Why on earth would you want to be on Twitter?


Given the cutting-edge experience of my personal learning network (yes, you, who follow this blog and whom I’m following on various social media generally) this question seems strange, but there are many Twitter skeptics out there. It’s great! Long live the skeptics! Long live their ability to raise important questions… that is, so long as it leads to open-ended conversations… Because as much can be said in favour of Twitter as can be said against it.

So, for my skeptical friends, here’s what I have to say about Twitter:

Why you might be skeptical:

  • You haven’t tried Twitter for yourself yet – perhaps you’ve created a Twitter account but never really used it – so it doesn’t bring anything interesting in return (obviously)!
  • None of your friend or family is on it – so none of the people you trust seem to perceive any value from it, quite logically.
Twitter - sometimes unfiltered for the worst of all (credits: CarrotCreative / FlickR)

Twitter – sometimes unfiltered for the worst of all (credits: CarrotCreative / FlickR)

  • The only people you know who might be on it are the IT crew, communication specialists and a few other ‘looneys’ – people you don’t necessarily identify with.
  • You hear a lot of caution in the (traditional) media about Twitter and social media in general – this is common in France but I suspect in many other places too.
  • Most examples of Twitter use you hear about are from silly people tweeting about enjoying their tomato-mozzarella sandwich, half-brained adolescents sharing all details of their private life without any measure of decency, or celebrities glossing over their latest celeb-do’s…

Well… I can’t blame you for being skeptical. If that’s the picture you have, I share your despair for the human race.

Except that…

I personally know about the power of Twitter. I see it around me everyday (in my Twitter stream of news), I experience it every week, I’ve experienced it in various Twitter chats too. So let’s also have a look at this side of things, but first…

The basics: what you need to understand about Twitter

  • A lot of people don’t understand that social media can be used for your private life and/or your professional life. They are not one and the same, even though some half-brainers might mix the two – The Social Media Guide for Africa tried to inform readers about this.
  • Actually, I would argue that a medium like Twitter is much more adapted to professional uses (or at least to topics that might interest more than a small in-crowd), because it has a great ability to rally people around topics (as opposed to already formed social relationships).
  • The whole secret about Twitter is about following the RIGHT people. The right people to YOU. No strings attached with Twitter, no need to feel any sense of obligation towards anyone. It’s not your family email list, it’s not your University mates’ network. It’s your personal learning network. At least part of it, since other parts of your community might be in other social networks. And that personal learning network needs care, for engagement to genuinely happen.
Twitter vs. Facebook (credits: cambodia4kidsorg / FlickR)

Twitter vs. Facebook (credits: cambodia4kidsorg / FlickR)

  • So Twitter can be used to make contact with people that are interested in the similar topics as you are. It is actually described as the social network where you meet people online that you’d love to encounter face-to-face, while Facebook is the social network that allows you to get in touch face-to-face connections you’d rather have forgotten 😉
  • Like any social media, it takes time to get a handle on Twitter – and it takes practice, dedication, purpose. It’s not going to take a week, not a month but probably closer to a year of (some kind of) practice before you see REAL return on investment with more interaction, a highly relevant network, a good handle of all options, using some related Twitter tools. And in the meantime it will be a good ride still, because you’ll get a lot of relevant information.
  • You can be passive or you can be active. The latter is even better and will bring you even more benefits, but simply reading tweets can be immensely rewarding. As you can see below, a minority of Twitter users are active anyhow. It doesn’t mean they’re passive, they’re just choosing to listen.

The advantages: How can Twitter *really* help you

  • The main advantage of Twitter is that it’s a great overall filter – to sift through tons of information – because if your network is good, it brings up good, relevant stuff up to the top.

“It’s not about information overload, it’s about filter failure” (Clay Shirky)

  • Twitter is a great live reporting channel. News often breaks out more quickly there than it does on mainstream media – because it relies on mobile inputs from web-enabled knowledge workers using their phone, tablet, PC etc. to share what is happening.
  • It takes no time to go through your feed. Since every tweet is only 140 characters, every message is quickly digested. Even a flow of 100 tweets missed in the space of a few hours can be quickly scanned and ignored at will. And then it may also reveal some gems.
  • Because it’s all based on the network and it is a social network, you can really engage with the people you are following or who are following you; you can mention them, message them, have private conversations with them. You can strike partnerships, friendships or simply trusted relationships with people you have never met in real life.
  • As it has a very viral nature, it can be an excellent relay for information you come across, that you produce, that you curate etc. – so that more people can benefit from this information and experience too.
  • Against the problem of dealing with intense email flows, Twitter also allows diverting some of the traffic away from your inbox. A Twitter contact of mine shared this example of using Twitter to replace collective email lists.
  • It’s a personal record of interesting thoughts, links, information etc. which can be tracked again later (through Twitter tools like TwimeMachine and many others)… As a thought repository, it is also useful to help reflection and analysis.
  • And from my colleagues, here are a few other personal benefits:
    • “I can do a much better job of assembling high-quality people to listen to/stay in contact with (via social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, blogs, etc.) than can traditional media, who mediate that process for me”
    • “I continue to read article published in traditional media (e.g. Guardian, Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Times), but I increasingly find these great article NOT on those websites but rather by referral (aka curation) by those I follow on social media.”
    • “Serendipitous discovery in high-quality social media (where the quality is determined by the reader and who that reader follows) is infinitely higher in quality that similar discoveries available in traditional media. Where some editor is trying to put together materials for the masses. Just saying.”

And yet more from Twitter contacts:

Oh, and it must be serendipitous zeitgeist because Harold Jarche just beat me to this topic by blogging about ‘the value of Twitter‘.

The challenges: what are some of the possible limitations of Twitter

  • As any other social media, it can be overwhelming to work with Twitter at first – and it is a challenge to ‘trim’ your social network. But it’s essential because your Twitter news stream will be as good (or as bad) as your Twitter network’s relevance.
  • Finding the balance between what’s ‘tweetable’ and what’s not remains a bit of a learning exercise for all of us – and so is learning how to tweet, how to make use of the technical options of Twitter (to tweet, send direct messages etc.) – this is why it takes quite a few months to really benefit greatly from it.
  • And perhaps a question mark – I wonder if Twitter doesn’t work better for information and knowledge professionals simply because we are more likely to try it out and reach the critical mass that allows you to have good conversations. So it may be more difficult for some to use the potential of the no.2 social network.

Now what then?

Despite this post, I certainly don’t want to encourage you to use Twitter cost what cost. Really!

But on the other hand: can you afford to ignore Twitter just out of principle, without having tried it for yourself? Can you afford to ignore what could possibly be a much smarter way of working, of navigating this world of information we live in? Are you going to be the last skeptic on Earth about Twitter? Go on then, play around, reflect, inform your decision and contribute to the twittering choir about Twitter. Then, and only then are you allowed to remain skeptical – and to sharpen my mind with your challenging questions 🙂

PS. Twitter is only one of the social media channels that you might want to consider. See this presentation to give you an idea about the options with the social learning landscape anno 2013/2014…

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9 thoughts on “Why on earth would you want to be on Twitter?

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  2. Pingback: Complexia blog joins Twitter | Complexia

  3. Pingback: Networking through Twitter | nods & dots

  4. Great, Adrian, that you’re happy to try it out and inform your decision. If you decide not to use Twitter after that, fair enough, but at least you will be able to explain first hand why 😉 And if you need any advice/tips etc. feel free to contact me, or your Twitter contacts 😉

  5. Related tweets found… on Twitter of course… about the use of Twitter in development and research organisations:
    – “The role of Twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication” https://researchimpact.othree.ca/forums/journalclub/the_role_of_twitter_in_the_life_cycle_of_a_scientific_publication
    – Infographic (talking about 1/40 scientists being on Twitter – though understated):
    http://figshare.com/articles/Prevalence_and_use_of_Twitter_among_scholars/104629
    – Twitter guide for academics (2011) about using Twitter for University research, teaching and impact activities http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2011/09/29/twitter-guide/

  6. Great blog post. Twitter is a great tool to share information worldwide,easy to interaction.It has great power to enhance ppl’s participation.

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