I Tweet, Therefore I Am

30 Oct
2008

As many of my social media friends would agree, ever since Twitter burst out onto the scene a couple of years ago, communication has never been the same. In the circles of the tech elite, the communication paradigm has been completely upended. I am neither the most popular twitterer (expressed in number of people following you), nor the most prolific (expressed in number of “tweets” – short messages of 140 characters or less), nor the most long-time twitterer (I only started this summer). However, since I started using it, and started relying on it more and more every day for communication.  I think I do more communication via Facebook and Twitter combined than I do via e-mail these days. Twitter is how I find out about news, talk to my friends, do market research, spread my message, microblog events, make social plans, etc. The uses are endless, and I will continue to explore it in several posts, because it’s way too much for one post.

Let’s back up for a second. For those that don’t know, Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows you to answer one question, and one question only “What are you doing?” – it’s like the status update on Facebook. There is a catch: you need say whatever you need to say in under 140 characters (genius! we could all use a tad more brevity in our lives). Twitter does one thing and does it well (after they seem to have surmounted their downtime issues, that is), it is genius in its simplicity and has a clear brand and a focused marketing message. Huge turn-on for a marketing person like me!

How does it work? You enter your tweet (status update) and everyone who follows you gets your tweet in their stream. You get the tweets of all those whom you follow. You can reply to anyone’s tweet by placing an @ sign, followed by that user’s handle. Your tweets and @ replies are public, and you can also send a direct message to someone by typing D, followed by the user’s handle. Direct messages aren’t capturedin the public stream. You can tweak your settings to either receive the “statement” tweets from folks you follow, or to receive their tweets AND @ replies. This choice is going to be driven primarily by the reason you are on Twitter in the first place.

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had with a friend this morning about relative volumes of tweets that different twitterers produce. He tends to be of the school of thought that less is more. And I agree, if your goal is to share a few gems of wisdom and make those gems stand out, which would be hard to do if you consistently pump out mediocre tweets: even for the most brilliant of us, it is very difficult to make every tweet a gem. I don’t put out a ton of volume, unless I am microblogging from an event, but I do use @ replies quite a bit. And that’s because what Twitter has become for me is a rich conversation platform. When I decide to follow / not follow a person, I look at several indicators of their Twitter behavior (let’s coin a term “Twitterhavior”: you heard it here first!), one of which is the ratio of their tweets to @ replies. I am not going to have a very rich experience with someone who talks AT me, not TO me. When I first joined Twitter, I had no idea what I wanted from it, but as I started to make it my own, I have formed my own Twitterhavior. As a sidenote: my friend’s offline personality does not stand for “less is more”. He is definitely more than more, talking over others and feeling the need to dominate each conversation. I am the opposite: much more demure and appreciative of a collaborative conversation. I suspect that your online identity is somewhat complimentary to your real-life identity, helping you fill gaps and become a fuller person. Your online self is, or at least should be, an extension of your offline core values and belief. Now that everyone “has a microphone”, development of an authentic online self is key. If you aren’t authentic, your message will get lost and dismissed. While extending yourself from offline to online in an authentic way, we also seek to fill in our real life shortcomings. I think this is key.

So as far as reasons to be on Twitter, we have discussed a couple so far:

  1. To share what you are doing, in hopes that someone reading is doing the same thing and will join you. This is the social element that will only get enhanced by further developments in the mobile GPS arena. Although, the privacy issues and stalker potential scares me a bit. Network effects kick in here, and for this to work, your friends need to be on Twitter too.
  2. To share your wit and wisdom without nurturing a conversation, talking AT people, which is neither wise nor witty. In my opinion it turns people off. There are a couple of those types I used to follow in the real estate industry (my startup MeetMOJO is in the real estate space); their streams rarely show @ replies. These types heard of Twitter, decided to add it to their toolbox of promotion, without really understanding or internalizing how to nurture the Twitter ecosystem. As a result, they come across unauthentic and not much different from a TV ad, talking AT you. I will focus several more posts on this point, because one of the missions of this blog is to marry traditional marketing to social media, I do hope that marketers will find this useful. As business units enter Twitter (and Facebook for that matter) for business purposes, they must be exceedingly careful to not disrupt the authenticity of exchange on these platforms. One business person that does it well is @zappos, the CEO of Zappos, a mail-order shoe company.
  3. To share your wit and wisdom in hopes of starting a conversation, talking TO people. I put myself in this group, although I use reason #1 quite a bit as well. Starting authentic conversations is key to establishing your brand, whether your brand is just you, or your product, or your company. As a business unit, you could tweet for market research / to gain input on what’s important to potential users. Or you could provide a customer service tweet-line, allowing people to vent and proactively fixing issues. You can make it do whatever you want. But don’t put a tweet out and ignore the @ replies that come back to you. People will stop trying to talk to you. If you care and if you talk back, your announcements about new products will be received with more open arms than if you used Twitter one way. I have even met strategic partners on Twitter. Create a community, ask for feedback, make people feel appreciated. You should do this online and offline.

I will stop here. There are more uses that I am only learning about. Twitter is a living, breathing thing. The more we use it, and the more of us that use it, the more tools that get developed around it, the more uses we will find for it. One thing is clear, it is a culmination of the online conversation paradigm shift. Web 1.0 talked at you. Web 2.0 lets you talk to it and other people on it. Now we have all this information, all this user-created content. Web 3.0 will be all about making sense of this stuff we created in 2.0, as well as creating new stuff of course. As someone commented on Fred Wilson’s blog (I read that comment weeks ago, and can’t get out of my head still) – “Twitter is the railroad tracks for communication in the 21st century”. That sums it up. It not only allows for conversations to happen in real time, across geographies and industries, it also allows for community creation, as well as leveraging the richness of conversation for a business goal. Whatever you reason to join Twitter, you can certainly make it your own. Just remember to be authentic, in 140 characters or less.

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  • http://kenberger.com/blog Ken Berger

    Kind of a long post, considering the less is more point, eh? :)

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