Read Outside Voice, Inside Voice and Whispers on

If you grew up with a mother anything like mine, many of your childhood memories include being shushed and reminded to use your inside voice. We had three voices, but the one we heard the most about was our inside voice. Heaven forbid we might say something too loudly and the neighbors would hear! Little did I know these voices would come in handy when thinking about Twitter.

I had a recent conversation with Laura, someone I’d just followed on Twitter, about the practice of sending DMs (direct messages) to new followers. Laura clearly disagreed with my perspective that this practice is often seen as rude. She felt it was rude not to acknowledge new followers. In fact, she felt that I was rude in not replying to her DM and she unfollowed me. I chuckled when I saw that because I unfollow those who similarly send DMs to new followers, but, for some reason, I had taken a look at Laura’s account and decided not to unfollow her. She seemed authentic to me. One of the things I appreciate about Laura, despite her having concluded that I was rude, is that she was still willing to ask about my rationale and share her perspective. I appreciate an open conversation with someone with a different point of view any day.

Following our discussion, I racked my brain for a better way to explain the differences I saw between using public tweets and private DMs and I thought of the voices. I grew up understanding my three voices – the outside voice, the inside voice and the whisper. Like public and private messages, each voice is important: it’s all a matter of understanding the best time and place.

Your Outside Voice on Twitter

This is the voice you’re using when you send many of your tweets, what you’re broadcasting to everyone following you. This is what you would like everyone in the neighborhood to hear, even those people who just moved in down the street that you haven’t even had a chance to meet yet.

Good uses of your outside voice:

– Sharing helpful or interesting information about news, events, tips, etc.

Bad uses of your outside voice:

– Repeatedly tweeting self-promotional information

– Constant republishing of others’ content (RSS feeds, quotes, etc.)

Your Inside Voice on Twitter

This is your conversational voice for when you’re engaging with others. On Twitter, these are the @ replies used to contact others directly. Your inside voice on Twitter is not private, though. This is a conversation you’re having in the front yard of your house (OK, not technically inside, but work with me here). You’re talking with someone directly, but anyone from the neighborhood is welcome to come by to listen and even join the conversation. It’s good to have a mix of using your outside voice to get to know new people and using your inside voice to connect one-on-one.

Good uses of your inside voice:

– Commenting on content posted by someone else

– Joining a conversation in progress by adding relevant information or commentary

– Introducing yourself  or striking up a conversation with someone you’d like to get to know

Bad uses of your inside voice:

– Replying to someone based on a keyword search (i.e., they mention iPad and you reply “@user Like iPads, buy one at”)

Whispering on Twitter

This is the voice you use when you don’t want anyone else to hear you. It is intimate. This conversation does not take place on the front lawn where others can walk over and join us. When you send me a DM, you’re saying, “Psst, let’s step into your house so I can tell you something private.” To me, whispering is not something I have a need or desire to do with someone I don’t yet know. You may be fabulous, but until we have some sort of connection, there is no need to whisper.

This is the voice you are using when sending a Twitter DM, which is private. DMs are only visible to the sender and the recipient. While it is possible for me to see/hear what you are saying with your outside and inside voices on Twitter, you cannot contact me by DM until I follow your account. As a practical matter, most Twitter users have their accounts configuring so that all DMs are immediately forwarded to them via text message or email. Having the ability to send me a DM (and therefore an email) is similar to having the ability to tell me to step into my house so you can whisper; it is a privilege, not a right. Barge into my house uninvited and I won’t allow you in again. Send me a DM prematurely and I’ll unfollow to prevent a reoccurrence.

Good uses of whispering:

– Friends who want to chat or vent off the record

– Friends making plans who don’t want to broadcast all the details

– Customer service departments asking that you DM your contact information to allow their staff to follow-up with you

Bad uses of whispering:

– Messages from someone I don’t yet know, immediately after following their account (whether automated or not, and whether promotional or not)

– Requests for RTs (retweets) for promotional purposes

It is important to note that these are my guidelines, my preferences and, to some extent, my rules. Despite what my mother believes, I do not rule the internet. While I know there are those who will agree, there are many who won’t and this is perfectly fine. As I often write, the beauty of social media is that it is up to each of us to create the type of presence we’d like to have online and to find and connect with those who use the tools in a way which aligns with our own preferences. Especially on Twitter, we have the opportunity to try people on for size to see how well they fit for us. It is important, though, to stay in touch with what our what works best for our audience wants, lest they return us too quickly.

If you’d like to try me on for size, I invite you to follow me on Twitter. I look forward to getting to know you and promise not to inappropriately or prematurely whisper. If I’m not a good fit, you can always return me.

Have your say: What would you add to the list of best or worst uses for the outside or inside voice, or whispers on Twitter?

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