Don’t Let Social Media Become the Internet’s Catty Corner

Don’t Let Social Media Become the Internet’s Catty Corner

Nearly a decade ago, I sent a very angry e-mail to a group of colleagues at the startup company I was working for at the time.  It was rancorous, it was self-righteous, above all… I was right, goldarnit.

Shortly after I sent the missive, my boss – the CEO of the 80-person-strong startup I was at – called me.  It was strange that he used the phone rather than replying to the email.  It was stranger that he didn’t just walk the three doors that separated our offices; but no… he called me.

“Do you have a minute?” he asked. “Can you come see me in my office?”

I was suddenly nervous and wondered if it had to do with the email I’d just sent out.  I was pretty sure my job was safe, but… one never knows.

When I arrived at his office moments later, his back was to the door while my email was splayed (in very large text) across his screen.

“Adam,” he began timidly, slowly turning in his chair Bond-villain-style. “I know you’ve been a consultant for a long time, and aren’t yet accustomed to working in a group setting.  That’s why this is a really important thing for you to know now… before it becomes a problem.”

I was ashen.  OK – I was ashen-er than I usually appear.  I had really screwed up – big.  Lecture from the CEO big.  Then he made one statement to me – a question, really… almost rhetorical, but somehow pointed.  A dull sort of sharp, like the edge of a letter-opener.

“Before you send an email like this, ask yourself: Would you say this aloud – in person – to the people you’re sending it to?”

I rethought the email in my mind and realized that no… I most certainly wouldn’t ‘have the [guts]’ (as he would later say to me) to say this in person to any of the recipients of the email.

I think this same rule applies, perhaps more-so, to social media vehicles like Twitter, Facebook and even comments on blogs and YouTube. All the time, it seems, I see short barbs carried across the tubes that would have no place in casual conversation with a group where there are contrary views, or even intimate chat between two individuals who are at odds.  People have no problem, for instance, twittering about politician X’s latest misstep, whereas they would have no ability to speak their displeasure in the presence of that party.

Far too frequently I see Tweets or Facebook Fan Page posts flung indiscriminately as bait that is clearly designed to entice a contrarian response (as with Mr. Clement’s most recent Twitter spars with those for and against the census issue).  Much of the time, the subject of such attacks are derided for “not getting the two-way” of social media when, in fact, such a comment wouldn’t merit a response in TRL.

In one particular circumstance, a Social Media aficionado declared that (paraphrasing) they were going to ‘unfollow’ a particular local politician because they were too one-way: Highlighting the notion that this politician was using social media to broadcast their achievements but bemoaning the fact that they weren’t listening to the other people in the social media space.  To this I say the following:

I would do exactly the same… as the politician.

Social media is not a private conversation; indeed, on the contrary, it’s a super public, archived forum.  I wouldn’t expect a politician to candidly go on record regarding a hot topic in a private conversation with me, and were I a political advisor, I wouldn’t suggest that anyone, ever, express an opinion on a hot issue in < 140 chars that hadn’t been carefully crafted and considered by about 20 politically-minded copywriters (and if you think that Obama is actually writing even 1/140th of any Tweet, well… I’ve got ocean-front property in in Calgary to sell you).

If you take issue with a politician – especially a local one – or even if you take issue with a politician’s party’s policy… make an appointment and go see them.  If you’re a constituent, it’s almost unheard of for them to refuse you an audience.  It may take a week (or five), but they will see you, and they will listen, and they will respond.

If you want more out of a brand… write a letter, or speak to a manager, or stop doing business with them.  Heck, I’ve been seriously guilty of slapping a brand via Twitter (http://twitter.com/adamcaplan/status/18934536560), and I’ve even considered “Liking” an Anti-[Insert hated company here] page on Facebook, but it’s rare that I do something about it (other than boycott Bell and McDonalds – my favourite brand hate-ons), so I’m certainly guilty of using my online persona as a passive-aggressive shield as well…

The argument I often hear back is “These companies/politicians/public figures should communicate with me the way I want to be communicated with”, to which I reply “Horsepucky” (to borrow a phrase from M*A*S*H).  Organizations of any size have finite resources, and can’t respond to every single social media meme that starts getting press.  E-Mail, snail-mail and phone support still work – as does walking into a store or an office and making one’s case.  Just because you send 2000 tweets a day and @yourleastlikedbiz has a Twitter handle doesn’t make them fair game.

And that’s the point.  If you want a two-way conversation – especially one that’s controvercial with ANYONE, politician, your favourite brand, or band, or (again) anyone — don’t hide behind an avatar (even if it is a reasonably well-represented likeness) ask yourself if you’d have the [guts] to say it to their face… the same litmus test you’d use with e-mail.

If you have a problem with this post, give me a call, and we’ll discuss it over a beer or a coffee.  I’ll even buy it for you.

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