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April 17, 2007

Twitter's 140 Characters Teach Wonderful Lessons

By Li Evans

Twitterlogo 140 characters can lead a lot of marketers to learn a lot of new lessons.  Enter into the world of Twitter and you'll see why.  Tweets fly through Twitterdom faster than it seems an email can land in my email box.  Hitting the enter button, can forever preserve a thought that can be totally taken out of context, twisted and used for other purposes.

Those 140 characters can also point out just how free flowing and "not thought through" statements can be.  Just ask Steve Rubel about his lessons learned from Twitter.  Last week, without even putting a second thought he passed a Tweet into Twitterdom that couldn't be clarified beyond what he posted.

"PC Mag is another. I have a free sub but it goes in the trash."

What Steve didn't clarify in his "Tweet", is that he does read PC Mag - only online and via RSS Feed.  However, none of that got related through this space of flying messages on Twitter, and the folks at PC Mag responded in a rather harsh manner.  Steve, in return, admitted his wrong, in an open letter to PC Mag's editor-in-chief, Jim Louderback

Twittergirl It brings an interesting predicament to the forefront.  When using these social media technologies, we get so engrossed in how easy it becomes to communicate that we forget others can be listening and come into the conversation without the entire story.  Limited messages can have an entirely different meaning than what was intended.  Then there's the whole cultural boundaries, what someone is saying in the US can be totally offensive to someone in another country. 

This is where businesses venturing into social media and web 2.0 tools need to tread carefully, especially with tools like Twitter and there instantaneous nature.  I'm not advocating companies put a gag on their employees utilizing the service, but perhaps a quick lesson in "when talking about the company, think twice about what you are sending across Twitter." 

Is there a lesson a business or a PR company can take from Steve's experience?  Most certainly there is.  It can take less than a second to send a "Tweet", but one "Tweet" can have your entire PR department working for days to clarify, quantify and apologize.

If you'd like to add me to your Twitter, feel free to!


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Error # 1 was Steve not being clear. He had 140 characters and didn't use them.

Error #2 is anyone assuming Steve's tweet was a complete thought. From the phrasing "PC Mag is another" it's obviously a continuation of another thought.

The worst error, however, was when "the folks at PC Mag responded in a rather harsh manner." That's absolutely unforgivably inappropriate. Steve's tweet was not clear, it obviously didn't have full context, it was obviously part of something else. Blowing it out of proportion "in a harsh manner" is simply inexcusable and makes PC Magazine look stupid.

More than ever before we all need to learn a few important lessons:
- Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity,
- if the screen "starts flashing red and black" (at least in your mind) walk away until you calm down
- never put anything in writing you wouldn't want your mother to read in the morning paper
- If you think you've been offended, try to handle the problem quietly first. You're likely to have guessed wrong. It's far better not to air your grievances and be embarrassed in public.

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