Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Social Media - Overstepping The Boundaries

What happens when you follow a genealogy-related company on Twitter - or any company for that matter - and suddenly their messages veer from being genealogy-focused to what some might consider being political or religious in nature?

Some background: many readers know that I am a big social media fan especially in terms of incorporating it with your genealogy research. I write about the topic and I speak about the topic. I mostly use Twitter to promote the GeneaBloggers site, its events and activities and to assist others with their genealogy blogs or other aspects of genealogy. To me this is all part of building a community.

In doing so, it goes without saying that I come in contact with a very diverse group of people most of whom have various opinions on many subjects. This I like. Occasionally I will follow someone on Twitter who appears to share an interest in genealogy and their recent "tweets" (messages) also demonstrate that interest. And sometimes a few of these people will feel it necessary to push a specific political or religious viewpoint. I am a tolerant person and I don't have a problem with the occasional expression of opinion on current topics or matters important to the person. It is rare that I decide to "unfollow" someone on Twitter - usually if the person's tweets are no longer focused on genealogy, that is why I drop them.

But when I follow a genealogy-related company or an organization such as a library or genealogical society, I don't expect the social media person for that company to express an opinion on political or religious matters. To me, it usually means someone new to social media doesn't understand separating the "brand" from "personal views." Even if the genealogy company were to hold a specific view, I don't expect to see it in a Twitter message. Most social media practitioners know to set up a different account for those views.

What happened yesterday is this: I began following a relatively new Twitter account under the name @un4tunatecookie. When I chose to follow, I could see the link to the website which is affiliated with Footnote.com. I purchased a Footnote subscription over a year ago and have been a big fan of their site and the research opportunities they provide to genealogists. So, I figure this "unfortunate cookie" thing is a fun way to learn about history and my followers on Twitter might like to follow as well.

After some very genealogy-focused tweets this week, this message appears: "Finally! We are represented and can do something about this economy/private sector http://www.thefreeenterprisenation.org @thefreenation"

I wasn't so much offended as I was surprised that a message like this would come from a genealogy-related vendor. So I used the "direct message" function (which is a private message which cannot be viewed by your other Twitter followers) to ask if this was a mistake and suggest that perhaps their Twitter account had been hacked. I also sent feedback to Footnote letting them know what had occurred. I also noticed that the tweet was sent using TweetDeck which means the person could be handling more than one Twitter account and simply sent the link from the wrong account.

I'm not saying that I agree or disagree with the link to Free Nation Enterprise - I tend to keep my political and religious views private or only share them with family and close friends. I may be old-fashioned but that's how I was raised - I was taught never to discuss religion or politics with strangers.

Later on in the day, the message "disappeared." Well, to a point. I'm assuming the user somehow removed the tweet:

But a search on Twitter shows that removing a tweet does not exactly remove it from the timeline:

This could be a case of a social media newbie - which I once was. I'll admit that I too started out not following all the do's and don'ts as I should have. Until I can get some answers I'm willing to give the person tweeting and Footnote the benefit of the doubt and mark this up as a simple mistake. I have made several attempts to contact Footnote concerning this issue but as of yet I have not received a response.

I also know it isn't easy to build community especially when tweeting as a business or an organization. I've observed that social media is about people wanting to engage with others and that is best done on a personal level. A good example is the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, who tweets under the name @zappos. Hsieh with over 1.3 million followers has excelled at engaging customers (and potential customers) so they feel they are conversing with a person and not a company's marketing division.

For those genealogy and family history fans who use Twitter (other other forms of social media like Facebook or even blogs), how do you handle people who express political or religious views? Do you follow them even if their views don't agree with yours? Do you follow a diverse group with different views? Do you only follow people with the same interest in genealogy (or scrapbooking or blogging, etc.) and if certain messages make you uncomfortable, how do you handle it? Do you "drop" them and not let them know why? And what about businesses - do you use a different standard for following them? I'm interested to hear what others have to say - I think the dialog would be very valuable.


GeneRooter said...

I once followed a Twitterer who was also a company that I followed outside of Twitter. He held what I considered extreme political views and expressed them in tweets. I conversed/tweeted with this person for a while to look for common ground. Eventually he asked me to participate in overt political action which I considered inappropriate in any context (remember this summer). I did not have whatever it would take to "take on" this person and banned him. I don't know if he's still on Twitter.

Janet Hovorka said...

Social networking is making such issues tricky Thomas. I appreciate your views. I have business and personal accounts for facebook and twitter, and yet I find lots of our "customers" (read "friends") following my personal account. I think you are right--the whole point of social networking is to see the face behind the corporation. And that is blurring the line between what is corporate and what is personal. And I see the lines between my business partners, potential customers and my friends blurring too. I love seeing the personal side of the business people I follow--I tire of them quickly when they are only a corporate spokesman--I want to know the real person. I'm like you, I generally tolerate extreme views. I'm pretty guarded myself though. Sometimes I wish I could express an opinion or talk about my kids more. It's hard to be true to yourself because it's all blurred now. But that is what is so great about it--people who would normally just be professional aquaintances can become good friends.

Kathryn Doyle said...

I have made that mistake with TweetDeck and sent a tweet from the wrong account. (I've learned to double check!) And while I do tweet some political opinions with my personal Geneaphile account, I would never do so when tweeting for the California Genealogical Society. I also think it is a good idea to identify yourself if you are tweeting for an organization. The CAancestors profile includes the statement: "Tweets by Kathryn M. Doyle."