I recently saw a bunch of people tweeting about a conference in Milan which was supposedly trying to regulate the use of Twitter at the medical meeting. It turns out that the post about what you should tweet about at the meeting was mostly a joke and the comments that were highlighted were largely taken out of context. Plus, it wasn’t the organizer of the event that did the post, but just a participant in the conference. Because of the stir up, the post was taken down, but Dr. Bryan Vartabedian captured a piece of the post in his commentary:
The social side of any conference is important, and Twitter, being part of the social media, will naturally show that side. There is, however, a danger that the orchestra’s symphony will be drowned out by foot-shuffling, program brandishing, and a general clucking and chattering.
Ironically, this story ends up being a case of where Twitter can go wrong. It’s easy to misconstrue what people mean in a blog post or on Twitter. I have it happen all the time with the blog posts I write. I’m often amazed at people’s responses to my blog post since they either miss the point of my post or they think I’m making a point which is definitely not the case. Over time I think I’ve gotten better at this, but with thousands of readers over thousands of blog posts there’s bound to be a miscommunication. The great thing is that once I engage them, there’s usually clarity. But I digress…
Regardless of the particular situation at the medical meetings in Milan, the discussion of regulating Twitter (feel free to insert other social media as well) is a really good one. Although, it doesn’t just apply to meetings. I’ve seen many people try and regulate what’s done on all sorts of hashtags or other social media. I find the efforts people make to control other people on social media entertaining.
I’m sure this says a lot about me, but when someone tries to regulate what’s said or done on a hashtag on Twitter (meeting or otherwise), it just makes me want to do the opposite. While I have that innate need to not be controlled (some might call it rebellion), the reality is that I take a much more pragmatic approach to people’s suggestions about what should be said or done with a hashtag. I use a simple measure: “Will their suggestion make me a better part of the community?” (Yes, communities come together around hashtags) If I think that someone’s suggestion is a good one that will make me a better part of that community, then I usually listen. If I don’t think their suggestion matters or actually detracts from the community, then I ignore. Do I make mistakes? Absolutely, but this is my approach to it.
My personal approach aside, the reality is that even if you want to control what happens on Twitter and with certain hashtags, you can’t! If someone wants to be a bad actor in a hashtag community, then they’re going to do it. Bad community actors aren’t usually listening to the other people in the community anyway. So, trying to police it usually just leaves you dirtying the conversation stream even more.
Personally, I love the diversity and freedom that’s seen by participants in a Twitter stream. It tells me a lot about the person or company. Plus, I like the human elements of Twitter as well. I love to see that someone’s excited about a conference, their puppy, a great meal, a certain vendor, etc. Those that only talk about these things I can easily block if needed, but the reality is that a tweet is so easily consumed I can skip over any that don’t interest me.
I know many people hate when a Twitter stream is overwhelmed with vendor tweets at a conference as well. This doesn’t bother me much. It tells me a lot about the vendor as well. If they don’t care enough to be thoughtful in their tweeting, do they also not care enough about their product? Plus, if they’re spamming the stream with sales tweets, is that how I’ll be treated as a customer? This is good for me to know and so I don’t mind seeing their true form on Twitter.
With that said, I have found that the quality of a hashtag Twitter stream is directly proportional to the number of humans that are tweeting on that hashtag. Social media is about connecting people and so it makes sense that when more people (as opposed to no personality companies) are participating, then it’s a better experience.
I’m sure many will still try and influence what’s done on a Twitter stream. More power to them, but it’s a losing battle. Instead of trying to regulate Twitter, I think we’re better served encouraging and promoting those people and tweets that are adding value to the hashtag community. Plus, we can contribute value to the stream ourselves. There are bad actors in every community in the world. However, if enough good people are on board adding value, then the bad actors fade into the background.