Here in TheLab™ we imagine that it all started with a conference somewhere, probably from the Arts Marketing Association. A well dressed hipster takes to that stage and proclaims, using forced confidence while holding an iGadget™, that if a Twitter follower sends you a message containing feint praise then immediately re-tweet it to your own followers.
Telling other people who like you that other people like you will make more people like you and those people will buy tickets for whatever you're selling. Which of course they won't but the cost of hitting a button is nothing at all so what does it matter?
And so it started, the mind-numbing practice of "praise re-tweeting". You almost dread it when a company you are following on Twitter does a live performance because you know what's coming next. As many as a dozen tweets from their followers telling you something that you really don't want to hear.
It's the electronic equivalent of the "pull quote", one-liners from reviews that too many plaster all over their websites, videos and promotional literature.
Some companies have taken to filing their praise tweets into a single place using services like Storify but, at present, they are in the minority.The Other Side
If you are on the receiving end of a praise re-tweet flood it reads like this;
"people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome, people think we're awesome."
Just exactly what kind of person do companies imagine will want to read something like that?
It completely ignores the fact that somebody the company interacted with just wanted to send them a nice message. What they didn't do was send the company a marketing opportunity for them to exploit without their permission.
Companies receiving nice messages on Twitter should respond with a simple thank you and be done with it.
That message is telling the recipient that they are doing something right so keep doing what they're doing and those people will probably tell their friends about the company and their work all on their own.
In the coming weeks Twitter will be rolling out a new feature that will enable users to literally mute accounts they follow. This means they will not see any tweets from the muted account for as long as they specify in the settings for each mute request.
This particular feature has been available in third party Twitter clients for years, like Tweetbots, and is ideal for temporarily silencing noisy accounts.
From the perspective of the praise re-tweeter though you won't notice any difference. There is no way to tell if your tweets are being muted by one of your followers.
Essentially, that "follower" number that everybody seems to think is so important will be almost completely meaningless. Article19's Twitter account follows people we actually want to hear from and interact with but many Twitter users don't use the service like that.
There are many companies in the arts and individuals that follow others for no other reason than to be followed so they can broadcast their links and praise. The mute feature will allow them to make it look like they care about what you have to say without actually having to bother listening at all.
The reverse side of that scenario is that the companies that just want to broadcast could be muted by many of their followers. So what we end up with is a large number of arts organisations all tweeting messages that everybody is muting.
Everybody will be talking but nobody will be listening. It's almost what we have right now but with an added level of absurdity.
Twitter is little more than text messaging on a grand scale. It is an ideal, short-form communication method for people and companies to talk to anybody they want.
Of the accounts we follow, mostly dance companies and agencies with some individuals thrown in, we rarely see the companies and agencies actually talking to each other, never mind the general public.
Some do make the effort to have Q&A sessions along with a little conversational back and forth but, as mentioned, they are absolutely in the minority.
Day after day all we see is the relentless and completely charmless marketing machine at work. Using Twitter for most is just one more thing on the to-do list that has to be crossed off.
"did we use Twitter today? Yes we did, so job done!"
An opportunity is being missed to be genuinely engaged with dance students, the public and anybody else who may be interested in what's happening in dance.
If an individual wanted to find out about dance in general or a dance company and all they had to go on was a Twitter feed the overwhelming impression they would get is "marketing, marketing, marketing".
Dance companies need to imagine their Twitter accounts are a performance and performances need to be entertaining.
A little more chat and a lot less of the electronic equivalent of pizza delivery flyers tumbling through a letter box and we might start getting somewhere.