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29 January, 2010

No ads, you twit

I've mentioned before that one of my responsibilities is to monitor who's following my employer's Twitter feed, eliminating follow-sp*ammers.

Quite apart from my personal animosity to all (and I do mean all) advertising, the institution simply isn't allowed to publish anything which could be considered a commercial endorsement, so if a feed is transparently and solely attempting to sell something, it's blocked.

The commonest offenders tend to be web marketing firms presumingly attempting to attract the attention of, well, me, and they succeed: I retain every 'new follower' e-mail Twitter sends, and I wouldn't knowingly give business to a company which has previously sent me sp*m (er, formal tendering procedures aside, obviously!).
Recruitment agencies comprise another category of frequent abusers, and again, if they're overtly just lists of job adverts, they're blocked.
Student-related sites are sometimes borderline; some seem genuinely useful, and some are relatively clumsy attempts to advertise non-commercial services; they present as adverts, but don't seem to have that intent. They're judged on their merits, and periodically rechecked.
And then there are the random sp*mmers: why would a student or academic in Lancaster, UK be remotely interested in cheap fence posts available in Alabama, USA?

A bit of free advice to advertisers wanting to pass the censor: offer a genuine Twitter feed, with genuine, personal content about a range of topics. Mentioning your services occasionally, and offering a link in your profile summary, is fine. Only feeds that advertise blatently (those in which every single update is an ad, with no personal content, and/or clearly have no relevance to Higher Education) get blocked. A key question I ask myself is "is this person interested in reading the University's updates, or does he/she just want to get a user icon and accompanying text displayed in our 'Followers' list?". In fact, the really good marketing agencies would understand that anyway, so that approach would actually be a better advert than something too overt.

All that is a digression from the point I meant to address: what about 'adverts' from campaigning organisations? Again, my personal views are irrelevant, but should my employer be 'endorsing' religious groups, political parties or, say, drug-legalisation campaigns? Should my employer be blocking links to such groups?
My own view is that if it's scrupulously even-handed, we should be declining such followers, but I'm finding it difficult to get a definitive view (policy decision) from management, and wouldn't be entirely comfortable about defending a block myself if challenged.
Maybe the foregoing paragraphs weren't a digression after all, and I should simply treat all varieties of adverts as adverts.

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