The Incredible Social Bait and Switch

By Richard Hughes on March 08, 2011

“Superladies, they’re always trying to tell you their secret identity. Think it’ll strengthen the relationship or something like that. I said, ”Girl, I don’t want to know about your mild-mannered alter ego.” or anything like that. I mean, you tell me you’re a super-mega-ultra-lightning-babe, that’s all right with me. I’m good. I’m good.”

— Frozone, The Incredibles

In the world of social business, there are few people who come as close to qualifying as an “Incredible” as Jeremiah Owyang; his blog at is always a must-read for me. Yet until a couple of days ago, I didn’t follow him on Twitter. Last week, Jeremiah announced he was going send fewer tweets, and focus on high quality. By the end of the week, he had observed that his number of followers had increased. I’m not at all surprised, and I was one of those extra followers.

It’s something of a cliche to complain about inconsequential babble on Twitter, so I won’t do that. But I do believe that thought leaders have a responsibility to their followers to stay on the topic that they gained their following for. This absolutely isn’t just about Jeremiah – there are many thought leaders who are far more guilty of it than he ever was. Yes, I really want to benefit from your wisdom about Social CRM or Enterprise 2.0. But no, I don’t want to hear about the health of your dog/cat/rabbit.

I see this as a kind of “bait and switch” – you become respected for one thing and attract a lot of followers, but then start talking about something completely different. It’s almost like breaking an unwritten contract with their followers.

One of the most memorable examples of this was Tim O’Reilly’s endorsement of Barack Obama in November 2008. Personally, I agreed with everything he said, but it still felt like a breach of contract for him to be using the O’Reilly Radar blog (“Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies”) to promote his own political views. And I have never forgiven TechCrunch (“dedicated to obsessively profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products, and breaking tech news”) for the this rant about a Google employee, whose only crime was annoying Michael Arrington.

As more and more companies adopt enterprise social network tools like Clearvale, this becomes equally important for the thought leaders within your company. They will quickly gain a lot of followers, and find they have a platform to express their views. But they too can become guilty of the social bait and switch if they misuse this platform.

So, to all you social media Incredibles out there, I don’t want to know about your mild-mannered alter ego. If your Twitter bio says you’re a super-mega-ultra-lightning-babe, that’s all right with me. I’m good. I’m good.