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Osama's Been Tweeted

Osama Bin Laden is history. That’s a fact you could not have missed even if you lived, as he was presumed to, in a cave. Whether you witnessed our national chest-thumping with bemusement and embarrassment or you participated enthusiastically in a flag-waving-USA-shouting-we-got-him-at-last street party, this particular perpetrator of mass murder is gone. The information he left behind showed him to be a venal hypocrite, dying his beard to record rants to his followers and flipping channels to get a glimpse of himself. Someone was actually in charge of delivering the quintessentially American Coca-Cola to his million-dollar compound! (Note to every CEO on the planet: walking the talk builds credibility.) Amid the 24/7 news reporting, which still consumes more airtime than the unfolding disaster along the Mighty Mississippi, you may have missed one small detail that every professional communicator and corporate executive should note: Sohaib Athar, “an IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains,” live Tweeted the helicopter flyovers and explosions that were part of the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout. He was none too pleased with the ruckus, writing in one Tweet, “I guess Abbottabad is going to get as crowded as the Lahore I left behind for some peace and quiet. *sigh*”

By now, every person in business who has a heartbeat recognizes that social media such as Twitter have permanently changed the very nature of communication. To many, the unfolding Arab Spring is also known as the Twitter Revolution. Yet in an ongoing (and decidedly not scientific) poll on my website, fewer than one-half of those responding say that their organizations use Twitter as part of their planned communication activities. Not employing social media as part of an organization’s ongoing relationship building is almost a forgivable sin, compared with using these powerful tools clumsily or without purpose. Not a day goes by that I don’t encounter a company that is ready to start Tweeting away with no objective in mind, in ways that offend the very communities they hope to enfranchise. Here’s an example I use in many of my training programs. Every gym has a culture of its own, with social behavioral norms that are different from place to place. Is it cool to drop your dumbells with a thud, or not? Is grunting a sign of hard work or bad manners? Do people “doing a circuit,” take priority over users of one machine in the circuit? Do you wipe down your treadmill with sanitary wipes or not? When is it OK to refuse a request to “work in?” Yet when the folks that gym rats call “The New Year’s Resolutionaries” appear in early January for their fleeting stays, most never bother to learn the cultural norms of the gym and blunder about making everyone else crazy.

The current issue of my Update newsletter includes links to several sets of homespun advice on the subject of social media norms. If you have a role in your organization’s social media planning and execution, consider reviewing them before you … ahem … work out the details of your social media program.

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