How NOT to deal with a confusing Twitter issue.

UPDATE—Synopsis: Two twitter users use the same word “mention” to mean different things. Each then thinks the other is a bad example of how to use Twitter. Drama ensues, many tweets are written,  followed by clarification and reconciliation—Aaron and I are planning to meet in person in Minneapolis later this year.

I’m afraid I have to call myself out on this one. Let me start specifically by making a very public apology to Aaron Biebert for my behavior. I apologize. I was wrong, and behaved poorly. This all could have been avoided had I acted differently. I certainly know better. I’ve also apologized in detail on Aaron’s blog here.

  • Update: Thanks to all the people who sent direct messages of support! I understand completely not wanting to be publicly involved while third parties were tweeting their misunderstandings of what was happening. A typical DM of support: “…just wanted to say that was one of the classiest explanations/apologies I’ve seen.”
  • Update: I’ve updated this blog post in response to suggestions from several people, including Aaron.

Late on a day when I had only gotten 3 1/2 hours of sleep the night before, after skipping my usual morning meditation/contemplation (bad idea!), I was searching Google and aggregators (example 1, example 2) and I found this post about a company that had a problem that people were warning them about on Twitter. I thought it was well written and that the author (@Biebert) had made a really excellent observation about the importance of being on Twitter. I tweeted it, and he responded by DM, asking that it be tweeted again, with him being mentioned as author/tweeter.

And then things went something like this:

How I start to screw things up

My initial (oh-so-very wrong) understanding was that Aaron just wanted more exposure for his blog, and wanted his Twitter username included. We get requests to @mention people and tweet or tweet again their posts all the time, sometimes nearly hourly throughout the day. Because we get so many similar requests, doing that on a regular basis would be the end of any value we provide to our community.

While that was kind of what he was asking I got the reason he was asking all wrong—he thought we were retweeting his tweet, and had left out attribution of him as the source of the tweet. Since I had found his blog post in a Google or social medial aggregator search, and never saw any tweet—his or anyone else’s—I misunderstood his intent. He was trying to educate me, and ask for a correction of my mistake. Perfectly reasonable, and very courteously worded—a good example for anyone trying something similar.

It began confusingly. When I said “mention” I mean adding author mention to a retweet. When he said “mention” he meant simply adding regular attribution to a retweet. The main problem was, my tweet wasn’t a retweet! Here were the first DMs from Aaron (he’s said more publicly, so I don’t feel I’m breaking any confidence here), and below that, my first two DMs, and first two public Tweets.

Of course, It wasn’t really about retweets (the main confusion), since I wasn’t retweeting anything, but I jumped on the word “retweet” and stirred things up by linking to an explanation of retweet credit. So after my first mistake of misunderstanding, I then made these mistakes in quick succession:

  1. I switched from DMs to public tweets. I should have stayed private, and listened more, instead of linking to information.
  2. As Aaron started sending a lots of tweets to and fro, I began responding publicly, littering my stream, lecturing instead of listening carefully.
  3. As Aaron brought other users into the discussion, I also @mentioned them. Basically, I told myself I was “educating,” but I should have been listening. Listening could have cleared things up! I ended up basically arguing with a mob. Not a good plan on my part.
  4. Because I had not tried to clear things up by listening, the good points Aaron made were hard to acknowledge, because everything was getting so muddy.

The misunderstanding behind it all

So Aaron thought I had retweeted him, and simply refused to give his tweet credit, seemingly because I was such a “big shot” that I didn’t have to. Boy, that would really rub me the wrong way too if it were true! He tweeted a question to @twitter about whether we should be suspended, and sent a bunch of tweets to some of his friends about the situation, and a bunch of other tweets.

I completely get it, and I forgive him. Aaron thought he had met the biggest jerk on Twitter! And I thought he was just asking for some additional exposure for him and his blog post. We were talking about two different things. A communication problem that is far too common, in my experience. I know enough to try to clear things up first, such as by saying “Do you mean…” or “Are you asking about…” but I totally failed in this case.

To me, worst of all was that I completely LOVE retweeting people with credit! People love it, I introduce people to other great people, and it’s nothing but fun for me! People send thanks and praise whenever their name is mentioned, in my experience, and recommend us to their friends. It’s win-win-win. So I’ve always done it, and written a bunch of blog posts about how and why to do it.

But the reason I retweet so few people in practice is that I’m forced to use search, aggregators and alerts because they are 90%+ accurate in letting me know when something is new, and my job is to find new articles about Twitter. Unfortunately, I have no easy way of telling from a Tweet with a link if the link is to something new. So I only rarely find new content from tweets, which I’ve written about here and elsewhere.

Should we just do favors for people?

It’s been suggested we should have just done what Aaron requested, that it would have been common sense, and avoided the whole brouhaha that erupted.

Unfortunately my initial (very wrong) understanding was that we were being asked to sent a second tweet closely following our first tweet because the author wanted his name mentioned, and wanted it done in another tweet. While true to a point, I misunderstood the reason—totally! Since we get requests to @mention people and tweet their things all the time, sometimes nearly hourly throughout the day, we can’t do it—It would be the end of any value we provide to our community.

I have a very, VERY small number of times in the past accepted special requests from people, and it worked out very badly: People upset that so-and-so got a favor and they didn’t etc. Because of past experience I make a pretty serious effort to treat everyone equally. I even do crazy things like discouraging people from auto-tweeting our blog posts! It just feels better to find the right principles and follow them, instead of accepting special treatment, trading favors, etc.

That said, I’m always learning! We get suggestions all the time on how we could improve, and I welcome them all. The community around @TweetSmarter is a direct result of us listening to and following good advice

My biggest mistake

It’s a funny thing about tweets or short emails: they seem to lose all personal, human context. When I saw the emotion happening, I should have stopped tweeting immediately, and written this post so things could be clarified and taken to a space where it’s easier to clear things up, or waited for Aaron to pause his campaign of tweets to us and others and write a blog post. Tweets bouncing around just tend to make things worse.

In my defense, being on the receiving end of many rapidly tweeted, less-than-charitable tweets seemingly because I didn’t send a second tweet with an @mention about a blog post was frustrating. Also confusing, irritating and sometimes bemusing! A bunch of people were unfortunately led to think I didn’t believe in giving proper credit on Twitter, and nothing could be further from the truth.


What turned into a campaign of tweets against @TweetSmarter resulted in uninformed and non-charitable tweets about us for some time, none of which were based on past experiences with us. It was all directly a result of my mishandling the initial misunderstanding. I had the power to avoid everything that happened, and I’ve apologized in detail to Aaron on his blog as well as in the first paragraph of this post. However, my follow-up tweets with other folks mostly seemed to fall on deaf ears, and I admit that people saying inaccurate things about what I do on Twitter bothers me.

Aaron of course took a classy approach to resolving things, showing that he deserves the high and positive reputation he has among his community. I’d also like to make special mention of Cheri Allbritton (the wonderful @ArveyColumbus), along with Aaron another one of the many class acts on Twitter, for playing the role of peacemaker between us. It was an interesting opportunity to “walk my talk” as just weeks ago I had said during the @TweetSmarter Klout interview:

“…I learned that the more transparent I am, the faster I learn. This can admittedly be tough. It will mean changing how you do things sometimes. But my advice is to accept all feedback, and take a shot a staying in harmony with absolutely EVERYONE who ever contacts you, by listening. “

As always, any and all comments and advice are welcome!

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