Twitter’s unintended consequences

Posted on August 21, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

It’s been too long since my last blog entry, and recent events have reminded me how important finding my voice in this space can be.  So I’ve decided to resurrect this blog and be more faithful in contributing to it.  Let me start now with a story about unintended consequences of instant responsiveness…

Recently, a friend of mine and I met with some new friends from CompanyX to discuss Twitter and social media (NOTE: All the names are removed to protect the innocent…as you’ll understand as you read on).  We talked about many topics over coffee, and in the end decided to meet again.  We were all on the same page about the importance of these tools, all of like mind about discussing creative ways to use them, all interested and eager to share ideas, and all engaged enough that the time we spent together went by lightening fast.  Nothing confidential was discussed–in fact many of the stories are already on the web.

Then came the offending tweet…

My friend wrote a very short tweet about our meeting…something like “enjoyed interviewing guys from DepartmentY in CompanyX and learning about their use of social media.  More on my blog”.  That sounded simple enough.  Transparent, factual, non-threatening.  But the unintended consequences of Twitter’s instant communication made this a bigger problem than we could have imagined.  Here’s what happened.

When our new friends got back to there office at CompanyX, it was buzzing.  Apparently, CompanyX, like many others, monitors Twitter, looking for references to their company.  The instant my friend’s tweet went out on the web, CompanyX monitors picked it up.  Then the inquisition began.  Who from DepartmentY met with these guys?  What had they said?  Why wasn’t it known higher up in the organization that an interview was taking place?  What would be published?   ‘Higher ups’ were now involved and concerned.  The ‘situation’ had escalated up the chain of command.  No one was sure what had happened, but apparently it was something to be managed.  Our new friends called us to let us know. 

This is such an interesting story from many angles.  First, the idea that a company monitors Twitter to such an extent that they knew instantly about our coffee meeting is fascinating.  Talk about big brother.  But what they did with the information about our meeting is interesting.  Instead of embracing this as an additional opportunity for engendering Web2.0 values (transparency, openness, collaboration, etc), the reaction was one of paranoia and fright.  The tweet included a couple of terms that not only caught the eye of the monitor, but had a very different meaning to CompanyX.  “Interview” meant something formal, not just a discussion.  Interviews resulted in something published that may or may not be what CompanyX wants.  Mentioning DepartmentY itself was an issue.  It pointed the finger at a specific group at the company, and ultimately embarrassed several people.  Not the intended consequences, but the consequences all the same.  

We learned a lot from our recent experience.  We have to be careful what we tweet.  What we think are innocent updates can have far reaching consequences.  In this world of instantly responsiveness, things can quickly escalate especially when the information is incomplete.  Lessons for CompanyX: we understand your concern about security and managing your brand.  But trust your employees… sharing information outside your corporate walls is a way to generate new innovations.  That was the just of our coffee… we all left with new ideas and new energy.  Unfortunately the events that followed sucked some of that away from us.  I hope we can meet again for coffee, or even lunch, sometime soon.


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