Today the Telegraph published an article headlined “Oldest Tweeter talks cuppas and casserole on Twitter at 104”. The article tells the story of Ivy Bean, who has taken advantage of some IT training offered to her at Hillside Manor residential home in Bradford, and has recently taken up use of the popular micro-blogging service Twitter. The story is being gently taken up by the Twitter community, who are excited about the concept of the “world’s oldest tweeter”. But in some ways this story is actually quite troubling.
Let’s leave aside for a second any issues with the way in which Ivy is represented by the article (a charming, sprightly old lady whose pleasures are naps, casserole and Deal or no Deal). After all, this may be a fair picture of her, rather than a simple caricature. What I find troubling is that I can’t help but feel that Ivy is the centre piece in a PR puff story.
The article appears to me (whether fairly or unfairly) to be a simple copy and paste from a press release issued on behalf of IT trainers The Geek Squad who, we are told “helped the pensioner get bang up to date” by helping her join Twitter. The Geek Squad are one of only two Twitter accounts that Ivy is following at this time.
What’s the problem?
Of course, I would never argue with Ivy being on Twitter if she wants to be and if she finds it helpful. In fact, I can see Twitter and other social media as being useful ways to mitigate against certain problems traditionally highlighted in association with age, such as social isolation. However, if there is any chance that Ivy was encouraged down this route for anything other than her own interest then there are a number of issues that bear consideration:
- Have The Geek Squad prepared for the sudden follow-on interest in her life? Ivy’s followers are increasing every minute while I write this article.
- Have The Geek Squad prepared her for the fact that she is now open to public scrutiny, and that her existence on Twitter is now something that is open to public debate? This includes some very upsetting speculation. (Yes, I am aware that I am engaging in that same debate now – this is not lost on me).
- If Twitter has in any way been foisted upon Ivy as part of a pre-empted piece of marketing, this raises a whole host of ethical questions. It would also be a classic example of how to get social media in marketing & PR wrong.
- There is hunger from the mainstream press for stories about Twitter, which makes it an attractive target for PR departments. Where will this lead us next? Are the newspapers being in any way critical of the stories they see?
In writing this I am very much drawing on my own experiences of our MA Social Media programme being picked up on Twitter and blogs. The number of responses and new followers I had to deal with were quite daunting for me and I had the resources of a University and a lot of experience in social media to draw on. If Ivy has been pointed at Twitter to create a story and left to it without support then the interest in her might put her off continuing to use social media. And that would be sad: keep tweeting Ivy, for as long as it makes you happy.