Do you Tweet with Tact?

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My name is Beth and it’s been 5 weeks since my last Internet troll.

Now before you persecute me for poor moral judgment or absent online tact, allow me to preface this statement with some additional information. For many years I have enjoyed a semi-active online personality, one that I’m proud to assign both my name and professional status. It is from this platform that I have formed, and continue to form, a number of professional connections with personalities in the Perth community.

I am not shy on Twitter and often voice my independent opinion to engage with others. Ironically, Twitter also constitutes a large part of my job and is something that I typically handle with a great deal of tact, strategy and consideration.

So with this in mind, you may be wondering how I could have allowed myself to ‘troll’ online?

The simple answer is this - I tweeted when angry.

The occasion arose when a not-to-be-named service provider failed to provide said service and I found myself typing a rather emotive 140-character remark about my displeasure, before releasing it into cyberspace. I proceeded to forget my angry statement until 4 hours later when the service provider came back with both an apologetic and helpful answer, which had me instantly regretting my original tweet. I thanked them, commended their helpful response and retweeted like a bad puppy, tail between legs.

I went back and re-read the offending tweet several times. While it contained no profanity, outwardly aggressive comments or offensive connotations, the statement I sent was clearly negative in sentiment.  I found this distressing, having only recently moved away from working in both the hospitality and customer service industries where I myself had often borne undeserving criticism from displeased customers.

As a consumer it is very easy to vent our frustration on undeserving service people or in the present case, faceless social media managers, who can find it difficult to defend themselves whilst abiding to a company response policy. In my own social media experience in acting on behalf of clients, being trolled is always a major concern and whether warranted or not, the repercussions can be substantial.

So what defines a ‘troll’? PCMAG.com suggests that trolling is the act of “posting derogatory messages about sensitive subjects on newsgroups, forums and chat rooms in order to vent one's feelings.” They also propose that users assume such freedom of voice given the anonymity these Internet platforms provide. [1]

Internet trolls can be both mild and severe. One needs only look to the recent and tragic passing of Charlotte Dawson, the racial slurs incurred by Nic Naitanui and the controversy incurred by Donald Sterling with his racist remarks, to realise the potential repercussions tied to our words whether written, tweeted, spoken or typed.

In hindsight I believe my tweet was a mild instance of trolling but a troll non-the-less. Despite the fact that we as a society tend to associate this term with more severe and malicious cases of cyber bullying, the truth remains that a negative statement is unlikely to foster positive consequence.

As a business, Twitter offers an immense opportunity for you to engage directly with your consumer base. It can help identify issues in real time and also provides a means of consoling dissatisfied customers. It has replaced the old invisible complaints letter with a much more public forum. Like most social media, Twitter is a double-edged sword and it pays to have an experienced media manger in your ranks. It is possible to offer constructive criticism or seek advice from companies online without being emotive or negative.

The learned wisdom from this experience is to always think before you tweet. The rules are changing and with them the consequences of using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. A good thing to remember is that in general, there is a human being at the other end of your online messaging and that just like you they deserve respect.

Written by Beth Bolt.