Don’t Get Witty on Twitter

Photo cred: Jim Epler
Photo cred: Jim Epler

UP FRONT: I am not writing this post to continue a scuffle with Jason Tryfon.  I now know Jason is a good guy with good intentions. It wasn’t even him that said what was originally said by the tweepular account in response to my comment in frustration. I only provided those links here, for context…I hope that the argument can be put to rest and we can just discuss what we can learn from this example.

Our argument did bring up some very interesting topics, worthy of discussion…all of which I plan to cover on this blog in multiple posts.  The first topic is especially interesting for our community here after our awesome discussion about True Transparency.  That post focused more on individuals participating in a community.  Now lets look at it from the brand-to-customer relationship angle.

(This is about companies in general, whether or not they charge for their service.  That’s for another post.)

Now I’ve said many times that brands should be human.  I’m not saying I was wrong, just that I am now going to be more specific.

A brand should be human in that they’re not talking to their customers like numbers.  They shouldn’t so worried about business formalities that they can’t just talk to a customer, like you would an acquaintance in real life.  You can smile, you can laugh, you can chat, you can use (some) slang, and you CAN joke but to a point.

Jokes are human.  Everyone has a sense of humor to some extent.  It might not be a very good one, but you have one.  As a brand however, when conversing online, you can only go so far.  Many of us, myself included, have a very sarcastic sense of humor.  Sarcasm doesn’t come through in text form…at least not until you get to know someone.  I’ve given people like  Danny Brown (about his hat), Scott Hepburn (about him being wrong), and Lauren Fernandez (about everything) a hard time before, but because we’ve established a relationship, they know my personality and are not offended.  I’d even venture to say that a respectful person wouldn’t make sarcastic jokes at someone in real life, offline, until they’ve gotten to know them.  You make fun of friends, not first-time acquaintances.

So to my point, brands can be human, but we don’t always know who’s actually behind the keyboard.  And even if we do, unless the brand and the customer already has an established relationship, the brand should always stay away from sarcastic humor and comments that may come across as offensive.

Should you be human online? Yes…but should you be yourself when representing a brand? That depends on who you are.  If you have a sarcastic/offensive personality (even if you think it’s in good fun), turn the filter on when representing a brand online.

15 thoughts on “Don’t Get Witty on Twitter

  1. Hmm… Make fun of me about everything, huh?

    I get what you are saying with this – Being respectful is key in online platforms. The hardest part about social media is that one can’t judge your tone – or know what you mean.

    On the flip side, however… I think a brand can be witty and quirky… as well as a little sarcastic. That is, if the brand is that in real life. For example, my plan for social media with Mensa is to utilize our quirky brand, and our members can be extremely sarcastic and expect that to show through in the brand. I do monitor how I use it, but that’s just an example.

    Good post D.

  2. I completely agree with you- until you’ve truly built a relationship & gotten to know someone, you shouldn’t be sarcastic with them. It’s one thing to make a silly joke, but sarcasm can be taken the wrong way. This is especially true to gauge online where there’s no way of knowing someone’s tone.

    I’m confused as to what your original complaint was?

    1. Sorry I should have linked directly to it. I added the link in the first paragraph. I certainly was a little more harsh than I should have been. I have apologized to Jason for that via email.

  3. Hey D-

    I read that post without going through your conversation links you posted – and wow. That was inexcusable. A brand should never treat someone to that extent.

    I would never be that intentionally snarky with a member, nor would I ever speak with them that way. The links you posted are a completely different manner and not something that should be tolerated.

  4. I followed that exchange yesterday and was offended on your behalf by the responses. Regardless of a brand’s online and offline “personality,” it should be aware of the potential outcomes of these kinds of interactions. You were obviously frustrated when you tweeted your initial complaint; the brand should have looked at that as an opportunity to prove its value to you by suggesting a remedy, or taken it even further by considering your complaints when making service upgrades in the future. And then you’d be blogging the brand’s praises – calling out how great their customer service is and how they seem to really “get” social media. And your followers (especially those who respect your opinion and tend to agree with you – cough, me, ahem) would be checking them out optimistically.

  5. Yesterdays exchange was something that was addressed and we apologized for multiple times and for the record will do again: We are sorry you took offense. the team member has been reprimanded, the direction of the content of the brand personality has been shifted and it won’t happen again.


    1. I appreciate the apology and you stopping by Jason. I will also apologize again for the record, I should not have commented so harshly. Had I known the generous situation of your tools, I probably would have bit my tongue. I’m over it and glad to move on. I will only share these posts for sake of sharing my thoughts on the general issues, not to attack you or your sites.


  6. I agree wholeheartedly with David. When you are a brand, it is very risky to crack sarcastic jokes at your consumers, even if they just blatantly criticized you in the most barbaric manner possible (David didn’t actually do that; I’m just outlining the worst possible scenario). The consumer has the right to comment in whatever manner they wish to do so, but the brand does not.

    The brand must remain civil and mature at all times, no matter how harshly they are being criticized. Responding to criticism in any way that reflects poorly on the brand’s character risks not only permanently losing the distraught consumer as a user of the brand, but a number of other consumers as well.

    It is almost the year 2010. With the amount of technology that we have today, consumers can easily express their disappoint with a brand or a product to millions of potential readers with a few clicks of the keyboard. No matter whether the brand is for-profit or not, they are taking a huge risk by not addressing their users’ concerns as politely as possible. Instead of angering those consumers even more, kindly talk with them to see if you can address their issues in a way that benefits both of you in the end. As a brand, you always want to gain MORE consumers, not less.

  7. Great post David.

    I am all for letting ones personally shine through in social media, and that includes being able to joke around every once and awhile. But that tweet you received was straight up degrading. There is a big difference between joking with someone and calling them an idiot.

    Kudos on accepting the apology so gracefully tho.

  8. It’s always a fine line to cross – we’re always saying brands need to humanize themselves, but we don’t want them to be too human.

    I agree that the initial response from Tweepular’s account wasn’t the best worded (and I say that as having done some work with Tweepular in the past). Instead of saying, “Don’t like it, don’t use it” they could have taken a leaf out of @Loic and @askseesmic and asked what the issue was, and worked on maybe resolving that (or advising it’s an upcoming feature).

    To turn away a consumer and user of a product (even if you did say it sucked, which is still hardly as bad as some of the things that brands get called every day) seems a strange move.

    Particularly when I know Jason, the guy behind Tweepular. His Vital Insights company makes customer service and branding an art form – so I can only guess that whoever was manning the Tweepular account that day was having a bad morning. Still no excuse, mind you…

    Great to see both sides accepting and acknowledging “errors” were made and working with each other. While the original problem may have arisen because of open dialogue, it can also be resolved with it.

    1. Thanks Danny,

      Seesmic and Loic are a great example of best practice…and wouldn’t you know it, I have evangelized seesmic desktop more than any app I’ve ever used. A huge part of that is the engagement I’ve enjoyed from @jyamasaki (@askseesmic). Whenever I had an issue, he was there. Now when I hear people have an issue with seesmic or ask a question, I respond to them and if I can’t I direct them to Yama. They literally turned a frustrated customer into an unpaid customer service rep haha.

      Good customer service is extremely powerful. Expect a post on this soon.

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