Saturday, 21 February 2009
I have been meaning to write a blog post about Twitter since the beginning of Feb. I even got as far as making a few notes and doing a bit of reading around, but somehow work and life over took me and I just didn’t get any further…
But having woken up inexplicably early this Saturday morning I find myself with a few rare moments of spare time and thought I would grab the opportunity to write a blog post…
I thought I should write a blog about Twitter, especially since it is very much in the news at the moment and a certain buzz surrounds this latest Web 2.0 phenomenon.
So, Let's Start With The Basics - What is Twitter?
According to Wikipedia Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as Tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter)
I think that I agree with this as a factual definition of the tool, but as with all tools, what makes it interesting is what you do with it and how you use it.
What is Twitter For?
The answer to this question is more subjective, but I thought a good place to start would be to ask my peers on Twitter for their thoughts:
RESEARCH: What is Twitter for? A business tool, self/company promotion, Socializing, making friends, Water Cooler, research, news...????
I received some interesting feedback, but two responses in particular struck a chord with me and are representative of the way in which I use Twitter.
jamesward @GeorgiaBrown Twitter is for all of those, but for me, mostly a network of professional peers, many of whom I wouldn't meet otherwise.
monicatailor @GeorgiaBrown ditto @jamesward 's reply and I find the relationships are stronger because there's more interaction
For me Twitter represents a community of peers with whom I can communicate, share my thoughts and ideas, ask questions and receive help, support or feedback. I tend to follow those with whom I share a common interest, but within the context of the Twitter community this has tended to revolve around technology and therefore I find myself surrounded by a community of professional peers.
So, What Should I Tweet and Why?
To the newcomer I believe the first thought is ‘What the heck (or some other more !*$!?@! type of word) is going on here!!?!??’, followed by ‘Oh, I get it!! This is just like Facebook’s “status” functionality’. In my opinion there is a common misconception that Twitter is all about ‘presence’, i.e. publicising what I am doing now and where am I doing it. These type of updates do play a role in the twitter community, but beware Twitter is PUBLIC, you are not broadcasting to a select (or even not-so-select) number of friends that you have chosen, with Twitter your audience is GLOBAL! So think carefully, do you really want the world and his wife knowing what you are up to on a drunken night out, or even that you are off on holiday and that your house is empty!!?
Twitter’s setup enables you to share whatever content you like with the world at large and receive comment and feedback on that content. If people like what you say they will ‘Follow’ your Twitter feed. However in my opinion the fun really starts when you start to Follow other people who have something to say that you are interested in and so a community with common interests begins to take shape.
So, What Do I Use Twitter For?
I like to use Twitter to share information I find interesting or useful in the hope that others will benefit. For example I recently did a quick bit of research on the best buy pay-as-you-go 3G mobile broadband dongle. I took notes on my Blackberry using Twitterberry and published my findings as I went. I got loads of good hints, tips and feedback from my peers and I was able to refer back to my notes before making my ultimate choice and purchase.
I also like to use Twitter as a micro-blogging tool, in the past when I attended events I used to take copious notes (I guess this is just something that is in my nature), anyway when I started blogging I found that it was useful for me to write these notes up and share them with others who had an interest in the event or the subject matter. However, this can be time consuming and often other work/personal commitments wouldn’t permit me the opportunity to do this in a timely manner. I realise that when reporting on events we are increasing expecting content to be delivered immediately and so it was a logical move for me to use Twitter to report live from events. I have had some excellent feedback on my initial experiments and I continue to refine my methods.
There are many opportunities to use Twitter for marketing and promotion, many feel that it has become one of the most important and effective business tools available. However, I think that there is an increasing and evolving movement on Twitter to discourage shameless and unrelenting self-promotion, I would suggest that whatever you use Twitter for that you are clear about your purpose. If you want to point people at your latest post, ask a question or provoke a reaction, then that is fine, but be upfront about what it is you are saying/promoting/asking. If you want to talk about the progress of your business, products or services, then set up an account for that purpose (we have setup twitter.com/phonefromhere), if people are interested in this content then they will follow you. Clearly marking or flagging content makes it easier for your followers to filter out the parts that don’t interest them and more importantly pick out the bits that do!
If you are using a personal account, think about whom you are presenting, and the image you wish to portray. It may be that an avatar or onscreen identity would suit you better than your real name and photo. I want to use my Twitter account to talk to and converse with a community of my peers, raise awareness of who I am and what I do, but ultimately I am looking to develop a network of professional peers. Therefore it is important to me that my identity translates from online to offline and for this reason I use my own name and picture (twitter.com/georgiabrown).
Where is Twitter Going?
Twitter is becoming increasingly mainstream:
“Twitter has been used as a "social justice tool" to connect groups of people in critical situations. On April 10 2008, James Buck, a graduate journalism student at UC Berkeley, and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested in Egypt for photographing an anti-government protest. On his way to the police station Buck used his mobile phone to send the message “Arrested” to his 48 "followers" on Twitter. Those contacted UC Berkeley, the US Embassy in Cairo, and a number of press organizations on his behalf. Buck was able to send updates about his condition to his "followers" while being detained. He was released the next day from the Mahalla jail after the college hired a lawyer for him.”
“In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Janis Krum, a passenger on one of the ferries that rushed to help, took a picture of the downed plane as passengers were still evacuating and tweeted it via TwitPic traditional media arrived at the scene.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter)
There are some great Twitter applications out there and more to come is my guess; some are designed to help you use Twitter more efficiently, including TweetDeck, Twitterrific and Twitterberry. Others are designed to add functionality and enable us to make the most out of the service, including TwitPic and Tweetertags. Finally there are those mashups designed purely to help us enjoy the fruits of our labour such as Twittervision.
You can also follow an increasing number of celebrities, Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross have been dedicated Twitter users for a long time and now you can even follow the PM (twitter.com/downingstreet)!!
Twitter – There Goes The Neighbourhood!!!??
Unfortunately I feel that the Twitter crowd is changing, the influx of celebrities such as Chris Moyles, Radio1 DJ and singer Lilly Allen brings with them a new era of Twitter. The phrase “Life Imitates Art” springs to mind… in our media hungry culture ‘the masses’ hang on to every word of those labelled celebrity, they follow every detail of their lives all widely documented in the press.
Could it be that Twitter is morphing into an online version of Heat or OK magazine… As the celebrities flock to Twitter to publicize their latest show, song or even fund raising campaign, they build upon their public profile, develop their ‘brand’ and popularity and so the masses come to ‘Follow’ their every Tweet!
That is all fine of course, but my question would be what does it contribute to the community? For me it has created a lot of ‘noise’ on Twitter, which has made it harder to pick out the content of real value and worth to me. Is it time to move on?