Engagement: some unexpected downsides

Engagement: some unexpected downsides I have discovered this week.

1) the people you think might be interested, aren’t. One of our most voracious commenters (and a frequent critic) has stopped commenting compeltely. After an initial willingness to engage in a conversation, they stopped talking to us at all. Is that because they don’t like being asked about their opinions? Don’t want to accept that we might have a different view? Sinply preferring trolling? Or is it because they think our responding to their comments is unwanted intrusion? I have no idea which it is.

2) There might be some things that actually shouldn’t be discussed in public. Yesterday one of our readers took offence to the removal of comments on a story about a grieving family. The comments were about what causes road accidents in the place where a young man died.
Our policy is that comments are only open on those stories to allow people to place tribute. Normally we’d post that at the foot of the story when it’s uploaded: on this occasion it was accidentally left off and I had to post it in retrospect.

One reader took this as a personal affront and developed our Twitter “discussion” into accusations about whether grieving families should talk to the press.

I felt, rightly or wrongly, that giving that reader details of how we came to speak to said family wasn’t really appropriate in a public forum: it’s none of their business if they choose to come forward to speak.The reader, though, assumed that my refusal to engage in an argument meant that the family didn’t come forward and that we must have obtained the quotes by underhand means.

So what to do? Our integrity is being questioned, in public, but I can’t defend us in a dignified fashon. In the end I offered to speak to the reader face to face, they called me a hypocrite for not being able to take criticism.

And finally, and most unexpectedly, 3). If people are used to a chatty, social, entertaining Twitter feed, they might take offence when you post serious news.

We didn’t really post much on twitter yesterday about the tragic deaths of a family in Fordingbridge. The RSS feed posted an initial story, then we tweeted when the family were named, because the updated story wouldn’t feed through the RSS.
We also tweeted to say we had video footage from the scene going online – it was a policeman giving a statement and some reaction from the town; less in fact than had been on the rolling news channels all day.
Some of our readers felt Twitter was not the place for such news. Which made me think. We didn’t treat it any differently than any other news story. But should we have? Do people expect different things from the news they get from Twitter? Does adding detail make you seem in some way ghoulish? Is it because of the specific kind of story?

I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts about any of these points. Twitter has not been my friend this week but hopefully we can learn something, even if it’s just when to keep our mouth shut.

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One thought on “Engagement: some unexpected downsides

  1. 1) Sometimes people just stop commenting and decide to be more of an observer than a participator, sometimes it goes the other way round, either way, there is often no explanation for it.

    2) Defending your position online and in a public forum often has its great advantages and disadvantages, as you’re finding out. However, my one piece of advice, if you need to discuss this with someone, rather than meet them face to face (they might be a nutter), suggest you take this offline and offer an email address with which you can continue away from the public domain. But let it be known in public (eg, twitter) that you’re taking it offline with them, just in case it makes others think nothing has gone on with it.

    3) Your twitter account is yours to use as you wish, whether it’s personal or company. It’s the owner that decides how twitter is used. In the case of the echo, you state that you will be posting news to twitter, which to me encompasses any news you guys put on the site.

    At the end of the day, whether it be the content of posts, tweets, or even removal of comments, as long as you’re sticking to a set of freely viewable guidelines, then you shouldn’t have to defend yourself over most of what gets brought up. By guidelines, I mean if you state you’ll be posting news stories and information about them on twitter, then that’s what you’re going to do. If you’re going to remove comments of an insensitive nature under certain circumstances, make sure those circumstances are clearly defined.

    Just a few rambled thoughts :)


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