Clearly, I, along with a whole bunch of other social media navelgazers, am a fan of microblogging/mobile status & messaging service Twitter. However, just as with any social media or communications shiny thing, there are instances where Twitter may not be the best tool for the job — either because there’s a better tool, or because what you’re trying to do is ill-advised in the first place.
Here’s a roundup of a few relatively recent Twitter mistakes — learn from them:
* Twitter + Child’s Funeral = Bad Idea: Back in September, a Rocky Mountain News reporter, Berny Morson, used Twitter to provide live event coverage of a child’s funeral. (Example tweet: “coffin lowered into ground“) Needless to say, it did not go over so well.
Part of the problem was that it’s hard to convey solemnity, especially in real-time, using 140 characters (or less) of text. Another problem is that funerals generally don’t get a play-by-play treatment, especially when done in a style more suited to, say, a basketball game. Lastly, even in a best-case scenario of respect, solemnity, dignity, and respecting the privacy of the grieving family, I can’t really find any value in the real-time tweeting a funeral.
* Twittering During Surgery: This example, while not nearly as egregious as the funeral, still falls into my category of “Things we can do are not necessarily things we should do”: Surgeons at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit used Twitter to post live updates during an operation to remove a kidney tumor. (While the image of a surgeon dashing back and forth between patient and laptop would be kind of amusing, this was not the case — another doctor, observing the operation, posted the updates using Tweetdeck.)
As a consciousness-raising effort and experiment, the Twittering of the operation was a success. The question becomes, how would Twittering an operation be valuable when it’s not done as a publicity stunt?
* Twittering That Jeopardizes Security: Earlier this month, Congressman Peter Hoekstra posted a Twitter update announcing his arrival in Baghdad, during a Congressional delegation’s previously-secret trip to Iraq. Despite a mini-uproar, the Congressman doesn’t feel he did anything wrong, and the Defense Department is re-evaluating its policy.
I’ll leave it to the security experts to debate the actual threat here, other than to note that there’s always a dynamic tension between the need for transparency and the need for security (with an additional push-pull between informing and grandstanding)
* Twittering That Insults a Client: On a trip to Memphis to meet with FedEx, PR guy James Andrews posted a less-than-complimentary comment about the city. Somebody at FedEx saw it, took it personally, sent it around, and started a big slapfight that culminated in lots of tut-tutting, and of course a public apology.
I don’t think there’s much more here that needs to be said other than be careful about what you post, because people will read it.
* Twittering Something Public That Would Be Better Kept Private: This is another silly slapfight, this one between a PR person and a reporter who goes off the rails. Because they took it to Twitter, it was public for everyone to see (including swears). Honestly, no one involved looks good (the reporter looks worse, though), and the whole thing is a pretty tedious reminder that you should never post while angry — especially when it’s public.
Twitter, as with any communications tool, has a learning curve, and as a relatively new tool, people are still creating the etiquette and norms around it. And as we can see, people — even folks who should know better — make mistakes. Sometimes, they’re trying to push the envelope; other times, they’re acting out in the heat of the moment and broadcasting things they’d be better off not saying at all.
Remember, as the saying goes, “Internet: It doesn’t make you stupid, it just makes your stupidity more accessible to others.”
Have your own Twitter faux pas you’d like to share? (My own are the garden-variety drunk-texting sort, not notable in any way.) Please leave a comment below.Google+