Today I had a most baffling exchange on Twitter. It was actually the most baffling exchange I’ve ever had on Twitter, and that’s saying something. I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I’ve made friends through it, I stay in touch with friends on it, I get work through it, I interact on it with companies whose services I use, I use it to stay on top of ridiculous pop culture fads and unraveling events of great social import, too. But this really isn’t about me.

This is about an industry leader having a severely fouled-up understanding of what Twitter is and how it works and my fear that it bodes very badly for said industry.

(Now, this happens to be an industry I know a lot about, but do keep your mind open to how this example might extend to any industry. I’d love to hear from participants in other industries, really…)

Below is the exchange I had today with the person who mans the National NeedleArts Association account on Twitter. In case you’re not familiar with it, TNNA is the trade organization for the independent yarn industry. It represents independent yarn stores (read: not box stores), independent yarn companies, publishers, designers and teachers. It puts on two trade shows a year. It should be the source of the most solid business information to the independent yarn industry. (I was a member of TNNA for years, and only let my membership lapse last month because I no longer work full time in yarn. I was an involved member. I love the industry and remain a part of it in my small way.)

Ok, here’s the exchange (read it from the bottom up).

TNNA Twitter exchange

I wrote a second explanatory tweet that doesn’t show up in the screenshot. It said, “@TNNAorg You’re the only ones who see tweets from people you follow. Your Twitter profile shows only your own tweets when someone visits.”

Now, I’m not writing this because I’m in any way upset or concerned that one of my followers didn’t like seeing foul language in my stream. I don’t swear like a sailor online (I totally do in person), but I’ll fire off some four-letter ammunition every so often. And if I quote, retweet or reblog something from someone, I credit them even if their username contains profanity.

I’m writing this because the exchange above exposes such obvious confusion over how Twitter works that I couldn’t let it sit. It chafes my general frustration with the “business world” and its blatant misunderstanding of, or too-frequent outright disdain for, using online tools to boost their business. When an organization that exists solely to support an industry exhibits such a failure to understand what the tools even do, I get cranky. And when I get cranky, I blog.

I’ve encountered tons of people who question the usefulness of Twitter or who don’t understand how they could possibly use it (or why they would want to) for their business. That’s par for the course in this sphere I can only refer to with an eye-roll as “social media”. But until today I hadn’t encountered such a fundamental misunderstanding of how Twitter actually works. (Note that I wasn’t a follower of @TNNAorg.) (Note also that @TNNAorg, as of this afternoon, no longer follows me. I didn’t hear from them after my final two tweets. It’s possible I misunderstood them, and that I’m therefore blowing this all out of proportion. But I don’t think I did and I don’t think I am. Obviously.)

There are several pretty big yarn-related businesses doing stupendous things on Twitter, and I implore them to use as much influence as they possibly can to pull their representative trade organization into the modern online-technological era. Same goes for the many dozens of smaller businesses, some of them based solely online, which are also achieving great success utilizing online communication strategies.

The lead business organization in an industry should be leading its members to bigger and better things.

And that’s all I have to say about it. What do you think?

17 responses to “Twitter Fail (or How NOT to Lead an Industry Online)”

  1. Jorah Avatar

    The levels of #fail here boggle my mind. Not least of which… the idea that you could remove anything from their twitter stream…

  2. Maven Avatar

    The mind reels at the possibilities of how or why that exchange went down:

    1. “Old Guard” die hard folks who are resistant/hesitant to use social networking sites (or blogs, or even functioning websites for that matter), thinking it's just a fad, or “we've always done business this way or that way, I like it, and that's that.”

    2. Or perhaps an element of sexism is afoot, given there are folks out there who find profanity from a female to just be unacceptable.

    But I think I'm going to go with …

    3. The person behind that particular Twitter identity does not have a true grasp on the capacities of Twitter (i.e., their feed vs what is public which they themselves “Tweet”; as well as making the subtle distinction between a Tweet and a RETWEET) let alone how very public those Tweets ARE. Additionally you would think that the person behind that particular Twitter identity would KNOW who they are following, or would have followed you or your blog to get some sense of content etc prior to deciding to follow you. I'd just call it out for what it truly is: IGNORANCE.

    Fellow Yarn Addict & CGOA Member

  3. skamama Avatar

    I had a feeling that someone didn't fully understand the tool because that whole discussion should have taken place via DM.

  4. Kim Werker Avatar

    I agree about ignorance. Which is why I wrote this post the way I did. I
    think it would be an intense benefit to the industry (and not just to this
    one) if its trade organization learned about this stuff so they can help to
    educate their businesses about it.

    I don't at all think their failure to understand Twitter is related to a
    desire not to adapt or change.

  5. Kim Werker Avatar

    It couldn't have, because I don't follow them so they couldn't have DMed me

    But yes. It honestly didn't occur to me till I read your comment that the
    whole thing shouldn't have been public. Then again, I don't mind at all that
    it was, if for no other reason than it kicked me in the ass to write
    something like this.

  6. SisterDiane Avatar

    The two-way nature of tools like Twitter is baffling to most corporate entities, who have spent decades talking AT people, not WITH them.

    I'm guessing that TNNA installed a Twitter feed on their site with some kind of intention to “share what people are saying about TNNA.” It likely never occurred to them that the public could talk back.

    Old-school broadcast-marketing thinking is going to die very, very slowly amongst corporate types. I agree – this is sad. There's so much potential on the other side. Plus, at the moment, it's sad to see corporate elements polluting the Twitter environment with broadcast-y nonsense.

  7. Kim Werker Avatar

    I agree with you, Diane, but I don't think that's what happened here. I'm
    pretty sure there's no mention of Twitter anywhere on (something I
    didn't mention in my post is that was, in the last couple of years,
    redesigned to the effect of taking their formerly adequate but lackluster
    website back at least five years so that now it's a fairly unnavigable,
    flash-splash-screened mess). The foundation of the problem we had is that
    the Twitter user at TNNA didn't understand how Twitter works at
    And *then* there's all that other stuff, where that other stuff is far less

    I'm wondering while my tea steeps this morning if a dramatic shift in
    education is needed in the industry wrt online technologies. There are folks
    in the industry who understand it, who use it to great success, and who can
    teach the leaders all about it. I wish we could gather a half dozen of these
    folks and hold a mandatory weekend workshop for the TNNA board, committee
    chairs and administrators. Then I wonder how much better a resource they and
    TNNA as a whole would be to the rest of the industry.

  8. Vashtirama Avatar

    (Now I understand the context of related later tweets!)
    You wrote: “I'm wondering while my tea steeps this morning if a dramatic shift in
    education is needed in the industry wrt online technologies.”
    At first I thought ABSOLUTELY. Then I tried picturing it and am not so sure, for reasons like SisterDiane's. Everybody (in biz) wants greater profits, and they're all hearing that “using” social media will increase their profits, almost magically. It feeds greed. But I'm not so sure they can understand that it's about creating and nurturing a kind of relationship. So it would have to be a way of teaching that causes a consciousness shift!

  9. Kim Werker Avatar

    I see your point, but I'm not sure I agree. Store owners know how important
    it is to build community within their store. They know how important a
    customer's experience in their store is and how it impacts the likelihood
    that customer will come back. They know word of mouth brings new customers
    to their store.

    All of those things translate pretty much directly to how businesses use
    social media online — they build online community, they communicate with
    customers, they do their best to stay on top of word of mouth. The
    technology is just the tool with which the communication happens instead of
    the face-to-face communication that happens in-store and between customers.

    There's a conflation of the technology and what it's used for. Twitter isn't
    great because 140 characters are magical; Twitter's great because it enables
    a certain kind of brief, public form of communication, with the added
    benefit that a business can more easily keep track of what folks say about
    them than they can offline. (And that's just why it's great for businesses.
    It's great in other ways for individuals.)

    Good businesses that know nothing of online technology already know a great
    deal about creating and nurturing relationships. The ones who don't aren't
    the good businesses. Regardless, for the former, it's not a matter of
    raising consciousness, except when it comes to the aha! moment when they
    realize that with relatively little overhead they can deepen relationships
    online and foster new ones, too.

  10. Sharon Dudka Avatar

    Thank you for addressing this issue Kim. I think the majority people are like TNNA; without updated, accurate knowledge of today's on-line tools. I have an Etsy shop where I sell my jewellery ( and have struggled trying to get my mind into the 21st century. Please keep in mind that when I started in the work force it was 'ideal' to have an electric typewriter. I remember we had a 'new' computer which took up a whole office and 2 air conditioners to keep it from overheating, just to do accounts payable and receivable. Given all this, it's amazing my shop is doing well at all! I know many on-line business people who would jump at something stream-lined and user friendly-almost like an On-line for Dummies theme. The media itself is almost moving too fast for my now over 50 year old mind. I'd certainly be willing to pay for the info.
    Thanks so much!

  11. knitgrrl Avatar

    Kim, I am SO happy you addressed this, because I'm at the point where I'm so tired of watching their blunders I can't even pay attention. I've got outrage fatigue.

  12. knitgrrl Avatar

    Kim, I am SO happy you addressed this, because I'm at the point where I'm so tired of watching their blunders I can't even pay attention. I've got outrage fatigue.

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