One of my favourite songs has got a lyric in it which I was reminded of as a result of reading a discussion on Twitter regarding “Corporate” Police Twitter accounts versus “Individual” Police Twitter accounts (held by individual Officers).
The lyric is in Dutch – but it translates into English as “how should I talk to walls?”.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some brilliant “Corporate” Twitter accounts, not just in the Police either (and some truly terrible ones held by individuals). However, my heart sinks every time I read about an individual being asked to close their account and merge with the “Corporate” account. If only because I am more comfortable when I can build a relationship with a human who will take the time to get to know me and (if necessary) look after me.
To me there is a similarity between the different Twitter accounts and the levels of formality when we speak to people in person.
You don’t believe me???
When was the last time you felt you had a deep, meaningful, and intimate relationship with someone who either only introduced themselves by their title (Mr, Mrs, Dr, etc) and their surname??? Or – worse – someone who insisted on you only addressing them as either “Sir” or “Madam”???
Both the above forms of address are only useful if you require to put a barrier up between you and the other person in the conversation and/or you want to emphasise any perceived “advantage” or authority you may have over them (Qualifications, experience, age, etc).
I have got a couple of friends who are a perfect example of the above. One of them I first met on a “professional” level (they were one of my teachers) – the other one I have had no “professional” dealings with but I ended up having to split them into two separate people in my brain (for reasons which are not relevant to this blog post) just to be able to cope with them.
Addressing both of my friends by their title and surname forces me to treat them with “formal” respect. It also (particularly in the case of the non-teacher) puts me on guard and makes me feel threatened – even if I do it in a jokey way. I automatically expect them to judge me and/or patronise when I do that.
(When it comes to strangers I prefer being able to choose what I call you when I first meet you. I was brought up to address strangers by their title and surname until they tell me otherwise. I still do that – particularly if they are older than me. Being forced to address an older person by their first name on meeting them just makes me feel as though I am being disrespectful to them.)
When I was in a position to address my ex-teacher by their first name (with their permission) I must admit it felt weird. There is still that barrier in my head sometimes which tells me I am being disrespectful to them by doing so.
Addressing both of my friends by their first names squashes the barriers caused by the more formal forms of address. I actually feel like I can be myself around them. They no longer pose any threat to me as far as patronisation, etc, goes. I can argue with them if I so choose.
If you think of a “Corporate” Social Media account the chances are you may think of it in the same way as a visit to a hospital, your Solicitor, etc. The people in charge of the account might be the friendliest humans to walk the planet but – due to the constraints placed on them by the rules and regulations devised by the people in charge of the “Communications Department” – they can give the world’s best impressions of an anonymous Android.
I realise there can be potential pitfalls and minefields connected with “Individual” Social Media accounts held by people working for a corporate organisation like the Police, Virgin Trains, KLM, etc. However, nearly all the Twitter accounts I follow which are held by individuals who are employed by the organisations in question have been a credit to themselves and their employers (there have – of course – been some who got a bit trigger-happy).
In fact, it is thanks to an “individual” Twitter account that you are reading this blog post. I found Roger on Twitter when he was still in the Police – I enjoyed reading his tweets so much and found him so friendly that I decided I wouldn’t mind working with him when he had retired.
Other “individual” Twitter accounts have been used to give “behind the scenes” glimpses of what the Police – and other organisations – do. This is as well as providing proof that the employees of organisations are in fact – shock horror – human and capable of human emotions. (One Twitter account teaches me about flying 747’s as well as Policing – the individual does both.)
There is a place for “Corporate” Social Media accounts but they have to be run by humans who are allowed to show their human and humane side without fear of discipline or sanctions.
Otherwise – we might as well address everyone we meet with the utmost formality every single time we speak to them. That to me just seems the best way to erect barriers, divide society even more, and get nowhere at the speed of sound as far as community cohesion and connectivity are concerned.
I want to leave you with a thought if I may.
When you are speaking to me you have a choice of three forms of address – you can address me as “Miss Poultney” (that is the one I hate the most – especially when you introduce yourself by your title and surname. Doing that increases the likelihood of me feeling at a distinct disadvantage and thinking I have to fight you to get what I want). You can call me “Ineke” (careful how you pronounce it after the first few times – continued repeated manglings of it can also put our relationship in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle – apart from that I happily answer to it in a friendly manner). Or, you can call me “Ink” or “Inky” (“Inky” is the name I advise people who I am likely to have long-term contact with – who have problems with “Ineke” to call me. “Ink” is usually reserved for people who know me very well).
If we must have “Corporate” social media accounts we also need to ensure there are individual social media accounts which are held by people with the correct training to blend their individuality with the “Corporate” message of the organisation concerned – otherwise – feel free to think of me as “Miss Poultney” for the foreseeable future.