Jackass AwardVery often the question of "what do we do if someone says something negative about us on social media" when I am talking with nonprofit folks.  This past week gave me a great opportunity to walk through that process and I thought sharing the experience here may help show the real potential for it to happen and the ultimate impact it might have.

100 Million Moving Pieces

As the number of people on Twitter is well above the 100 million mark the opportunity to communicate with others is nothing short of profound.  What is not so profound is that the basic of communication hold true in this environment as they do in any other.

  • Communication consists of three basic parts: A Sender, A Message, A Receiver
  • The message sent is not always the message received
  • People ultimately communicate because they want to connect

Communicating online adds new layers of complication that need to be known and considered.

  • As much as 70% of a total message may be conveyed in the nonverbal portion of communication (not present online)
  • Technology can impose limits otherwise not present: only 140 characters to convey total message
  • Delays and gaps between sending/receiving can create confusion

Attack of The Snark

Most of last week I was fairly ill and to break up the medicated boredom of sitting on my couch for days I thought I might pop in on Twitter once in awhile. During this time the following is a look at a "conversation" I found myself in.

Snarky Twitter Conversation

Snarky Twitter Conversation

Clearly, you can see from the time signatures that this question came almost immediately and in reply to a specific message I posted.  However, due to the fact that I immediately jumped off twitter and did not return until later in a medicated stopper that hindered my ability to use the technology to track the conversation this was my response.

Snarky Twitter ConversationThe intent was truly to clarify (within 140 characters) as I had a number of other scheduled tweets go out in the "in between time" and simply was not tracking on things very well.  But as I mentioned before, the message sent is not always the message received.

Snarky Twitter Conversation

Snarky Twitter Conversation

Fallout and Follow-Up

The next day as I was feeling better and the med haze was clearing a bit I got back online and found what message had been received and to my surprise, it was very different from what I had intended to send.  So I did what one does when there is a miscommunication, I made an attempt to clarify.

Snarky Twitter Conversation


Up to this point I have yet to hear back from *Suzanne Carawan (aka @suzannecarawan) and I think that is ok.  I put myself in her shoes.  If I had just met someone and our first interaction was to ask a question and I got back that snarky business the odds of me chatting them up might be the same as winning the lottery.  After all, she had no idea of my context and the true intent of my message, she only knows what she received and must make judgement calls based on that.  Also, there are 100 million+ other potential "conversations" to be had on Twitter.  Not always fair but the reality of communication is that people act on perceptions, not others intentions.

The Lesson Learned

The lesson learned (and relearned) for me out of this is that if you are going to communicate with other people, at some point you are going to have a  miscommunication.  This does not mean you simple stop communicating avoid using social media.  It simply means remember that real people on either side of the technology and when it happens you make an effort to clarify and repair...and then move on.

I also learned that medication and Twitter are not my best combination.

This rare miscommunication in no way detracts from the overwhelming number of positive interactions I have on and offline on a daily basis but helps bring back into sharp focus the real-time casual feel of social media needs to be handle with care as we are still held accountable by those basics of communication.

* Yes, you caught me in a clever attempt to track down Suzanne Carawan via Google alerts to once again convey my apologies.

What sort of examples do you have with the potential pitfalls of communicating online? Have you ever won the "Jackass of the Day" award without intending to?Do you have a formal strategy/olicy in place to deal with these situations?

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What Others Are Saying

As an employee for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, I sought out Ash's guidance for a special event - our 50th anniversary in Washington state. We wanted to help all of our members experience this event, even if they couldn't come. Ash helped us plan and execute our first ever "live-tweeted" event.

He provided expert advice and enthusiasm, and followed up with an analysis of our use of social media at the event and how it could be better next time. I was pleased to work with Ash - he has a great reputation among nonprofits in the Seattle area, and he lived up to it!

~Katherine Sather, Digital Marketing Specialist, The Nature Conservancy of Washington~

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