Don’t Tell Me How To Use Twitter

There is no shortage of articles on how to make the most of social media when building your brand, your online presence, and your relationship with your customers.copbird

A lot of it is really good. It’s exhilarating how immersive and potent these tools are for reaching out to one another. That excitement has inspired some very smart and talented people to give away tomes of valuable wisdom.

But where the best advice can work wonders for your company’s PR, Marketing or Customer Service, there are no real rules for individuals. Unfortunately, this leaves the door wide open for half-baked and even mean-spirited “experts” who try to bully others into following their own invented code of conduct.

One of the most famous cases is the “Cisco fatty.” If you’re not familiar with the story, Connor Riley (@theconnor) interviewed for an internship at Cisco, and upon receiving an offer tweeted:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

She quickly got a nasty response from @timmylevad at Cisco. And her tweet was widely publicized as an example of abject stupidity and naiveté concerning social media.

Except she hadn’t even applied for the job, and it turned out to be outside her professional field. Her tweet was meant as an inside joke to her very small audience of followers who already knew she’d be turning it down. It’s easy to see how a Cisco employee would not be amused, but @timmylevad unleashed a public castigation in an effort to enforce his own rules on how Twitter should be used.

Ms. Riley herself makes a particularly cogent observation about how someone with 45 followers, all of whom she knows in real life, may treat Twitter differently than someone with over 500.

I think people with many followers can’t afford to be real people on Twitter. Tim Levad would probably never use Twitter to make a flippantly negative remark about his career, because he understands that @timmylevad is more of a mass-media channel than a human being.

If that’s the way TIm Levad wants to maintain his Twitter feed, that’s great for him. Depending on his goals for the platform, it may be exactly right. What I’d like to see quashed is the idea that anyone has the authority to tell anyone else what their approach should be, particularly if the rules they are trying to impose are an effort to move people towards more sanitized and less human communication.

zeldmanJeffrey Zeldman is a legendary designer, blogger and independent publisher. His work has long been a guidepost for standards-compliant design, and his website A List Apart is a voluminously rich resource for anyone who makes websites. Due to his well-deserved internet fame, nearly 21,000 people follow @zeldman on Twitter.

Recently, Zeldman was scolded by a Twitter follower who expected more “value” from his Twitter stream. In this critic’s farewell email, he accuses Zeldman of letting his “ego take over,” because he dares to tell jokes and give his reaction to movies he’s seen.

In response, Zeldman rightly refers to A List Apart, his blog, and his free downloadable books where the disappointed unfollower can get the “value” he seeks. But he vehemently rejects the “mass-media channel” approach to Twitter. Jeffrey Zeldman is a real person, who has every right to use Twitter to connect with people and build relationships as a human being, and not just as a name-brand for web standards.

All the best advice for companies in the social media sphere seem to point toward more human communication and away from monolithic press release broadcasts. To push individuals in the opposite direction runs counter to the best of what social media has to offer.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Tell Me How To Use Twitter

  1. Amen Brent! These ‘Twitter Police’ as I call them have gotten out of hand.

    Wil Wheaton wrote a great blog post in which he described how he is getting hate mail and heat Tweets from people criticizing him for tweeting too much or tweeting about unimportant things, as if they are in position to tell him what to talk about. People who would never think about telling someone what to talk about on the phone are trying to do just that in Twitter.

    If you aren’t finding someone tweets to have value to you, just unfollow the stream. Problem solved!

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  3. Great post. I would hate for people to stop posting personal comments and opinions, as they play a huge part in my enjoyment of twitter.

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