Marketplace Scratch Pad

Cheeps and Twares

Scott Jagow Aug 3, 2009

Ah, the language of Twitter. It’s so… (pick your word — mangled, cute, annoying?) Anyway, a story about airlines tweeting fares came up at our morning meeting and that prompted the question: Are corporations hijacking social media?

The story was in USA today. Here’s the gist:

JetBlue posted its first “Cheep” on July 6, a $9 one-way trip from JFK to Nantucket. Since then the carrier has generally notified Twitterers about sales on Mondays, giving them about eight hours — or as long as there are available seats — to book a trip for that or the following weekend…

United’s Twitter-only fares, also known as “twares,” started in May. The airline’s sales tweets can come at any time for a flight leaving on any day, and fliers have had to pounce quickly because the offers are usually available for only one to two hours.

Which means you have to follow United or JetBlue (here are today’s cheeps) on Twitter to find out about this stuff. How social is that? No, the truth is Twitter may have started as a social application, but it is morphing into a decidedly business one.

Senior business editor Paddy Hirsch says he sent out a tweet about his latest Whiteboard video on “factoring” the other day, and some factoring company essentially hijacked his tweet and re-sent it as its own.

It’s clear companies are still struggling with how to use social media. And so is the government. The military is considering a ban on Twitter, Facebook, etc. But the Pentagon also just hired a social media guru to use the technology to engage people like never before. They can’t decide whether they love it or hate it or both.

The military is considering a ban because it sees how easily social media can be manipulated:

Last month, for instance, well-known venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter account was hijacked, and used to spread a sex video come-on to his 139,000 followers. Those following the link were asked to install a software update. The application was, in fact, a Trojan, which allowed hackers to take over a user’s machine.

Or how about this attempt by the city of Bozeman, Montana. Here’s a blog entry from the Citizen Media Law Project:

Until last Friday, all applicants for city jobs in Bozeman were required to “list any and all current … memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs, or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo,, MySpace, etc.” Oh, and after you list your username, be sure to give us your password.

That’s right. A city in Montana demanded unlimited access to the digital identities of its employees in a sort of never-ending background check. According to Greg Sullivan, Bozeman’s city attorney, these investigations “make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character.” I’m shivering just writing about it.

Bozeman dropped the idea. But still. As the blogger puts it, “Welcome to Facebook Club. The first rule of Facebook Club is “Do not friend your employers.” The second rule of Facebook Club is “DO NOT friend your employers.”

I don’t have a fine point to make here. Perhaps, something about keeping work out of your social life and vice-versa… or maybe the inevitability of corporations and the government confiscating a “people’s platform.”

I welcome your observations on what’s happening with social media.

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