The first lesson any private company going public needs to learn-- one Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) better learn quickly: Don't think you can sell yourself to public shareholders as standing for one thing and then conduct yourself in the most hypocritical way possible.
As Wall Street and Main Street watched the social-media darling flap its wings and go airborne as a publicly-traded company Thursday, the micro-blogging leader proved itself totally inept at showing investors it’s an enterprise that will flourish because it creates a marketplace of citizen voices that provides its users the most timely and useful information other citizens may want to access.
On its first day as a public company, Twitter attempted to discipline a news organization for engaging in the business of exercising its journalistic skills in delivering useful information to people who very much want access to it. Investors, and quite frankly anyone who uses Twitter, should know the company’s behind-the-scenes behavior on the very day it was bursting onto the IPO scene casts a cloud over the hidden genetics of the company.
What occurred involved Twitter’s treatment of FOX Business Network. It’s a case study in a social media company abandoning the very principles that turned it into a worldwide phenomenon just as it made its public-market debut.
Twitter attempted to "punish" FOX Business yesterday, by refusing to grant an interview with its CEO Dick Costolo. Never mind that Twitter granted interviews to our business news competitors. That happens. You win some, you lose some. We are often on the winning end of that equation. We understand certain choices are made. What’s highly disturbing is when asked why, Twitter’s public relations representative, Jim Prosser, indicated -- get this-- that the snub was because of a story FOX Business ran online several weeks ago, breaking the news on the timing of Twitter’s IPO -- a story Twitter did not want out at the time.
So word went out: ban FOX Business because they actually acted like journalists and reported -- correctly, mind you -- news. Twitter then took it to another, more startling, level: Its corporate PR team had FOX Business’ producer escorted away from the area around the Twitter team when she attempted to arrange an interview with the Twitter chief executive.
The irony is overwhelming.
FOX Business was the first business network to interview the co-founders of Twitter back in June 2008, a time when few had ever heard of the company. At the time, FOX Business was seeking out young, promising Silicon Valley companies that we believed our viewers should know about.
The very company that gets its quintessential distinctiveness in how it gives voice to citizens putting out information freely so that autocratic governments or other institutions can't control the flow of information that people want to hear from their compatriots is apparently and explicitly stating it’s in the business of trying to punish news organizations who, in the exercise of legitimate journalism, put out information about Twitter that the firm does not want out there.
For a company that pulled off its first day of trading with skill, it showed itself to be incredibly unskilled in how it is going to hold itself to the same standards that it says it's holding the rest of the world to.
Clearly Twitter has got a lot to learn as it steps out into the scrutiny of the public market. How the company treated FOX Business has been picked up by other news organizations and, yes, tweeted out widely. My nine-year-old son already found it on his own on the Web. His one question: “Have they deleted your account, Mom?”
My response? #BringItOn.