Subtweeting: Not So Bad After All

A reflection on this article: Subtweeting Looks Terrible on You (You Know Who You Are) by Slate

For those of us who have been active in the Twitter world for some years, I suspect, have all been ‘guilty’ of subtweeting. You should read the reference article from Slate linked above, but let’s just be clear what subtweeting is and what it looks like. Subtweeting is, supposedly, what takes place when an account tweets a statement or question in relation to another account (I say account because this can be a person or a brand, and/or with its own complexity I’ll explain later) but it does not mention them (with the @) and therefore, the referenced account is not notified that someone else has mentioned them. This is something we likely all do, to lesser and greater degrees on a regular basis. With that established, Slate’s article posits that subtweeting is wrong and aught to be frowned upon by the social media community. And I can understand why.

Several years ago, I used twitter in a very different way then I do today. I used it as a journal, and at times when my account was private, as a diary where I tweeted thoughts and feelings and I was a regular subtweeter. Today, how I use my account and the platform is very different and now, I view myself as an enlighten user of the service, well apprised of SM etiquette — enough so to teach and share best practices with others. Given this transformation, I have the tendency to group many of those past proclivities of mine together as immature and juvenile. However I am disagreement with the article overall, acknowledging that we subtweet anytime and all the time and that it isn’t as bad Slate intimates.

In 2016, Twitter is still one of the best places for people to have their say and voice their opinions. Although I do believe in standards and SM etiquette wherever practicable, I don’t realistically expect even half of Twitter users will actually abide by any recognized standard. I believe in freedom of expression for users of social media. That means, if you want to pen a Facebook post about absurd and irrelevant things (as many do), feel free. Just, don’t have high exceptions that your entire audience will be interested. With that logic of liberty, if you choose to vent about issues with your cellphone provider or about an airline carrier about your delayed flight, you should not be obligated by SM rules to @ mention them if you don’t feel to. Same goes, if you choose to make a statement about your political beliefs or opinion about a policy or leader for example, feel free not to @ mention them. You have the right to state your beliefs on SM without the added requirement that the object of your opinions get notified.

The interesting thing about those who choose to subtweet about service or product issues in reference to a major brand is that major organizations in the social media world regularly practice a tactic called social media listening (or monitoring). There are a wide variety of softwares and services for SM listening but they all accomplish a core function for a brand: they scan, they ‘listen’ to what is being said about them in the social sphere. From the perspective of brands who have vast audiences and/or a wide array of consumers, especially across locales and markets (take, Pepsi for example, or Delta Airlines), the intelligence and insights gleaned from SM listening — that is, accounts who are not directly @ mentioning them or otherwise, subtweeting about them — is much more valuable because it is candid, unprimed and made as a personal declarative statement from the user. The majority of the @ mentions made by users to a brand, I’d wager, are messages intended to be read by the brand, although, many users will @ mention an account just because, without explicit regard to it being actually seen by it’s target. As such, these brands become recipients of correspondence. This has permitted a new reality for organization in the SM world, wherein social media traverses the divide from something novel to substantial channel of communication and insight.

This realization that large brands are the ‘targets’ of tweets from the public on a vast scale has caused a transformation in how organizations handle this activity. The transformation has turned random tweeters into people who need to be responded to; it has turned tweets into messages; it has turned this interaction into correspondence; and it has turned this entire process into something to be managed by professional communicators, and not ignored, and not handled by just anybody. This realization has spawned the era of social media customer service, dedicated hashtags and dedicated twitter accounts just for providing service apart from the main brand communications. All thanks to subtweeters who don’t want to directly mention another account in their tweets and those who tweet at a large brand to voice their concerns and ask for help. And in my view, this transformation has been a good thing — allowing social media to evolve into a space where everyone can win and dialogue can drive solutions for consumers while businesses can cultivate brand loyalty. See? Subtweeeting isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be!