Friday Rant: Twitter Etiquette

Twitter still baffles me a bit, even though we post at least half a dozen times a day (Follow us here, if you aren't already: @spendmatters). Although I know it's driving increased traffic to our site and I've become a regular user myself, I haven't fully figured out the associated professional etiquette. A few weeks ago, I called out another account holder in a Tweet (since deleted) about infringing upon our copyright by taking entire articles from our site without reference or citation. They suggested something less public would have been a "more professional" way to deal with the situation. Copyright issues aside -- I personally think Twitter is much less threatening than getting lawyers involved, not to mention more engaging on a community level -- I don't think I'm alone in not fully coming to grips with how best to use (and not use) the medium. And candidly, I probably make more social mistakes with Twitter than I care to admit.

There have already been a number of high profile cases of lawsuits resulting from supposedly libelous statements on Twitter. So it's probably not the best place to go and write unfounded accusations about a supplier's financial condition or operational practices, even if they're true (or at least you suspect them to be true). It's also probably not a place that you want to go complain too much about that unheated apartment or office (landlords have sued tenants for making similar statements on Twitter). It's also not the place to go to for anything more than a cursory observation or a quick link to a subject. After all, 140 characters is quite limiting.

For me, what Twitter has become is a way to rapidly identify other stories that I should read about, for one reason or another. It's kind of like a personally filtered and prioritized Google news front page. It's also a way to get feedback on Spend Matters stories to see what readers are interested in. For this, it's a very useful gauge, on top of directing traffic to the site. By helping identify stories people are passionate about, we can get a sense of topics that we might want to write more frequently about in the future. In this way, it's also a means to get feedback on coverage and the angle we take (although it seems that only a minority of users provide true opinion in their links and comments).

For many procurement and supply chain practitioners, I suspect the use case for Twitter is very similar to our own at Spend Matters -- to stay in the loop. Yet from an etiquette standpoint when it comes to posting something that goes beyond a simple link or re-tweet, I think the rules are not only evolving, they're not yet fully established. And as long as that's the case, Twitter will continue to be a minefield of potential conflict that has the potential to do more harm than good as concerns over self-interest and reputation win out over the spirit of social networking, community and collaborative discourse. That's the same for any online forum though, right?

Jason Busch

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