Sun 19 May 2013
Twitter had a poor reception literally and figuratively at the Franschhoek Literary Festival on Friday, when its session ‘Trial by Twitter’ was so poorly booked that hordes of learners were bused in to save the organisers from embarrassment. This was particularly visible as the learners were late in arriving, making the start of the session late too! Only 16% of the attendees, including learners, admitted to being Tweeters, and after an hour, almost none of the non-Tweeters were persuaded to convert to Twitterism!
The panel of four was led by chairman and Tweeter author Fiona Snyckers (second right), with Tweeters Sam Wilson (Social Media Strategist for Woolworths - right) and Julian Rademeyer (author of ‘Killing for Profit’, shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award, and journalist - second left), as well as non-Tweeter and Business Report journalist Ann Crotty (left). Heavily dominated by Wilson, to the irritation of the audience, as she interrupted her fellow panelists continuously, the one hour session came across as a debating society type discussion pro and contra Twitter between Wilson and Crotty, with Rademeyer and Snyckers withdrawing from most of the discussion. Ironically Vodacom was overloaded at the start of the session, so that there was no 3G reception for the Tweeters present to Tweet the proceedings!
By far the most Twitter literate, Wilson sang the medium’s praises for it being her most important social media platform, her dominant source of breaking news (no longer needing TV or newspapers), and an important connection with friends and trusted knowledgeable persons. She does not follow Tweeters who annoy her (this was undefined), and praised Twitter as a ‘fantastic curative tool’. She explained that it is important to her to be one persona, business and personal, and that she should be able to express herself in both capacities, calling this her feminist right. She also multitasks, Tweeting while she was speaking on the panel, and reading what had been Tweeted during the panel discussion! Shortly after joining the company, she was addressed by Woolworths about her Tweets, she admitted, but told them that they should have researched her timeline before appointing her! Asked whether she had changed her Tweeting habits when she joined the corporate, she was hesitant in admitting this, saying that she had made some life changes too at the time she moved to the company just over a year ago. Being a follower of Wilson’s Tweets, we can observe that Wilson certainly is less sharing about her drinking, and has vastly reduced her use of the f-word. She did however Tweet from Franschhoek Literary Festival Director Jenny Hobbs’ home after the session: ‘You think you’re popping in to #flf13 for one event… and then you find yourself tweeting drunk from the organiser’s spare room’. A number of Tweets on the drinking theme followed!
Crotty attacked Twitter for bringing even more ‘noise’ into her life, saying it was not for her, as she is used to 100 - 800 word limitations for articles, and could not communicate in 140 characters! Her criticism of ‘noise’ was countered by the fact that one controls one’s number of followers, but that could give one an unbalanced one-sided view of the world. ‘To Google more is to learn less’, she said! It was evident that Crotty did not have a good grasp of Twitter, and Wilson had a go at every comment she made, challenging her in criticising a medium she had no experience of, having sent only a handful of Tweets and only having six followers. ’Living in an era beyond privacy‘ is of grave concern to her, having observed how privacy has reduced greatly over time. She commented on the book ‘1984′, and said that instead of Big Brother following everybody, we are following Big Brother now, describing her view on Social Media! It was noted how newspapers are obtaining story information from Twitter, and how articles have been seen just containing a Twitter stream!
An attendee expressed her frustration in following someone for their technical knowledge, who then would Tweet personal photographs of his/her lunch or rugby Tweets, which is not why she follows the person. Wilson told her that huge numbers of people love seeing photographs of food, and what others are eating, which we can confirm.
While Woolworths was criticised for not acknowledging receipt of Twitter feedback, being slow to respond if at all, and for not Tweeting outside of corporate Monday - Friday 9h00 - 17h00 days and hours, Wilson shared that they are looking to be more Social Media interactive. For example, a new online florist service which the retailer offers is used to send flowers to someone who has had a particularly bad day.
Snyckers warned about the legal implications of Tweeting what one wants to, and also of Retweeting defamatory content, as one can be sued for libel in both instances, as a lawyer at Webber Wentzel has recently written about. Rademeyer works in a sensitive field in his journalist job, and for family security reasons he reveals as little private information as possible on Facebook and Twitter, having recently received a death threat! Alternatively, as a journalist, one can learn a great deal of information about a person one is researching, in their sharing of information about themselves on Twitter and Facebook! Rademeyer sees Twitter as a ‘self-promotional‘ tool, and as a way in which he can interact with his readers subsequent to the book or article having been published. He does not like Retweets of compliments. Wilson said that self-promotion on Twitter is a no-no! Rademeyer said he has a problem with journalists no longer sticking to their job description, with them expressing their opinions on Twitter. Whilst news had a 24 hour time frame in the past, it is now ‘nanosecond news’. He did warn that the speed of news breaking means that it is wrong sometimes.
It was surprising to hear and sense so much resistance to Twitter, a number of speakers coming up to Crotty afterwards and telling her privately that they agreed with her views about Twitter. If one does not get Twitter now, one probably never will! Whilst the topic of the session was ‘Trial by Twitter’, Twitter certainly was on Trial, and did not perform well! Wilson may have been to blame.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage