It's shocking but true: Alec Baldwin has suspended his Twitter account. Apparently, a recent war of tweets with American Airlines didn't yield the support he expected from his fan base, so he's offline, at least for a while.
Interestingly, Alex Baldwin is not the first celebrity to flee Twitter after ill-considered, politically incorrect or just tone-deaf remarks (think John Mayer, Sinead O'Connor and James Franco). And that's just entertainment. Consider the number of politicians who discovered how much controversy could be generated from 140 characters or less (Anthony Weiner and Sam Brownback are just two examples).
When an actor like Alec Baldwin walks away from a medium that provides direct access to over 600,000 of his fans, that's significant. And it points out that social media comes with both power and pitfalls. Consider this from two perspectives. First, part of the appeal of following a celebrity on Twitter is feeling closer to the celebrity because it's the authentic voice of the celebrity, who is encouraged to tweet frequently by the short message nature of the medium. But too much candor and spontaneity can backfire easily. A case in point is Ashton Kutcher, who handed over control of his Twitter account to his publicists after some ill-advised remarks. Of course with that level of safety, authenticity is lost.
Second, there are no rules of the road with social media. What's personal and what is professional? What is public and what is private? Are rants about poor service authentic or inappropriate? Right now, the only way to know when you've gone too far is to go too far.
At a time where toilet paper brands have Facebook pages, where retailers offer gift cards to customers who "like" them on Facebook, where people are finding they can get their grievances with big companies addressed more quickly through a tweet than direct contact, we are all making it up as we go along. And if it's this hard in the B2C world, it's twice as hard for B2B companies trying to formulate a social media strategy. Social media is a mountain road with hairpin turns and no guardrails. And in such situations, there is only one correct response: go slow.