For property twitterati, there was only one show in town on the evening of Monday 4 July - Jon Snow’s Dispatches programme called Landlords From Hell, telling the sordid story of how some landlords abuse both tenants and the system. You can catch it here.
But an interesting story unfolded shortly afterwards, which was a fascinating insight into the way Twitter can provide a sounding board but can also expose those who use it only for marketing.
The property-related stream of Twitter users was abuzz after the programme. Most contributors were shocked by the revelations and a particular talking point was the seemingly-relaxed view of the issues expressed on air by Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps. Watch it and judge for yourself. Many tweeters were highly critical while a much smaller number of more Establishment property figures argued in his defence.
Interestingly and unusually, Shapps’ performance drew criticism from many media experts wholly unrelated to property and not known for criticising any government.
Their views are easy to find on Twitter but Raymond Snoddy, now a freelance BBC current affairs presenter and ex-FT and Times media correspondent, was representative of them when he tweeted: “Well done to Jon Snow for his exposure of ‘Victorian’ landlords but response of Housing minister Grant Shapps conspicuously unimpressive”.
So what? Shapps may or may not have come across well. Either way, he remains an impressively informed housing minister compared with many in recent years.
But what was interesting then was that Shapps - a vocal advocate of social networking as a form of debate and public awareness - came on to Twitter himself.
And his contribution to the fierce debate over the Dispatches programme was...Nothing. Instead, he thanked someone for ‘following’ him; this was merely a form of personal PR about his apparent popularity, rather than any form of contribution to the debate.
This was picked up on by Twitter users, surprised - in some cases dismayed - that Shapps chose to duck the issue and seemingly try to deflect attention. Other organisations who use Twitter to plug rather than debate were criticised, too. The NAEA, NLA, ARLA and other acronym-laden property bodies (some paying large sums to public relations people to tweet on their behalf during working hours) were subject to criticism for staying silent after the programme, despite various examples of ‘good news’ tweeting earlier in the day.
This incident shows how Twitter has come of age and is no longer merely a showcase for the showy-offy. Of course it is perfect for promoting what you do or bolstering your position or view - but if that is all you do with it, you risk being exposed as a mere self-publicist.
Twitter is now considered by many as a legitimate place for debate and those who use it only for self-promotion or to give partisan information to boost their business (especially politicians) are likely to find their cynical use of it bites them back in such circumstances.
It might have been better for the minister not to have tweeted at all than to have done so and then appear so out of tune with many around him.
Perhaps he ought to take the advice of his own party colleague David Cameron. He once coined a phrase about the risk for those who undertook too many tweets...
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