In my personal twittersphere, there has been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with being unfollowed by certain people in certain circles. Okay, specifically Brad J. Ward, a young gun who is a very focused wiz and entrepreneur. I myself have been followed by, then met in real life, then unfollowed by this guy, so I understand why others in the same circle might be miffed. Today Brad wrote a post about how he uses Twitter and you should read it. Yeah, it’s like everything else Brad does: it’s serious, it’s intense, it comes with charts and graphs, and is pretty much waaaay over the top in trying to explain why he has unfollowed people. But it is also a really good description of how he uses this social media platform, and it closes with a great question: How do you use Twitter? In fact, it has me so fired up that, despite the fact I have a huge amount of work to do today, I feel a pressing need to answer the call to respond. While Brad makes some very good points, he is dead on: the way he uses twitter is not the way I use twitter.
Why I Use Twitter
I am what you call a connector. I link people to people, and I tend to be spread over a number of communities because I am a generalist, so there’s a lot of crossover that I do each and every day. This means my community is large, and varied, and has many different facets of interest. I love this. I get a lot of input from people and learn amazing things, useful links, and in general, learn more about how these people think, work, and play. Once I connect with you, I tend to stay connected to you. So much so, that I also find it gets overwhelming at times. Twitter is a fabulous tool, and it allows me to keep abreast (no giggling, and yes I know who you are) of what my peeps are doing. Social media has enabled me to engage multiple people from multiple walks of life, and my life, work and play are likewise enriched with their knowledge, their outlook, and their connections.
How I Use Twitter
First, I use Twitter to connect with people. That’s a given. Any event I’ve been to has introduced me to any number of people that I still follow, because they are wicked smart/silly/cool/friendly. Second, I use Twitter to learn. See @zeldman, @mollydotcom, @beep, @stop, @meyerweb. These people inspire me, but they don’t know me. But they provide an absolute wealth of information in design and it’s a good bet that I own at least one book they’ve written. Third, I use Twitter as a knowledge base. I am in higher ed, and man, those people RAWK the house. There are the edupunks (@jimgroom, @cogdog @colecamplese) and the visionaries (@opencontent @zephoria, @mwesch) and those leading the cause of social media in higher ed (@markgr, you are The Man). And then there are all the people I meet at work, on the road, at events, on the internets. Many of these people I know well, or have met and forged a friendship (you know who you are; insert @yourname here). Holy smokes they are smart. And fourth, I use Twitter as entertainment (@wilw, @TerryBorder, @FakeAPStylebook, @donttrythis) as well as many of my peeps with their own alter ego accounts. That really sums it up in a nutshell.
I am a connector. For me, people come first. Because of this, I am a high follow cost; I tweet a lot, and I respond to others within conversations. I ask questions, I comment on posts. I choose not to use punctuation to proceed @replies, because I rely on Twitter’s default position: if you follow the account to whom I am replying, you can see the tweet. If you don’t, you won’t. Honestly, I throw enough stuff out of my own that I don’t need to throw more junk into your twitterstream (okay, to me it isn’t junk, but to you it likely is. Or, you would already be following that person. Or unfollowing me. See my logic here?) There are times when my life is slow, and when that happens–or when I’m avoiding doing something else–I look at someone’s personal twitter stream to see who they are talking to. Sometimes I pick up great leads; sometimes, I’m just snooping. Either way, it gives me a peek into another thought process, and I can decide if there is value there on my own without throwing everything into the twitterstream.
Why I Might Not be Following You
I do not automatically follow everyone who chooses to follow me. (Gasp!) I know. A shocker. Honestly, I have a very loyal spambot following. But they come, then The Great Purge happens, and they depart. I do check to see if there is some connection, or else they talk to me, or they talk to people I know. Then I follow. And sometimes? Sometimes I unfollow:
- You’re a spambot
- You haven’t used your twitter account in over a year, and you obviously don’t intend to start now
- You constantly retweet someone else I’m following, without offering your own insight and value
- You’ve gotten on a soapbox that’s not my soapbox
- I’m just not that into you
Okay, anyone who is reading this, relax. You obviously aren’t on that list. But if I’ve unfollowed you, you might be on this list. I might be following you elsewhere and you just don’t realize it:
- You prefer another platform
- I’m following your rss feed
- I’m following you on someone else’s list, who obviously put greater thought into it than I did, and I hate duplicating effort.
Like Brad Ward, for example. He is Very Focused on his business, and that’s not my business. So he is off the radar (not because it is tit for tat; it really is because we don’t share enough common ground). Does that mean I can’t stand the bum? Not at all. We’re still connected on Facebook, and I’d be happy to see him at conferences, and I would certainly hope we’d hang out for at least a drink. (Dude, you’re buying the first round.) But as far as his unfollowing me is concerned, I understand. Where once the unfollow might have bothered me, it really doesn’t anymore, and for many of the same reasons Brad lists.
The more mainstream Twitter gets, the more platforms that want to connect with it. Cross-posting is great, but it can get redundant very quickly. Therefore I caution you to choose wisely, and don’t cross post everywhere. Facebook was first, but now everybody’s doing it; LinkedIn just proudly announced that it, too, has jumped on the bandwagon. I may not update that as often as I should, but I don’t view it as a truly “social” platform. Your mileage may vary. But I do think there is a value to crossposting, if you use it wisely. For example: I hate Facebook. (Gasp!) Really, I do. It’s not my preferred platform (or, in the lexicon of the great philosopher, Austin Powers, it’s not my bag, baby). However, many people want to connect with me there. So I’m there. But I don’t obsessively check Facebook like I check Twitter. Instead, for those who prefer that platform, my Facebook updates are my Twitter updates. I can easily see why someone who is more Facebook friendly–like Brad–would hate to see my tweets twice. So far it hasn’t bothered me enough to change it. If that’s where you want to follow me, so be it.
I now have an iPhone, and while I’m not followed by a zillion (okay, 3100+) people like Brad is, it can be a lot to scroll through. I totally rely on Boxcar to push any replies and direct messages to me (my CrackBerry, by the way, did this without help, and I was stunned when I discovered my iPhone needed assistance to do so). This app helps me respond to people who reach out to me while I’m on the go. In fact, several people DM me as opposed to texting, because they can be 90% certain that I’m either in arms reach of my laptop or my phone. I find this greatly amusing, but highly likely to get my attention.
I started using TweetDeck as a desktop application because I needed to create groups of people, largely for things like work, or design, or play. I know there are others that do groups — I believe Seemic and CoTweet are probably the top two. All three also do multiple twitter accounts and, while I currently don’t handle more than my personal account, I suspect that will change soon. I also create a hashtag search for any event in which I’m participating (whether live or from a distance) just so that I can follow along with the backchannel. Often times I find new people to follow, and I love this about twitter. But without the ability to search and group, I would miss much in my twitterstream because of that pesky little thing we call life. Oh yeah, and the day job. Don’t forget that.
And now we come to the latest iteration of being chosen last for 5th grade kickball. Personally I love lists. They do what I’ve been using TweetDeck for. There are times where a different focus in the day requires different groups for me to interact with. Lists are simply an extension of that thought process. The down side is that you can also see how many people have you on a list, and if you aren’t on (m)any, then you feel like me in 5th grade, because I really didn’t kick that damned ball very well. Also, people tend to think that if they have a connection on Twitter, they should be on at least one of their lists. If they don’t, hurt feelings can result. Or, worse, being on the fabled “ignore but can’t unfollow” list. Ouch. Dude, you’re doing it wrong. There’s a little thing called a privacy setting: you either make it public (all can see) or private (no one but you can see). I have slowly (too slowly, and for that I apologize in advance) been putting people into the appropriate groups so that I can better use our connections to do what I do. In my mind, everyone I am following falls into one of these lists. I know they can see them, and I know they will find themselves listed somewhere. There are also private lists. By me. For me. Not as badges of honor for others to gloat/weep over, but because these are the VIPs whose tweets I cannot afford to miss. This is the list I follow because I want/need to see any tweets from these people, not just the ones that have to do with me. In Brad’s case, it would probably be family. And his business partner. And I suspect @tsand, because he’s just that funny.
The point here, folks, is that like any other technology, Twitter is a tool. And as I like to say, use the tool, don’t be the tool. I am obviously guilty of leaping before I look and putting my foot in my mouth; I do it about once every other week. So I’m a slow learner. Unfollow me. That is your perogative. Twitter can be effective, but only if you use it in a way that works for you. And my way isn’t your way. I focus on people. You may be much more focused on using Twitter to promote your business. I’m not so focused on limiting my follows to a specific number, because I think that’s very random. Some people insist on a Certain Number of Follows. Period. That’s cool for you. It is what it is. For me, it’s about the connections. That’s the special sauce, folks (holla, @kprentiss!).
Aaaaaaand, I’m spent. So I’m off my soapbox with a shout out and thanks to Brad for being the unknowing foil to my post. I now need to go back and read the comments to his post, because I read first and immediately went into my own response before anyone else had commented. I think it’s a great topic. So in turn, I ask the same question that Brad asked on his: How do you use Twitter?