The Twitter Wars, or, How Not to Get Noticed By Recruiters

September 11th, 2011

Most days twitter is an enormous time suck a great way to share information, debate ideas, learn who the thought leaders are in a particular industry, and develop a professional reputation as an expert in your field. But some days the twilight zone kicks in. Today was one of those days. What started as a discussion on twitter bios for professional branding  took a strange and interesting twist that left me laughing and shaking my head.

It started with a harmless suggestion:


That triggered a discussion on hashtag ownership:


Which escalated into a territorial pissing contest heated debate:



That led to threats:


And name calling:


And more threats:


And ultimately, the notice of recruiters:

sawitallThere was more, of course (isn’t there always?) More threats, more name calling, more histrionics. You get the idea.

Never let it be said that twitter can’t be a great learning experience, especially if you can learn from other people’s mistakes. Here’s the take away lessons I see for people thinking of using twitter for professional branding:

  1. Know your facts. #hashtags can’t be trademarked (yet). Trademark laws that apply to domain names are not applicable to hashtags (yet). Trademarks that are registered in one country aren’t automatically protected in other countries (yet).
  2. Use your 140 characters carefully. A suggestion or request can all too easily look officious or pompous, and it’s hard to untweet a bad impression.
  3. Respect #hashtag etiquette. Just because they aren’t legally protected (yet), doesn’t mean there aren’t unwritten rules about their use. If you know, or are informed, that a #hashtag is being used to track a particular theme or discussion (think #HFChat, #HireFriday, #DriveThruHR, #FILLYOURHASHTAGINHERE), choose something else.
  4. Know when a public argument is worth it. In this case, the use of the misappropriated hashtag would have fizzled out in a matter of hours, as soon as the discussion was done.  It’s rarely worthwhile engaging in an ugly debate, and it can reflect poorly on you when you do.
  5. Argue principles, not character.  Ad hominem attacks may feel deeply satisfying, but they don’t win you any points in the debating club, or in the court of public opinion.
  6. Don’t engage in mudslinging with puppets unless you know what you are getting into. By this I mean anybody who has made it their twitter brand to be adversarial and irreverent. They will take the argument down to a street brawl in no time flat. Another way to put this: “Don’t wrestle with pigs, you’ll both get covered in mud and the pig will like it.”
  7. Remember that there is no such thing as a private argument in a public forum. You don’t know who is watching. If you wouldn’t say it in a job interview, think twice before you say it on twitter.

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16 Responses to “The Twitter Wars, or, How Not to Get Noticed By Recruiters”

  1. Daena Rundle Says:

    Great points, Karen! I had been following the tweets and kept wondering how far it was going to go.

    As one who is new to a city, trying to establish networks, while looking for HR work, your article reminded me to use those 140 characters prudently?

    Thank you!

    Daena Rundle

  2. Karen Siwak Says:

    I wondered where it would end too, Daena. I was picturing a “better get out out of town, pardner” scene from one of those old westerns, with two guys holding onto their holsters.

  3. Karla Porter Says:

    Trademark this… someday it could be a chapter in a book.

    One comes out looking like a silly fool when one purports to have done something not yet possible. Silly fool…Kudos for walking this one down the aisle on the red carpet.

    I believe I was the first person to use #NEPA for northeast PA when hashtags first came into use, and now it is very commonly used by people in the region. About a year ago I started to notice very odd tweets with the same tag that looked like they were from another planet. Turns out it is used by individuals in a certain part of Nigeria. Instead of asking them to stop I suggested we become twitter sister locations.

    Make love not war.

  4. Karen Siwak Says:

    I remember trying to figure out what #NEPA stood for when it was being used by the Nigerian crowd. I’ve seen a few multi-purposed hashtags, and usually people are able to sort things out without resorting to threats and such. Is there a full moon? I forgot to check.

  5. Karen Siwak Says:

    Oh my goodness, it is a full moon. Well that just explains everything!

  6. Recruiting Animal Says:

    Oh, @ResumeStrategy, you were great during the fight but this followup is very disappointing.

    When these bozos come out swinging their lawsuits the best thing to do is to kick them hard in the bravados. So why you left their names and #biochat out of the article is beyond me.

    @MattAlder has pointed out that even if you can trademark hashtags the protection is limited to one country and you and I showed @Sean_OHanlan and his snitch, @BioBlogger, that Canadians are not afraid of Twitter Talibanians from south of the border.

    The visual record can be viewed on Facebook:

  7. Karen Siwak Says:

    I knew you’d be disappointed, @animal, and I was prepared to live with the shame of it all. As you point out, there is already a complete visual transcript of the debate. This article was meant to be more of a morality play on the consequences of engaging in a a twitter war.

  8. @BillBoorman Says:


  9. Le_Brenda Says:

    I loved it. Was very entertaining to an otherwise boring day here in my house. I needed the laugh. It cracks me up and angers me at the same time when someone says “don’t bother visiting Miami, you are not welcome!” Are they forgetting we live in a free country and those are threatening words, no matter where they are posted? And the threat of posting MK’s contact information?….Hilarious! As a biotech recruiter, this really makes me want to be a rebel and start a biotech chat session…LOL Anyone wanna join me? Later?

  10. Karen Siwak Says:

    It was bizarre how quickly the tweets went from merely officious to downright outrageous. I was laughing too, even as I pointed out the errors in their assumptions about their intellectual property rights when it comes to the use of hashtags. I “get” that it’s important to protect and respect hashtags, and I know first hand how provoking @animal can be. But this was sure a mad scientist day.

  11. quinn Says:

    God, this has to be the most trivial thing I’ve read all day. A bunch of geeks whining about hashtags? Plssssss…get on with real life, bokay?

  12. Karen Siwak Says:

    I understand your reaction, but as a frequent contributor to twitter chats I accept why they are protective of their #hashtag. It’s the methods and the messages that were out of kilter. Thanks for commenting, Quinn.

  13. Karen Siwak Says:

    Thanks for blowing my cover, Bill :) And after I went through all that effort of inserting little gray boxes.

  14. Terrence Says:

    The other day I was engaged in a nice conversation with some tweeps when someone anonymous (the trolls are often anonymous since most of them are cowards in real life or really, really shy and/or incarcerated) barged in to shout we should be working instead of tweeting. He was very abusive, using words that would make Jerry Springer blush. My first reply was ‘If you hate people who tweet instead of work, what do you call yourself?” Of course this lead to some more name calling; I was ‘a leftwing muslimfriend’ but in less nicer wording. However I stayed calm, kept asking him for arguments and two days later his last reply to me was: ‘Thank you for a nice discussion. Wishing you a lovely evening.’

    Just saying: stay calm, stay polite, be yourself and be patient. Very patient. Good piece…keep up the good work!

    Kind regards,

    Aka @Terrebelius

  15. Karen Siwak Says:

    Wow, Terrence. Congrats on keeping your patience (and sanity) when those around you are losing theirs!

  16. Sued Over A Hashtag? It Could Happen. « [AT] : Admiring Thoughts Says:

    [...] far, there only been a few low-profile scuffles over the use of a hashtag. The most high-profile fight over a hashtag use happened as 2011′s big April Fool’s [...]

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Meet Karen Siwak

An award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions, and she is passionate about empowering clients with the tools, strategies and confidence to take control of their career search. Read more...

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