A social phenomenon is spreading across the globe – at least the technically connected part. Reading this blog means that you are at least part of the 1,463,632,361 million people (21.9% of the global population) with internet access. However, are you one of the estimated 3.4 million users now using Twitter? If so then keep reading. If not, then after reading this post, go to www.twitter.com, get an account and see what all this growth is about.
The purpose of this posting is to have a fun and humorous comment (actually thought piece/essay!) on Twitter from a new person’s point of view. Ultimately I would like you to consider the deeper more meaningful aspects of this powerful social network. I also would like to acknowledge the amazing network of experts in the Twitter universe who dedicate themselves to helping people like me learn how to navigate in this new world. When engaged appropriately a social network can be valuable for whatever you intend it to do for you.
A typical experience with Twitter
Let’s first put some context in the picture. For those of you experienced with Twitter and somehow feel compelled to read then please be kind. I am sure my experience will continue to teach me more and my insights will grow. I also reserve the right to evolve and change my views as my relationship with Twitter changes.
If you are on the steep rise of the roller coaster like myself then hold on and keep reading. You may be like me who originally signed up for Twitter just to see what it was all about only to ignore my account for months. No activity means no connection means why bother. So maybe a recent event such as the US inauguration or something on that scale got you wanting to be in the know. It did for me. Well then Twitter helps you if you know how to use it. There are many people out there on the internet with useful guides on using Twitter. I recommend you search for these to help you get started.
What is Twitter
Twitter is one of the many social networking worlds where you can connect with people around the globe. The facility provides a window for you to post updates on your status. This means actually typing a succinct (Twitter limits each post to a maximum of 140 characters) comment. The type of comment depends on your purpose and even more so your personality. For every type of person and purpose, there are equally that many creative means to update people on your status.
Yet you quickly notice that within the protocol of Twitter there are things you do and don’t do. I am not going into these as I am still learning myself and feel there are far many more experts to refer to (just go to Twitter and ask). No, what I mean is that the parallel of life also occurs in this virtual world.
For example, if you are just chasing people for business and have no genuine interest in them, well you will quickly be found out. If you are a dreaded spammer with no integrity nor regard for the people at the other end of your message, well the folks at Twitter will quickly weed you out. I saw one comment that even suggested people like this should be in ‘Twitter jail’. I think the only answer is to not pay attention to people like this. If you behave rudely and disrespectfully on-line, well you just wont' have anyone following you. All like real life.
Anyway, let’s keep up with the education here.
A case study (well kind of, it’s not real)
So you respond to curiosity, pressure, friends and go on-line and create an account. After updating your settings and being attentive to how you want to look on-line you are ready to see your home page on Twitter. Yes you actually have your own page, how nice. Your eyes quickly lock in on the box at the top of the page where Twitter wants you to update people on what you are doing right now. You think “great I am going to tell the world what I had for breakfast. I am sure they all want to know it was oatmeal today and not bacon and eggs”. So in you go and type something like “Just finished breakfast – chose the healthy option of oatmeal. Still hungry now what” and you click on the ‘update’ button. Wallah. You are now communicating or I should say ‘tweeting’.
Is there anybody out there?
Only one thing...who out there in Twitter land cares what you ate for breakfast? (Actually who in real life cares either?) Well surprisingly many do. (Why? Well for the same reason there are some people in your real life might – it’s a conversation at the easiest and safest level.) The only problem now is that you don’t have anyone officially interested in knowing what you are doing. What I mean is no one is following you. On Twitter only people who elect to see your updates will actually see them (unless they come across your profile and look). Well of course there is always the feed called ‘Everyone’. But this gets updated in a nano second. So that means literally 1,000’s and 1,000’s of people are now missing out on what you had for breakfast.
Get some people behind you
So what next? Well you need to get some followers? How do you do that? Well like other social networking sites you could invite your friends to join. But then hey they may not be ready to be inundated with updates on your eating habits.
It might be nice to offer to follow first. Then you can hope that others you ask to follow you will follow you back. Plus you can assume that they like using Twitter if they are already on the site.
So who do you invite? Well this isn’t your wedding or your 50th so you can leave your mom out unless she’s already on and you are the one behind. After even a week on Twitter I bet you will find a few people you want to invite to both.
You start searching for people on Twitter that you know and hope that they have an account. This path is slow but worth it in the beginning until you advance to other applications and sources (again go to Twitter and ask). Just imagine the excitement as you type in uncle Bob’s name and find out that he actually is on Twitter. You didn’t even know he had a computer. You like uncle Bob and think how great it would be to compare notes on how you like your eggs in the morning (when you are eating eggs and not oatmeal).
What about some of your friends that you bombard with text messages. Hey maybe they might be on here. Sure enough a couple are on here too.
Where do you go?
So now let’s say you have at least five people. You are off and running.
So you click on the five Twitter pages and check them out. You can’t believe it, now you can actually find out what THEY are having for breakfast too. Cool. So you click on the big button that says “FOLLOW” and add them to your list.
I am being stalked, no it’s just someone following you.
Before you know it you get an email in your inbox from Twitter saying that someone is following you. WOW! You have your first follower. Now for a moment you think do I want followers? Well yes because I want them to know what I ate for breakfast. So you click on the link and go look at their profile. Who could it be? It’s SharkBoy. You think who in the world do I know that likes sharks and is a boy. Is my son playing a joke? Could be based on the avatar he chose. Ok now you are concerned.
Then you read below and see what looks like another language. All kinds of characters and words jump out. There are lines and lines of text all talking about random thoughts, not just sharks. And there is even an update on having breakfast and SharkBoy likes oatmeal too! You have found someone that shares your interests. How exciting. So you click follow and add SharkBoy to your follow list as well.
Then you think for a moment. What do I know about Shark Boy? Shouldn’t I actually know Shark Boy in order to agree to follow him? Well actually no, but it might make you feel better since you thrive more on meaningful connections with people. How is it possible for you to know a person you just met on the web. So you do the next best thing, you click on the link under the description of where he lives (which by the way is in the Ocean). The link takes you to a blog. Yes another blog. So now you can actually see what this person is really like. He is mad passionate about protecting and ensuring the survival of sharks, an endangered species in many waters. He has post after post about their habits, etc. This is really interesting. You never had an interest in sharks before (actually a post Jaws phobia) but this guy’s blog is informative.
Real communication time
So what next. Well here’s where you bring in a little from the real world. You communicate, well kind of. You actually send a message. Yes just like email. Only instead of long winded rants, raves you are still limited to 140 characters. You click on the small fine print on the side that says “message” and off you go. You say something nice like “Thank you for following me. Your work is amazing.” Now depending on the kind of person you are, hopefully you mean it. (Well at least I do when I write a message!) So now you are communicating. It’s not quite deep and meaningful yet, but you are initiating and moving into one to one conversation. The reward is when you get a message back.
Now if SharkBoy is a decent guy you will get a similar comment back. A little more egocentric, then maybe you will get instead a direct plug to buy his new book or pay him money so he can teach you all he knows about sharks. Not quite what you had in mind. In fact it wasn’t really your idea at all when you logged in. Why would you join a social networking site so you can run around spending money all the time. But luckily SharkBoy is the real deal. So you file the warm and fuzzy thought back in your head for later after subscribing by RSS to his blog.
So sending a DM (Direct Message) is easy. You are already able to do email so this is natural. What about a reply to someone’s status? You don’t even know these people. But you keep seeing some inspiring comments that get you thinking. Hey this is like getting your daily online calendar on every subject downloaded in one day. Profound people are out there with some amazing insight.
So inspired by MeditationMama’s comment “Your breath is who you are.”, you decide to reply. Then you stop again. This is public now, not email. Everyone will see what you say. A momentary state of anxiety takes over as you think to yourself “What if I say something stupid? What if I press the button before I finish? Surely I can’t say something meaningful in 140 words or less!”
You say to yourself “Yes, I think I can” (to blend a bit of Obama and The Little Engine that Could). Making a comment goes out to your followers. They are already interested in what you say. They want to be in a ‘conversation’ with you. Then if someone decides to read your reply via your update stream, they still have the choice to read or not. No one has to follow you if they don’t want to.
So, what you say matters. Well in this world it does, or you can think it does. No one may respond but someone out there will read. In fact the more followers you have the more likely someone will read what you say. So if you say something worth reading then you will be adding some value to someone, making their day, opening them up a bit.
What you say reflects who you are in the moment. No one knows you other than the words you type out on the screen, your mini bio and perhaps if you have one a link to your blog or website.
So say what you want by being who you are in this online conversation. Open up when you are ready. Share what feels comfortable. It is tempting to be someone you are not, like when you wanted to be with the in crowd at high school. This is your world within Twitter you are creating so you can enjoy being in it. Again it is a subworld of your larger life so keep some perspective.
To follow or not to follow, that is the question
So here’s the crux. You are quickly noticing that there are people following you that you would not choose to follow. And perhaps you are requesting to follow others who are not following you. This is NOT a personality contest, though some may make it out to be. There are different schools of thought on the whole follow thing. For some it is Twitter courtesy to ALWAYS follow back someone that follows you. For others it is an exclusive invite to follow. And for many it's a direct marketing opportunity to short cut the sales cycle by eliminated value matching need. You can tell. The numbers don’t lie. It’s up to you to decide what is right for you. No one else. Of course your decision will then eventually show to those who choose to follow you. If they don’t see you follow back then they might ‘unfollow’ you.
In the end it is your choice. Just like you choose the people you want to hang out with in the physical world you have the right to do the same here. For example if someone's post feed offends you or is completely not relevant to you then I would question why you follow that person.
Also if you are building up numbers simply for the sake of it you will be outed. Many contributors with value will not follow you if you follow then quickly unfollow. So again for me sincerity is ultimately important.
The fun ones to see are the 'celebrities'. Their pages give you an insight into whether they are there for real or image. So check out for yourself. Of course if you are a fan of a few (like me) you are probably going to follow no matter what (go Coldplay and U2!)
What’s your purpose for being on Twitter?
Why are you on Twitter? What do you want to get out of this experience? What do you want to contribute?
After considering these questions and reflecting, you then go back and decide you want to connect. You are here to build relationships with some interesting people across the globe. Perhaps there will be a business connection, perhaps a personal connection, but most of all a connection. What you want is to experience real humanity. You want to see real people being themselves in all the variety and diverse ways that they exist – whether you like them or not. Hey this is training in diversity appreciation. How else can you understand what makes people tick if you don’t give them a chance and learn about them?
So you look back on your Twitter page and notice status updates showing up on your page. Where did all of these come from? Oh, all the people you added. You can see a stream of information. What is really strange is that they are so random. No links between them. So maybe you need to create that yourself. Introduce people, create a conversation somewhere else and try to foster some good will. That will need to be for the next session. You are already in information overload...and oh no....
What’s that....a burning smell coming from the kitchen. Oh that’s right, you had a pot of soup on the stove for lunch (you were going to update people on that a little later). You rush into the kitchen, enveloped by clouds of black smoke to find your soup now a black remnant of the beans and tomatoes it once was. So what do you do? Well what any normal Twitter fan would do...YOU TELL EVERYONE in an status update. You Tweet!
So what’s the moral of the story...
Well I don’t want to spoil it for you. It is for you to discover for yourself and create and explore how you want to personalise your experience. However since this is my blog I do have the wonderful privilege of sharing my opinion – and its free.
So far in my journey on Twitter this is what I noticed when you are mindful of why and how you follow and join in the conversation.
- People are kind. There are amazing people, just a keystroke away, who are willing to help you with your questions and requests. They are also willing to give you positive encouragement, feedback, support and help.
- Real time connection. Once you get going you can be in a conversation with a whole group of people. Not everyone will participate but when they do it lets you know that there is a live person at the other end of the text.
- No borders. The stand out for me is the connection you form with people across the globe. Whilst you may be chatting with a person who is in your suburb, you are equally as likely to chat with someone 12 hours different in time zone. You are going to bed and they are just waking up.
- Open and sharing. Twitter is very public. Your running conversation can be seen by thousands of people. It is public record, searchable and archiveable. This may seem a bit exposing for some. Yet for others it’s about being inclusive. You say what you want and share it with others. Then they can decide if it is relevant, interesting and important for them to participate in the conversation.
- Fast. Information travels fast through the network. There are master users who keep on the pulse. Once someone who is in the know gets a hold of some news it gets passed around like a flash of light.Great for breaking news, like real important events.
- Respect. People acknowledge originality and sources. There is no plagiarism or stealing of other people’s idea or content.
- Learning opportunity. For anyone wanting to stretch their minds then Twitter will educate you. You learn through the content, manner, references and attitudes people share in their updates.
- Real business can be done. If you are a business owner with integrity then you can appropriately market yourself. Mind you there are many I have seen already that are on the borderline for this. Basically it’s about balance. This is a social network so what I noticed is its more fun and real to hook into people on a personal level before you talk business. Yet at the same time how you get to know a lot of people on Twitter is through their business website etc. That is until you have an exchange of Direct Messaging.
- Sharing mundane has meaning. You want to get to know someone, then remember the conversations and relationships are just like in the real world. You need to build up a relationship. Sharing information about you, your likes, dislikes, views etc helps people get to know you. So yes what I had for breakfast is worth sharing. It may be low level interaction but it's a start. Not everyone is ready to jump into deep and meaningful.
- Initiative is all it takes. You can be on Twitter but you need to take action to be IN Twitter. Immediately it will become obvious that unless you initiate connections, share information, or respond to other people you will not have anything meaningful happen.
Appreciate the diversity and at the same time hang out online with people you enjoy being with.
So what are my tips for newbie Twitters?
- Be yourself, be real, be authentic.
- Don’t take Twitter too seriously, unless it’s your job to.
- Show respect for others.
- Remember your manners.
- Be open and sharing.
- Take time to build trust.
- If something doesn’t feel right don’t do it.
- Be clear why you are using Twitter
- Learn and adapt with an open mind.
- Self manage your log in time (or watchout you’ll be addicted.)
Final words of wisdom
The above post reflects a bit of sarcasm and intended humour. Yet stripping that away, it is up to you to make your Twitter experience what you want. You also have total and complete choice in how you go about doing this. If you want to observe, lay low and just check things out for awhile then do that. If you want to jump in then do that.
There is always a history. Twitter keeps everything around unless you delete it. So if someone really wants to know you they can look back over time.
More likely though people only have so much time so they stay in the present. I find this is becoming my style. If I missed a conversation because I wasn’t logged in, well then I missed the conversation.
If however someone included me in the conversation then I go back and hook in again. Not in the same time frame.
What is time in Twitter anyway. It’s a place to escape and be real at the same time.
Let’s go there...