A Disclosure Character for Twitter?

It’s become commonplace for responsible bloggers to disclose their allegiances, investments and interests. For example, Tim Bray does it all the time, and here’s Jennifer Leggio’s disclosure statement.

On this site, I prefix client-related stuff with ‘Client Plug’, or indicate something similar in the opening paragraph. I also try to make it clear that I was invited to an event for free or received something for review. This whole blogger disclosure discussion became particularly important with the advent of sponsored posts and links.

But what about Twitter? There are plenty of reasons to like the 140 character limit, but it hardly encourages transparency. There’s rarely enough space to disclose one’s interests. On more than one occasion, I’ve witnessed people tweeting about projects with which they’re affiliated without making that association obvious. The most common scenario is when Person A tweets about something, and Person B replies with “wow, that’s a fantastic thing, good luck with that thing” when Person A and Person B in fact work together.

I’m certainly guilty of retweeting client projects without disclosure. Here’s an example from today:

Non Disclosure

As I mentioned, we’re working with ActiveState on a new project. And you’d see their name on our client page on our company site. Yet a casual Twitter follower might have no idea of the formal, financial connection between myself and ActiveState.

Unicode to the Rescue?

A common solution here might be a hash tag, such as #clientplug or #disclosurepending or something. That would do, I guess, though it already takes up a fair number of characters. If you’re interesting in seeing a message spread, then space is already at a premium.

Here’s a silly idea. What if there were a generally accepted unicode character that you could add to tweets to imply that you had a personal stake in the message? A kind of disclosure shorthand that people could follow up on if they had questions. Maybe it’s ☍, as in “I have strong connections here”? Or maybe ☝, as in “I’m promoting this organization”? Or maybe just ♟, as in “I’m a tiny pawn in this giant corporation”?

What do you think? Does disclosure on Twitter even matter?

13 comments

  1. I see a need for this.

    I would like the option of a disclaimer as well. My employer’s social media policy makes it such that I want to make it clear daily that I am not representing them with my posts on twitter. (@bump)

  2. Love the idea, but one possible problem: people that use twitter via SMS don’t always have unicode characters resolve properly. Not a dealbreaker, but something worth thinking about.

  3. A hashtag abbreviation would probably do the job for both SMS and web/mobile interface. I like #disc, #client, #jv (now that’s short!)

    It certainly would make allegiances clear!

  4. I like the #jv – I wonder if abbreviations are going to start sprouting up all over to make Twitter into an obscure language that you need at Twictionary to decipher. Is that already a word or did I just make something up?

    What do you think of #bias

  5. This is just going to turn into a mess. New Twitter users already have enough trouble with @penmachine and RT and #hashtags in general. I think we could solve the problem like so:

    “RT from client @activestate Insta-contest: follow @activestate before 17:00 on May 21 for a chance to win a Komodo IDE license. Please RT!”

    or

    “Awesome photo of Mercury crossing the Sun (by my dad!): http://penmachine.com/2006/11/see-mercury-cross-sun.html

    If you can’t fit it, then edit your tweet. Twitter is great at forcing people to figure out what’s important, and what’s clear.

    Phrase your tweet to indicate there’s a relationship.

  6. It seems to me that almost everything on Twitter is self-promotional anyway. I haven’t even been on it all that long, just a few months, but lately I notice every other time I tweet I suddenly acquire a few new followers in the marketing/SEO/fan communications business. Maybe I’m getting cynical, but I’m having trouble finding real humans there sometimes; it’s gotten to the point where I assume everyone is just promoting their projects anyway.

  7. Aren’t we overlooking the obvious $@client? Unicode gets you the kitsch value, but takes up more than one byte of information (remember where that 140 character limit comes from).

  8. I love the idea of transparency, and I also agree with Derek about the challenges of a defined solution for it. I could figure out how to insert a unicode character, but I know a lot of folks who wouldn’t bother figuring it out. And hashtags seem lack consistency, morphing into various versions. Derek’s suggestion of just phrasing it in a way to disclose the connection seems like a natural option even though it’s challenging to fit in sometimes.

  9. I doubt much of you would agree with me on this but i believe these “social networking” sites like “Bebo.com” and “Myspace.com” are becoming like websites for dummies! What i mean is, its like a cheaper, quicker and easier way to advertise a business. Although with the options on these kind of sites are limited, they are constantly adding more and more features until eventually the process of opening up a notepad and writing html code will become obsolete!

    Even when it comes to choosing your space on the internet, most of the work is already done for you! With websites like “godaddy.com” that are essentially selling pieces of the internet or websites that were purely made just to advertise other websites like “travelhqr.com”.
    What i am essentially saying is that the internet has become so incredibly simplified since when it was first introduced due to many of these inovative websites! You never know it could lead to mass web-based job loss as html skills may be rarely needed!

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