in Blogging, Twitter

The crime of social media

twitter logoI’m a social media sceptic. I’ve come to terms with that. You might not believe me when I say it, but I am. It’s fun and enjoyable. It is definitely part of the internet landscape that is here to stay. But does everyone and everything have to be on it? No, they don’t. So, while I’d be suspicious of a “social media agency” who weren’t active on Twitter (and I do know one in London) I’d have no problem with a council who feel their money and resources are best spent on other things. Horses for courses.

Part of my scepticism is driven by the number of people making money by selling social media to organisations who aren’t really buying it. There’s nothing worse than people and organisations who have clearly paid for the social media makeover, and have nice Twitter, facebook, flickr and YouTube logos on their website, but don’t really know what to do with them. Just because you’ve read about Twitter in the news, it doesn’t mean you need to be on it.

But, ironically, despite my scepticism there’s one thing I dislike even more than the quacks selling social media snake oil – it’s social media sceptics!

There have been a couple of good examples recently.

The first is from a little over a week ago when the BBC revealed a Scottish council was to probe a teachers Twitterings. But when you read the story you realise the council and school had an issue over her use of Twitter, not what she was saying. The council, we are told, “has a policy of blocking the use of social networking sites in all schools.” Later we are told that teachers “may access professional blogs which have educational value but are not allowed to have their own blog.”

In effect, the council’s policy is to say that their teachers can say and think what they like, as long as they don’t do it on the internet. If the teacher had been sending the same thoughts via text to friends she would have been fine. Typing out the highlights of her day and emailing them absolutely no problem. Publish them on Twitter or a blog, that’s a real no-no.

You can see why they felt the policy was necessary. They don’t want schools brought into disrepute or pupil’s confidential information published. But to impose blanket bans isn’t the way to go about it. These are management issues and should be dealt with in that way.

But the real gem comes from the local Guardian paper, suggesting Croydon had committed a ¬£237k Twitter gaffe. The actual story is that a member of staff had used the account to send an inappropriate message. Not really that big a story. Would a similar headline have been prompted if you replaced the word ‘Twitter’ with ‘phone’, ’email’ or ‘potato print’?

Probably not, but because it’s Twitter we have the classic reaction of the sceptic. “It’s new, I think it’s a fad, I don’t really understand the hype. I MUST CRITICISE.”

Quote of the story must go to the opposition leader: “How anyone could ever suggest that a public body could control a Twitter account is beyond me.” Exactly. Town Halls already have their hands full trying to control the phones, all those magic strings with little pixies carrying your whispers.

What people don’t understand is that criticising the medium rarely makes sense. With the teacher there may be a problem about her being indiscreet about her charges, or surfing the web rather than teaching. And in Croydon you might wonder why a council officer is using council channels to make a political point. But suggesting Twitter is somehow responsible is like suggesting glass bottles are responsible for alcoholism.

Perhaps this is why I find myself disliking both the sceptic and the evangelist – because they concentrate on the medium rather than the messages. None of these sites are magic. None do anything other than create a way you can have conversations and keep up with people. They reflect human nature and you don’t actually need anyone to tell you how you should, and shouldn’t, be doing that.


And after all that, if you want to follow me on Twitter just pop along to http://twitter.com/jamescousins.

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