A social misfire

May 23 2011

While traveling in Europe last week, I learned of a recent faux pas I had committed through Twitter. It seems that a customer of mine had tweeted me a question -- public, not a direct message. The question was about something related to another vendor's licensing as it relates to my products. It was a binary question, so I tweeted back the "yes" answer along with a slightly snarky editorial comment on the answer. The snark derived from the situation with the other vendor in question, who were, in my opinion, gouging the customer.

My answer was correct and was what I would have told the customer had we been sitting across the table from each other, corresponding via email, or on a conference call. As the question had been asked via Twitter, I answered it "Twitter style" -- 140 characters, and knowing full well that others could read the tweets.


I heard from an IBM colleague that the customer had taken some offense at the terse, flippant nature of my response.

Which begs the question, if you ask a Twitter-style question, should you expect a Twitter-style answer? Or, should you even expect an answer, given the nature of Twitter and that @edbrill is my personal account? And if that answer is the kind of answer I would give in almost any medium, how should I have handled it differently?

UPDATED: I went back and found the tweet, and while it was terse, I even told them they could mail me to discuss the issue. That seems to me to be the proper response in this situation.

I've been trying of late to be increasingly conscious of my need to reply to tweets directed to me, and I want to be helpful whenever I can. The scale factor closes in on the situation quickly, though, because as much as I practice what I preach, I can't turn Twitter into the new new tech support or sales vehicle.

I've also been struggling internally a bit, again, with my voice on Twitter as I zip past 4500 followers. A lot of the other IBM executives on Twitter are almost all business. Occasionally you see one, like Bob Sutor, who sees Twitter as a multi-faceted reflection of our individual personality. Others are more focused on the topic at hand. I think I am still in the boat where sharing all aspects on one Twitter ID are the right thing to do, but I continue to think about segmenting off my local interest writing on Highland Park Patch, but I don't know what other topics would migrate away from @edbrill if I did.

Maybe I should just try to emulate the Bronx Zoo Cobra instead.

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