Should Shashi Tharoor use Twitter?

I attended the unconference session led by Beth Kanter yesterday, focused on the subject ‘Should CEOs use social media or not?’ I arrived a bit late, as I didn’t realise where the session was, and thankfully enough when I asked the question on Twitter at least three people directed me.

The thing about most of these social media discussions is that they are attended by a large number of fan boys and haters. In the UK we call it a ‘Marmite discussion’ after the yeast spread that people either love or hate to spread on their toast.

A former CEO explained his views: “It’s all very well for one CEO to use Twitter, or Shashi Tharoor [Indian politician] to use Twitter, but just imagine if every CEO or every MP was broadcasting their thoughts on the web. It would be such a cacophony we would be lost in a sea of information!” This morning Shashi has been telling his followers how he even makes his own tea when staying at a hotel – which might be interesting to some and just noise to others.

This was rather a surprising view for someone attending a technology themed conference. In fact, the only way I can imagine this type of opinion being formed is if you consider Twitter accounts to be like TV channels. I used to only have 4 TV channels. Now there are hundreds and hundreds full of content 24/7. However, most of them are full of absolute junk. I imagine this was the analogy the speaker was actually trying to offer – like Shashi’s tea-making repeated hundreds of times over.

But let’s consider for a moment. This is the Internet we are talking about, not a stack of TV sets all tuned to a different channel. I remember someone once told me that the US president for most of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, actually had several TV sets all tuned to different news channels and displayed together, so he could in fact monitor what all the networks were broadcasting. How quaint.

If every MP is broadcasting information transparently then I’ll filter the information. I will probably only be interested in what my own MP is up to and debates on particular issues that affect me. Likewise, if every CEO is broadcasting their views then I might choose to monitor a handful of companies that interest me, or an industry sector, or topic. It’s not difficult. We all filter information on the Internet every time we use Google to find something. If it became a reality that this level of transparency was ever reached then how could it be a bad thing?

During that debate I did use Twitter to show the people in the room a UK website called They Work For You. It’s an amazing tool that allows British people to monitor and contact their own MP. Take a look at the site and just imagine if this level of disclosure could be applied to CEOs too…

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