Of Bloomsday, June Gloom and Twitter Fallout

Bloomsday dawned gloomy here in Hollywood, where we are “suffering” through the annual fogbound weather pattern known as June Gloom. It’s the one month on the calendar when we Angelenos are socked in like San Franscisco is the rest of the year.

The day also brought two news items about the repercussions of misusing Twitter:

  1. the resignation of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner in what’s being called a “sexting scandal,” but really was caused by a misunderstanding of the nature of Twitter “relationships;” and
  2. the loss of an account by PR agency Redner Group following Tweets that suggested the flacks would blacklist some media outlets that chose to give their client, gamer 2K, and its latest offering “Duke Nukem Forever,” less than favorable reviews.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Twitter?

Both of these events have left commentators scratching their heads. In an Ad Age Digital article about the 2K firing of Redner, the writer asks, “How does this keep happening?”

It’s a good question because it seems like two highly keen advocates of microblogging as a means to promote clients and causes and generate grassroots endorsements – those would be the PR industry and politicians – truly do not understand how the channel Twitter actually works.

A couple of key lessons here:

Never assume you know your followers
Have no fear, I’m not going to add to the commentary on the Weiner affair. I only want to explore what I and you and anyone supporting Twitter accounts for ourselves or a company or client can learn from this mess. It seems to me that one key lesson is something our mothers tried to teach us years ago: Don’t talk to strangers.

On Twitter this means we may all need to let go of the little ego rush (hey, I get it, too; doesn’t mean it’s right) that comes with adding new Followers. Face it, if you don’t know these folks and their profiles indicate they aren’t even in the same industry, what’s the point? What benefit do you or your clients really get from having random Followers? As with using impressions to measure success for media hits, measuring Followers does not give you an accurate reading of your influence.

Ordinary people do not have confirmed Twitter accounts. Confirmed accounts are the ones with the blue badge next to them featuring a white check mark; you’ll often see these on the Twitter accounts of celebrities, companies or public figures. Former Rep. Weiner has noted that he was using Twitter to communicate with women he’d never met and didn’t know.

Here’s the thing: You can never assume that someone is who they say they are on Twitter. Some accounts – that go a long way to make it look like there are real people behind them, including using a photo of a pretty girl, cleverly written profiles and Tweets copied from other accounts to appear friendly and real – aren’t even run by people: they’re spammers. And some accounts may even be ruses by people who don’t have your best interests at heart, people like competitors, who try to draw you in to compromising conversations.

I’m not, if you’re wondering, suggesting that Rep. Weiner was blindsided deliberately. I’m positing the idea that it is to our advantage (and our clients’) if we know whom we’re engaging or enraging on a public forum like Twitter and, if we don’t know who a Follower is, that acting, as crisis consultants often do, on a worst-case scenario basis might be a better approach than giving an unknown an all-access pass to our personal thoughts, opinions and photographs and, with them, the ability to damage reputations.

Never confuse your professional Twitter account with your personal account
The Redner group Twitter incident appears to be one of those cases where personal reaction to bad reviews was vented on the same Twitter account used by the company. Presumably this company Twitter handle also was used to promote clients, which is a standard practice in PR, and done in the hopes that Followers who are journalists might be further enticed into doing stories. In this instance, they certainly were.

James Redner told Ad Age: “I used a public forum to voice my complaints and I know better.” He also said he made personal calls to media outlets to apologize and explain, which was the right thing to do. Still, the situation reflected on the client, which ended its relationship with the company.

It’s important to mention that emails between PR people/spokespeople and reporters have wound up everywhere from Twitter to blogs to TV news, which is to say that mistakes in one channel (email, which some might think is a more private channel) can find their way to other, far more public channels with many, many more viewers and readers.

If you’re writing in a highly personable style on your company Twitter account or on a client’s – or if your personal Twitter account uses a handle that’s easily recognizable as you (because reporters can find and read and make use of your personal account whether you think that’s fair or not, and Human Resources departments are doing across-the-board social media searches on prospective candidates) – never confuse being casual with saying anything that’s on your mind. A friendly writing voice is a stylistic choice made on behalf of you, your company or your client(s), it’s not real (and therefore at the service of anything you feel like saying). Your friendly writing style is all about branding and ultimately about maintaining a good reputation.

If you want to share highly charged feelings or opinions, it is perhaps wiser to use a journal or…I was going to say take them on a Bloomsday pub crawl, but in this era of Twitter and video cameras on cell phones, even that isn’t a safe bet anymore. It’s probably best to take your anger home with you and vent it there in private.