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When a hashtag gets hijacked

I never know how much to write about what goes on behind the scenes in the mommyblogger world.  While a lot of bloggers do read Selfish Mom, the majority are moms looking for some light reading.  Frankly I could fill an entire blog about the drama behind the blogs, but I usually just stay away from it.

Doing this full time is definitely a job, and it’s also a privilege.  I get a lot of free stuff, I get free trips, and I get access to people I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.  In the beginning I was giddy about it all.  I was amazed that there was this whole world of marketing to moms that I hadn’t known existed.  But then as I got more involved, I stopped referring to the stuff as “free” because it’s not.  It involves my time, and my effort.  And I’m not going to try to tell you for a second that it’s hard.  It’s interesting, and fun, and I get a little thrill from being able to do things and go places that most people can’t.  But it’s not “free.”  Even if I don’t feel an obligation to the company, I do feel an obligation to my blog – if I don’t write about what I’m doing, I don’t get readers.  If I don’t get readers, I don’t get advertisers or new opportunities.  If I don’t get compensated – and I’m talking about cold hard cash here, not products – then this becomes an incredibly indulgent and expensive hobby.

When I see tweets and blog posts from other bloggers on trips, my first thought is always “Why wasn’t I invited?” because access is like currency in the mommyblogging world.  And my second thought is always “Good for them.”  I’ve been really impressed by how companies have been willing to listen to real moms lately.  And we’re courted, and flown in to fun places, and plied with food and free stuff.  In exchange of course, I have to deal with the logistics of making sure that my kids and other obligations are taken care of, whether I’m gone for a few hours or a few days.  But it’s worth it.

I’m an infant in terms of the mommyblogging world.  I’ve been blogging (on my own blogs) for about two years.  But I’ve come pretty far in that time, and I thought I’d discovered all of the pitfalls.  There are lots of critics who don’t like that a lot of blogging now centers on products and advertising, and I’m at peace with that.  I set out almost from the beginning to make money from this, and I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I know I’ll never have the respect of that group of writers, the ones who do it just for the love of writing.  To each her own.  More power to them.  And more advertisers for me.

What I didn’t expect was that by talking about a company, I’d be responsible for the entire history and practices of that company.  And it hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’s happening right now to a group of bloggers who are at a retreat with Nestle.  I don’t know where they are, I don’t know what exactly they’re doing.  But they did what I would have done: they started tweeting about what they were seeing and learning.  They’re using the hashtag #nestlefamily.  Hashtags are a way to keep up with a conversation on twitter.  You can see what’s happening with the #nestlefamily hashtag here. It’s gotten ugly.  Some people starting giving the #nestlefamily bloggers shit over Nestle’s worldwide practices, and it went downhill from there.

I’m not going to touch on the complaints, some of them valid, that are being brought up by the #nestlefamily critics.  That’s a different post, and frankly one I have no interest in writing.  What I’m interested in is the etiquette involved here, and whether the criticisms are misplaced.  I see Twitter as a big open house, and when you start a hashtag for something, it’s like saying “Hey, if you’re interested in this thing, come over here.”  And if you go over to that corner of the room and listen to what’s being said, and you have a problem with it, shouting at that corner of the room is just rude.  And that’s what the hashtag hijackers have done.  They’ve entered into a conversation and instead of trying to add to it, even critically, they’ve shouted at the people who started it and the people who went there to hear about Nestle.  If these critics were intent on changing the discussion, then the polite thing to do would have been to start a new hashtag, and tell the people in that corner of the room about it: “Hey, we disagree with what you’re doing.  So we’re going to take a few steps this way and whoever wants to join this new discussion, come over here with us.”

But that wouldn’t get attention!  That wouldn’t achieve controversy!  No, it’s a lot easier to shout.  And remember, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t have been criticism.  I’m just saying it shouldn’t have been shouted in the same corner as the original discussion, completely obfuscating the original intent of the hashtag.

The other issue is the role of the bloggers who go to these events.  I certainly don’t feel responsible for everything a company has done just because I like their products and have made it my job to tell other people about them.  And if someone on twitter does have questions about some practices, and I am lucky enough to get the ear of an executive, I’m certainly not going to voice those concerns if I’m being beaten up for attending the event in the first place.  And I’m also not going to go to an event and insult the people who invited me.  That’s rude, and it’s not productive.  And it’s not my job.  I’ve defined my job as talking about products, and my kids, and what’s going on in my life.  If I get interested about an issue I’ll pursue it (in a polite and respectful way), but yelling at me won’t achieve that.

So, eventually a senior VP from Nestle got on Twitter and started answering questions.  And he really had no choice – ignoring what was going on wasn’t a good option.  But it makes me a little pissed off that the shouters did have that one small victory, getting the ear of an executive by being incredibly rude.  I hope that they’re not given the same level of attention as people who are calmer and open to dialogue.

The next time I’m at an event, I’ll be tweeting and whrrling and blogging about it, and doing my job.  And if you shout at me, if you attempt to hijack my discussion with your agenda, I probably won’t listen.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom.  All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted.  Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

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