Twitter Cashtags a Ripoff? #Probably

By | Aug 8, 2012

The power of Twitter is quickly coming to rival that of social media giant Facebook, in large part because of the service's ability to provide near-instantaneous updates packaged in an easy to digest format. Without the emphasis on games, photos, and open-ended status updates, Twitter has become something of an unpredictable force, used equally by businesses, revolutionaries, and the average consumer. Now, the the social platform has introduced a new way for users to share easy links to stock information, but it turns out these Twitter cashtags may not be quite so original as the company's July 30th, 2012 announcment makes them seem.

We're All Twits Here

According to an article at Mashable, it's possible that Twitter ripped off the idea for their cashtags - which have a dollar sign in front of the ticker-based symbol - from a company called StockTwits. The company's CEO, Howard Lindzon, says, "Twitter is hijacking our idea [....] StockTwits moved beyond that functionality four years ago."

Twitter couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but its users took to the tweets, some praising the company for its new innovation and others pointing out that it already existed. This isn't uncommon for the service - hashtags, for example, were a user-created invention - but here it appears that they may have overstepped and actually taken something that wasn't theirs or that belonged to the community at large. Whether the company deals with StockTwits on this matter or not isn't really the issue (and it's interesting to note that the stock social company has "borrowed" part of Twitter's name in its own moniker). What's important is what this means for the social world at large.

Simply put, someone is always watching. While midsize admins might scoff, certain any business they conduct can't come under as much scrutiny as Twitter or Facebook's, IT pros can't make the mistake of forgetting that whatever they tweet and whatever they post becomes public knowledge and can quickly become viral. Even an unintended duplication of another company's practices, or one that looks similar, can land IT in a massive amount of trouble. This can also be IT's problem even if they're not the ones responsible; managers and CEOs are likely to spread the blame around because it's a "tech problem."

I Heard That!

The 2012 London Olympics showcase just how powerful the medium of instant communication has become. A Yahoo News article discusses several reactions to tweets surrounding the games, including two athletes that have been sent home for racist messages and a fan arrested after he threatened British diver Tom Daley. Just like a midsize business or enterprise organization, Olympic officials want to present a unified vision of the Games, one that shows attention to detail and meticulous planning. But just like a business, they can't control what's said about them on Twitter, or what's said by fans. In some cases, these tweets cross the boundary into the inappropriate but for the most part provide a window into what's really happening behind the scenes.

This is a concern for midsize IT, many of whom have been tasked with making sure a company's image is exactly as management wants it. They're given not only the job of making sure that what gets sent out toes company lines but also ensuring that sensitive data doesn't get leaked - all the while carefully avoiding problems like the one now plaguing Twitter cashtags.

So what's the answer? Ban Twitter on any company device? Prohibit users from tweeting anything company-related without permission? Probably not a good idea. Here, the best offense is actually a good defence; if problems arise because of inappropriate use or if questions come to light about "borrowed" business practices, midsize IT admins need to be on the ball when it comes to employee misuse or public outcry. Taking a "wait and see" approach to unflattering tweets or Facebook posts won't do anything but make a bad situation worse; admins can't ignore the power of Twitter or underestimate the diffusing power of a carefully worded response. Accountability is key.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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