Jeremiah Owyang is a 'Senior Analyst' at Forrester. I've been following him on Twitter as an experiment to see whether or not I can put up with industry pundits bleating on about their latest opinion. Ans: I came to the conclusion the day before yesterday to transfer him in to my Social Bloglines category and Un-follow. ultimately, RSS is way better for absorbing the few interesting things amongst the constant 140 character waffle.
Anyway, so Jeremy has a lot of followers. A Lot. He's also been at SXSW, going to lots of parties and telling all his followers, over and over, how seriously brands are taking social now and how he went to tea with some brand and he's been interviewing some other brand who really wanted to know about social and... er... yawn. As you can tell, i'm a bit bored with him, but then I don't really use Twitter as an industry tool and can only handle a small number of people blethering at me at regular half hour times Tweetdeck intervals during the day. And those are people I really, really like, for the most part.
Jeremiah has been hearing from several of his sources that something's 'going down' at the social applications company, Mzinga (hello guys). I have to wave my hand here and say that the company I work for is a client of Mzinga's, primarily through me. So when Jeremy tweets a dangerous sounding, public message: "I'm getting more information that Mzinga is having financial difficulties. They need to brief me immediately" my ears obviously prick up. Huh? My lovely 3rd party, who are in all respects completely nice? Wassup?
That tweet, and a couple around it are symptomatic of the social pressure that Twitter subtly places on those who place themselves in the public sphere as commentators. Jeremiah, in common with other people I read, really wants to up his public profile, and thinks he can do that with Twitter. He creates another tweet, with a URL to a blog post about the Mzinga 'story': "New blog post. expect changes at Mzinga...@KristiGrisgby you're right let's avoid rumours".
Splutter... cough, I'm sorry? Let's avoid rumours?
What Jeremiah really wants, whilst he is in the hubub of SXSW, mixing with the technorati and feeling all-important-like, is to scoop one of the stories of the conference (I am guessing). He's not a journalist, and as the chair of Mzinga points out in the comments to his post, Mzinga has paid Forrester for consultancy in the past. Why on earth did he use a public forum to post what essentially are private queries on the back of unsubstantiated rumours?
And that's a really good question, looking at the heart of the industry from a human perspective. Does Twitter, with the possibility of its 'fan club' type culture (where one person can imagine they command the interest of tens of thousands of followers) actively work subconsciously on one's ego to make foot/mouth situations like this almost inevitable? It's instantaneous, and short of instantly deleting the post, you're stuck with what you've written once it starts being ReTweeted.
I've noticed people I follow who have marginally 'industry' blogs announce on Twitter that they've written a new blog post, the second after they've posted it. Are we all dutifully supposed to click on the mini-URL and troop off to read their opinion, before trooping back? I find that a fascinating behaviour. I would ask - why? Surely everyone who wants to read your blog subscribes to it? Why do we need to be told? Is your opinion so very, very important?!
The end situation then is a large slew of people with varying degrees of self importance announcing to the Twitterverse that they have Spoken and Pronounced Judgement! Ayeesh, give us a break.
It's all wrapped up in that same circle jerk type behaviour that we see in the industry and which - of course! I'm doing right now, commenting on it (will I announce this post on Twitter? What do you think...). I have a secret weapon though which is that I know no one reads this, so I can say whatever I like. Heh.
Anyway, it's fascinating what's happening to poor old Owyang. He's tweeted his own bed, and interestingly, he's letting all the comments (which are roundly slagging him off for being a rumour monger) stay up. I would hazard a guess he's feeling somewhat chastened having made such a public mistake. I hope he doesn't do that analysts thing, and turn this in to some kind of analytical learning experience nonsense, trying to salvage himself by coming out on top. Nope. No. I'm sorry. he cocked up. His actions might do genuine damage to a company, and rightly, in this market, many, many people either with interests or without, have balled him out.
I sincerely can't help but feel sorry for him. It's all so horribly watchable though.
Aha! An update, given that the west coast started waking up. Mr Owyang has posted an unequivocal apology.