Tamar Weinberg's recently wrote about five good reasons to start using Twitter, the popular microblogging service. If it convinced you to take the plunge, here's something to consider before you sign up: Will you register under your own name? If so, that means your boss and co-workers can anonymously watch the things you Tweet (that's Twitter-speak for "post"), even if they're not registered with the service.
Though you'd never say or do anything unprofessional on Twitter (right?), let's take a look at ways what you post can help -- or haunt -- your career.
1) Use Twitter to keep in touch with your colleagues, especially if your "office" is filled with telecommuters. Dave in IT can Tweet "It's a boy!" right from the delivery room (it happens), and everyone in your department will know in minutes. If you're one of several telecommuters in your company, Twitter is also a great way to let people know what you're up to during the day. "Waiting for the conference call with the Japan office to start" lets your co-workers know you're not sitting on your living room couch watching Judge Judy.
2) Twitter is great for letting you know what people in your industry are up to. People often Tweet that they're "making travel arrangements for the conference in Portland" or something similar. If you're going to the same conference, now you know to look them up while you're there. In fact, this use of Twitter has become so prevalent that people have developed a way to use hashtags so related Tweets are searchable. For example, someone might Tweet, "Who wants to meet for breakfast at #OSCON?" and people planning to attend can search "#OSCON" to see who will be there.
3) Draw on the collective wisdom of the crowds. Not sure if the vendor you're talking with is on the level? Send out a Tweet asking if anyone has used them before. In the market for a new enterprise email client? Use Twitter to ask for recommendations.
4) As with email -- perhaps even more so -- always assume everything you say will be seen by your current boss and colleagues, as well as people you have worked with in the past or may work with in the future. Therefore, it's never a good idea to Tweet "I like this boss better than the last one who smelled like sweat socks." The old boss just might stumble across it and remember it the next time you need a reference. Twitter does give you the option to protect your Tweets from the public eye by making you approve everyone who asks to see them, but that won't stop someone from passing on what you've said via an emailed screenshot.
5) That said, don't be afraid to get a little personal. A lighthearted mention that you spent the weekend at Cape Cod or that you're in search of the perfect guacamole can go a long way toward opening the door to fun small talk when speaking face-to-face with people you rarely see.
Twitter is a great little business tool. It's not vital to enhancing your career, but it's a lot of fun to use and, in a day when half the working population seems to be working remotely. it's a terrific way to stay connected to your colleagues. Just be careful what you say, lest you end up in the Twitter Hall of Shame.