Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Twitter Etiquette and Why I Think People Are Hooked On Twitter

A rather raunchy video is making the rounds right now, "Twitter Ruined My Life!" An enterprising young man has used this video to both poke fun at Twitter users while increasing his own followers. His message though, isn't too far from the mark. Twitter has become a social phenomenon and I'm right there in that crazy bunch of social butterflies. With one exception.

I'm "twittering" as part of my job.

Which has led to a whole slew of questions for a girl who loves communication and anything that helps people connect. However, Twitter has genuinely perplexed me on several levels. Let me first explain my very short history with Twitter, so these thoughts are not from a "I'll-die-if-I-can't-Twitter-about-this" person.

I joined Twitter about three weeks ago. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a "micro-blogging" platform. You join and can then interact with the hundreds of thousands users through their website (and other applications, like TweetDeck, if you'd like) and your interaction is based solely on typing a response to the question, "What Are You Doing?" And the response, by the way, has to be 140 characters or less.

So for an example, here's a very full "tweet" (what messages are called):

Drinking coffee while blogging. As a marketing tool, Twitter has some advantages. I've met people I'd otherwise wouldn't have met for work

Those three sentences together equal exactly 140 characters, also called a "Twoosh" by some because I nailed my thoughts within that very tight limit.

When I first came onto Twitter, I didn't know anyone except my boss. Then I started to "follow" a few people on my Gmail account. On Twitter, you "follow" people and sometimes they "follow" you back. The whole "Follower" concept is extremely clever and adds to the addiction. I'll explain.

As a "newbie," you really don't know anyone so you try to pay attention to a huge amount of chatter. It's almost impossible to pick out who will interest you and who's worth following. There are all sorts of people involved with Twitter. Young, old, rich, poor, working, unemployed, etc., etc. Some people do "tweet" about ordinary things ("Ugh. Snow.") while some have used Twitter in a very creative way such as writing mini-stories within the narrow parameter of 140 characters or less.

So, if you're like me, you start looking for help. Guy Kawasaki was my first stop since he's a big guru in the world of start-ups (he was with Apple back in the beginning) and has leveraged Twitter to market his new site, Alltop. My boss is a huge fan of Guy. Guy is actually a rarity on Twitter. He has over 30,000 followers but yet... he's a genuinely nice guy. He'll even respond every once in a while to a direct message. That's pretty breathtaking when you realize he has thousands of people pinging him day and night.

One of the first helpful pieces I read was this: How to Use Twitter as a Twool (ha...cute title)

Now, that entry is if you want to use it for business, which is why I'm there. Kawasaki mentions a few places in the entry to find the "movers and shakers" in Twitterland. The "Twitterati" if you will. So, I dutifully check out the spots and started to follow the big names. The theory is this: if you add big names, many times they have an "auto-follow" feature that will add your name to their list, thereby growing your own list of followers. On the surface, this sounded great until I realized I really didn't want to be following some guy who talks about wine all the time because as much as I enjoy a glass, I'm not really an aficionado.

I quickly added anyone who was a marketing or communication person. I also began the search for people in the technology field, since this is now my field, also. I've always loved technology, so finding them and at times engaging them has been enjoyable.

But plodding through Twitterland in Search of Meaning has been an adventure. I'll add more later to this entry, which will probably be pretty long by the time I'm done. And no, I'm not going to "tweet" about it. ;-)

Part II

Regarding "followers":

1) They are following you because you seem interesting
2) They are following you because you're connected
3) They are following you because of some other reason such as you're a woman. Or a brand name and they want the latest news.

It would seem that Twitter brings out the high-school mentality all over again but with a brand new shiny face. People are followed or unfollowed at times simply because they're following boring people. Or they don't have as many followers and so, must be boring themselves. (Note: it's a good practice to check to see the followers of someone who just started to follow you before you decided to follow them back. Case in point: A Muslim started to follow me. When I checked his profile, I saw that about 99% of his "tweets were from a Muslim author talking about Islam. When I checked who was following him, I discovered that about 90% of them were women. I had a hunch that these women just absentmindedly added him to their follower list without checking. Personally, I got the creeps and hence, did not follow him back.)

It ends up being a twisted conglomeration of logic to determine whether someone you most likely will never meet should really have that much bearing on how you see yourself. Which brings me to part of my title: why are people so hooked on Twitter?

Here's my take. People are hooked on Twitter because ultimately, people want to have a conversation. And perhaps more importantly, people want to feel they matter. When I first came to Twitter, I was amazed by the tiny blurts of what someone was doing at the moment. I remember saying to my husband, "I don't need an audience for my life." That might seem disingenuous since I have a blog, but my blog is specifically about my journey back to Catholicism. It's more a compilation of thoughts than what I'm doing from day to day since I really don't think too many people would be interested in what I had for breakfast. My only concession is "The Simple Woman's Daybook" on Mondays and my own "The Perfect Day" daybook I'll do from time to time. As I writer, I am conscientious of saying something interesting. Otherwise, no one would bother to read this thing except my beloved father. (Hi, Dad!)

But back to Twitter. I believe people are putting their words out there in hopes of having someone respond. Logging on to Twitter as a new member and trying to think of something interesting to say is akin to walking into a crowded stadium during an exciting game and yelling, "Hey! I just had THE best martini in the hot club, Shakers!" Other than getting shoved around, no one would care. Twitter is a constant hunt for people who care.

Now for my next point - etiquette. Or as I call it, "Twittequette." There are few no-no's. For instance:
1) Don't curse. Especially if you're a business person unless you work for yourself and are stoking the "Bad-Boy-Early-Steve-Jobs" image. There are a lot of smart-alecs on Twitter. Cursing is a part of their image.

2) If using for business, don't speak negatively about a client. It's very stupid and risky. Not only is there a good chance it will get back to the client, it will make you look foolish by broadcasting your ignorance.

3) Don't "tweet" about really stupid things such as your bathroom habits or descriptions of any other bodily functions. Yuck.

There may be more but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. Now for my #1 "To Do" for Twitter.

Be polite.

That's it, really. I have a huge bugaboo with people in our society who have lost their manners. Maybe they never had them. Maybe they weren't raised with manners. But it's tough to think that even in our broken school system, somewhere along the way a child wasn't taught to say "please" and "thank you."

When I joined Twitter, I started to pick up on the fact that if you had 30,000 followers and many of them sent a message to you with the "@" sign, there was a good chance you weren't going to be able to respond. But direct messages? I think that is a little different. You can't send a direct message to someone unless they're following you. I've sent many direct messages with just comments. I don't expect an acknowledgement, although it is nice when it happens.

What is frustrating is when you have sent a direct message to someone with a link, and they don't respond at all. Everyone who is into these social media applications and/or texting, know that THX, TNX, TX, or THKS means "thanks." It doesn't take too long to type those letters. It's especially nice to say thank you to people who took the trouble to find a web page that would possibly interest you, copy the address, and then shorten it to a link so it could be sent to you.

Little things, but they can mean alot.

This past weekend, I spent way too much time on Twitter. I was still trying to figure it out, and yes, got caught up with it. I went to bed on Friday night and Saturday morning, I was able to quickly scan the "tweets" that occurred when I was sleeping in a little under an hour. At that time, I was following around 143 people. The beauty of Twitter is that those "tweets" are so short and many times, people type even less than 140 characters.

Granted, someone who has even 1,000 followers probably would have taken longer to scan the "tweets." But if they had any direct messages, it would have been a little less and if they were given a link, a quick click to see it would let them see if it was a good referral or not. Even if it wasn't, someone took the time to send it and a quick "THX!" would be nice.

So, that's my rant about Twitter and how really, I don't feel many people are connecting with each other at all. My husband reminded me that it is a micro-blogging platform, which means that I shouldn't care whether anyone responds to me or not. But it's turned into a strange "instant messaging" medium as far as I'm concerned. And people will continue to hunt for others who will respond to them and even better, follow them.

I Tweet for work but I Plurk for my Catholic faith. So if you'd like to add me as a Plurk buddy, I'm "CatholicProdigalDaughter." Plurk feels much more "homey" to me and I've felt as though I've had an actual conversation with someone. It's a different application and to me, much more social.

Twitter to me has become a place to connect with people in an industry and getting news. I am convinced of its power in those arenas. But if you want friends, I'd suggest getting offline and joining a cycling group. Or a book club. Because really, there is still nothing online socially that beats a good face-to-face conversation. :-)


*Linda Pinda* said...

Mary Rose, I have to confess, this all scares me a little. I don't like the whole concept of it, or the language involved...

The whole "following" and "being followed" based on shallow, brief comments disturbs me a bit.

Sounds a lot like the chat rooms I have always forbid my teens to use!

Don't get me wrong, you know I enjoy the blog community and I am thankful for the tools the internet has given us for expression and sharing. It's just that there doesn't seem to be any "substance" at twitter. It's all about quick connections and getting addicted to certain "story lines" without really getting to "know" each other.

I feel more comfortable taking the time to get to know someone through an ongoing blog, then getting involved in a lot of "one minute stands"... LOL!

I am confident that you understand the uses of this format much more than I do and therefore understand it's place in the workforce. I can only imagine, in my limited understanding of it, that it might tempt more employees to "tweet" than to work!

Always learning more!!!

Hugs... *Linda*

Elisabeth said...

I'm still baffled at the appeal of all this. Sigh. But your explanation is helpful. I'm there, but don't know whether I want to mess with it, or how much. I feel a greater and greater need to be grounded in the real world, not so attached to and dependent on the virtual one -

Adrienne said...

I don't "get it" either. I joined up with Plurk (at your invitation0 and was baffled and have forgotten to go back.

I think all of these mediums, including blogging, are a way for people to not connect.

I need to go to bed....we'll talk more about this. In the meantime, I still think you're pretty dang smart!

Adrienne said...

...and because I think you're soooooo smart (and pretty) I've tagged you!

Elisabeth said...

Okay, I've looked for you at the catholic group, but cannot find you. Have you joined it yet?