Don’t e-mail what you can blog. Don’t blog what you can tweet. Don’t tweet what you can DM. Don’t DM what you wouldn’t publish.

Or so I twittered this afternoon. It turns out that the flip side of this social media hierarchy (which I hereby dub “smierarchy”) is, “don’t tweet what you need a blog post to explain”. And as it turns out, it does take a blog post to explain this one. So here’s the explanatory blog post:

Don’t e-mail what you can blog. E-mail is a closed medium. When you send an e-mail, you’re only sending it to a handful of people (we’ll leave the discussion of accidental mass-e-mails for another day). If you’re e-mailing something that’s useful or amusing, and not confidential or sensitive, then why not blog it? Several of my favourite blog posts began life as e-mails. When I find that I’m e-mailing multiple people with the same tips (for example, on getting into grad school, setting up personal information management on the Mac, or dining out in Vancouver), I turn it into a blog post. If someone asks me for thoughts on a particular topic or issue, that can turn into a blog post, too — for example, on the thoughtful use of Twitter.

Don’t blog what you can tweet. Twitter is a fantastic outlet for information, insights and reflections that are small enough — or better, yet, concise enough — to fit in 140 characters. So if you can fit into a tweet (or two), skip the long, meandering blog post and just tweet it.

Don’t tweet what you can DM.
There’s a reason Twitter changed “replies” to “mentions”. If you want to convey info that has no interest, or even amusement value, to anyone other than the recipient, then send it as a private IM or direct message on Twitter.

Don’t DM what you wouldn’t publish.
This isn’t part of the smierarchy; it’s just good sense. If you’re not — on some level — prepared to see something disseminated publicly, don’t put it in any electronic form. When you send a message to someone, it’s not in your control. You can’t preclude the possibility of misunderstanding, accidental forwarding, or deliberate recirculation. So while there are lots of circumstances in which it’s useful to conduct private business electronically — via chat or e-mail — you should distinguish between what’s private and what’s confidential. Anything that would be really compromising or disastrous to see disclosed shouldn’t travel electronically.

That explains the don’ts — but I’m sick of don’ts. So let me also take this opportunity to offer a couple of positive alternatives, inspired by the Zimbabwean proverb: “If you can talk you can sing. If you can walk you can dance”.

On the smierarchy:

If you can e-mail you can blog. If you can blog you can tweet.

On public versus private communications:

If it’s personal, say it personally. If it’s private, say it privately.