twitter should be in the opposite direction.

  7. Interesting article…HOWEVER I disagree on one specific point not mentioned…

    There is loads of SPAMMING on twitter as well as other platforms.

    I am so tired of receiving “hey – you must read this at ” or “someone is talking badly about you at ” or the diet-spam links.

    Hence the need to PROTECT your tweets.

    Also there’s a load of hackers on each portal. Most big platforms have been hacked.

    PROTECTING your twitter is sometimes a very good thing – a) you get to see who really wants to follow you b) who won’t get the opportunity to spam you twice

  8. While I agree with the sentiment and most of the content, there’s one important misstatement in the post.

    On Twitter, your entire bio is 160 characters. You may also have a link to your Web site or blog, but that’s the extent of the really personal information.

    Ideally that would be true, but many users (often unknowingly) share their location with each tweet. This means that anyone can find out where they live, where they work, and when they’re traveling.

    The solution here isn’t to use a protected account, but rather to be cognizant of the location tracking in Twitter and only use it when you’re explicitly attempting to add context to your message.

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