Friday, 20 May 2011

Diary of a Twitter novice - week 6

About six weeks ago I decided I needed to figure out what is the big deal with Twitter. It seemed a strange concept to me: blurting out my thoughts to the big wide world. I was quite happy to share certain things with my facebook friends, but where was the attraction of opening it up to anyone and everyone?

So I created myself a Twitter profile, found some of my tweeting friends to 'follow', and started exploring and experimenting. Very quickly I was completely bamboozled, overwhelmed and curled in the foetal position in the corner.

Twitter is not for engineers. It is not for anyone who wants an orderly existence, where conversations are grouped neatly together in chronological order. Nor is it for introverts or shy people or people who can't see why anyone beyond family and friends would be interested in their opinion (or life).

To appreciate Twitter, you need to embrace chaos and 'go with the flow'; you need to not worry if you think you might have missed something, because you can undoubtedly live without it; you need to put yourself out there and hope for the best; you need to live in the moment.

One of the first things I did was link my wordpress blog to my Twitter feed, so that every time I post, it tweets the link. For a few weeks, that was about all I tweeted, although I had started reading tweets from the growing number of people I was following. Many of these tweeted links to interesting articles on writing, so I was starting to lose an hour or two a day just reading blogs.

Soon I wasn't game to open up my Twitter window, afraid I would get sucked into the vortex of the blog maze and never come out again. I kept wondering how people had time for Twitter? And here was I only following about 20 people -- some people follow thousands! Twitter was proving itself a goldmine of information, but did the benefits outweigh the costs?

And I still hadn't figured out what I was supposed to be tweeting. I was aware that people included keywords with hashtags (e.g. #amwriting) that would facilitate others finding like-minded tweeters or participate in conversations. (A few experimental tweets with the above hashtag saw me pick up a couple of followers.) But how did one discover what hashtags to use?

Foetal position. Corner.

Okay, so I was obviously missing something. Millions of people are addicted to Twitter. What wasn't I getting?

To be honest I haven't entirely answered this question yet. Despite being much calmer, I still find Twitter a bit daunting. But I have been reading up on Twitter tips and tricks, things to do and not do, and discussing it with other users. Here's one rather good article on the 7 deadly sins of Twitter that encapsulates the philosophy. The fundamental idea it seems, derived from all my reading, is to be cool and make new friends.

It's not about self-promotion (although you'll often read that Twitter is invaluable for promotion purposes); it's about engaging with others and adding value. You are expected to respond insightfully to tweets that interest you, even if you have no personal relationship with the tweeter; it is also perfectly acceptable to pass them on (retweeting). Somehow, apparently, by engaging with this strange cyber-community, by 'getting involved in the discussion', friends (of a sort) will materialise.

I am yet to participate in one of these discussions. It apparently involves following one of the hashtagged threads and then using it yourself to join in. As part of my Twitter exploration, it's on my agenda for next week: find a discussion and somehow participate! This week I tweeted my first response to someone I don't know (ooh, brave!). For me this engagement aspect is hugely confrontational. (I'm one of those people who finds it hard to introduce myself to people at a party.) But I'm going to give it a go!

As for my own personal tweets, I figure that if one is to treat Twitter as one almighty cyber-party, then the best approach is to aim for interesting conversation-starters!


  1. For the most part, I agree with you. But I think you can use Twitter in many different ways. You can be as active or as passive as you wish - but of course, if you are using it as a promotional tool, then of course you need to be active and put yourself out there for the world to follow.

    I think the thing is that there are very few rules with Twitter - you can do and say more or less what you like, create your own hashtags, follow whomever, tweet or not. Perhaps this is also why it is difficult to explain to others what Twitter is, as you make of it whatever you will.

  2. With regard to following, as soon as I got to about 100 people I started to get really lost. Then I discovered lists, so you can put people in a list and just see their tweets.

    This has been fantastic, now I follow over 200 people, but the list makes it easy to catch up on JUST SuperNova tweets, or JUST writer friend tweets.

    Thanks for the 7 deadly sins link as well, I think I may have sinned. Might explain why I was left behind during the Rapture yesterday.

  3. Hayley - yes, so people keep explaining to me! 'Twitter is whatever you want it to be'. I can't help thinking life was simpler before Twitter. But I reckon it would be a marvellous distraction at work!

    Nat - Yes, I think will eventually get to making lists. It took me a while to get into just following people, but I'm starting to get a bit blase about it now... although I haven't reached 40 yet.