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Social Web: To Twitter or Not

Twitter LogoMy social web class is holding my feet to the technological fire. Part of this week’s discussion is about Twitter. I signed up months ago but have so far continued to lurk, having not uttered a single tweet (see sidebar on right). Perhaps my followers (49 of them!) enjoy the silence created by reluctance to tweet. My inner luddite is perplexed by the idea of intentionally bringing even more electronic noise into my life to consume ever more of my attention. So my questions are: can this platform be used in service to the growth of our consciousness? If so, how do you think? How are you using Twitter? How has it benefited and hindered your life?

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  1. sustainableMBA

    I use Twitter a ton. At first, I didn’t get it because I thought it was going to be like the status updates on Facebook. I decided for myself, early on, that I would never use Twitter for posts like, “I love cookies!” or “Going to a baseball game.” Twitter is the space where I share useful information, facts and articles on my topic of choice: sustainability and business.

    I use Google Reader to collect a lot of my resources.

    My tweets are to increase awareness of sustainability and business’ role in a more sustainable future.

    I have made some really valuable contacts that I would not have met otherwise. My hope is that all who follow my tweets find new information to help them to be more aware of their impact and how they can leverage change in their organizations and communities.

  2. To start off, if you have a propensity to distraction, the biggest hindrance of Twitter is the mass amounts of updates and information you can feel obliged to read. It is, as I often have to remind myself, a network of loose connections that end up not mattering as much on a unique level. Mostly en mass does your own network begin to hold value and weight. Use a system of filters, whether actual or just mental. It actually took me reaching a level of critical mass where it was impossible to keep up with updates that I finally let go of the desire to do so…the weeks before that were tough :-).

    So to your other questions…to be honest, it’s the connection to a constant buzz and eventually slow building connections and relationships that give you information only you say you are interested in. When I heard that Michael Jackson died, I checked Twitter first. If the people I followed (indicating some level of filtered validity) were talking about it, then it must be true. The same goes for the information you share. Whether it be links or valuable personal quips (other than the work of automatic bots) the only people who follow are those that on some small level found value in adding you to their Twitterverse. At any moment I can look at my Twitter feed and instantly find something I want to read, catch a funny comment, and respond to a question someone is seeking advice on. I’ve determined the value. The 550+ that follow me have done the same. Constant access to value, means that being able to share value with the people I know is that much closer.

    Now I think there is a threshold that one must cross, where habitual use of Twitter indicates reliability and consistency in your thoughts. People are hooked. Everytime I don’t post for a day or two, I can loose up to 10 followers, which means ten less people who identify value in my brand, thoughts, or just in terms of a networking connection. With proper management, it is an amazingly fast way to build value and expertise. The feedback in reverse is just as quick.

    While just playing around might not be damaging, commitment to carrying a message is important. Twitter really isn’t about answering the question “What are you doing?” as they say, but is about giving people a reason to actually do something.

    But like any good business, you have to think about your ROI. Will the time you put in, pay off in the long run? You better have a good idea of your desired outcomes if you expect engagement to get you anywhere.

    Just some late night ramblings…

  3. I think part of “grokking” twitter is that there appear to be two modes of reading, and two modes of writing.

    The first reading mode is an ambient one. I find that reading about 10% the twitter stream of the people I follow allows me to have a “group stream of conscious” that gives me a sense of what is important to people at the moment. The key is finding a way to make that ambient work. For me it used to be Twitteriffic app on the Mac that used growl to just have some unobtrusive little tiny windows sort of quickly pass by at the top right of my screen that I’d only glance at occassionally. Now my ambient is served by reading Twitter largely when I’m wasting time, such as waiting at a bus stop, sitting at starbucks sipping a chai, etc.

    The second mode of reading is very immersive, which I mainly use when I’m at a conference (or when I can’t attend a conference I wish I could attend), or when some event is happening. In these cases I use a different tool, TweetDeck, that lets me have 5 or six columns going, several with keyword searches on topics, several with smaller sets of the people I follow. These allow me to quickly stay on top and connnected.

    There are two modes of writing. The first is just being usefully informative: that you are posted a blog post on a topic, or that you found something useful that others might have missed. The trick is knowing your audience here — why do they follow you? Then give them what they want.

    The other mode is to allow for or to acknowledge social connections. For instance telling people that you are flying to Seattle, implying that if someone is local and want to meet they should ping you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had great meetings with people when traveling just because I let people know in my status. The second half of this social mode is to acknowledge social connections, to show an appreciation (think of Twitter as a big check in and opening circle), or offer a problem or a solution.

    – Christopher Allen

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