Twitter: Call & Response
|New take on the Fail Whale|
Photo via Danilo Ramos
With regards to the first issue- lack of followers- here is what I have found. Unless you are some sort of cultural guru, or celebrity, or manage to have several of your friends also linked to you on Twitter, no one want's to hear about the boring details of your day. Facebook already facilitates a much better interface for handling the mundane minutia one encounters on this roller-coaster we call Life. In order to attain a useful set of followers, you have to engage others in meaningful discussion. Some of the first people I followed on Twitter were professionals I either knew about from reading blogs or other articles online, or they were personalities I listened to on podcasts. This gave me a good baseline on which I could expand my list of people to follow, as many of the first people provided links or retweets (more on this later) of other, interesting people who I subsequently followed. Some people have hundreds, or thousands, of people they follow on Twitter, but I've found that having around 200 well selected people provides me with plenty of content to read and digest in my stream. I have a good mix of journalists, academics, writers, some comedians, and just other regular people who make insightful observations. When one of them comments on something I find interesting, I will reply and add my own viewpoint.
Just today, I had a nice back-and-forth about what people think the 'standard' assignment of pages per week for undergraduates to read should be- not only did I find new ideas and express my own, but the professor, with whom I interacted, added me to her 'following' list. Boom- instant expansion of my academic network.
Twitter alerted me to the Egyptian Revolt, that occurred in January, far before the main media outlets had breaking stories. It also tipped me to the continuing story of Aaron Swartz and his alleged attempt to download massive amounts of academic journal articles from JSTOR. Because I follow a diverse swath of professional humanity, I receive several viewpoints from across disciplines and continents when notable events occur. Following the right people makes the experience, and usefulness, much more apparent.
With regards to the second issue- the 'Call & Response' nature of Twitter- I find that this analogy does a pretty good job of encapsulating, in a pithy way, the experience of social interaction on Twitter. Users more familiar with Facebook are probably accustomed to a more 'conversationalist' approach to social interaction. While you can certainly have back-and-forth conversations on Twitter, it is not as easy to follow as on Facebook. On the web interface, you have to go to the original 'tweet' and then expand it to see who replied. I use Tweetdeck, a Twitter client for Android/iOS devices, and it does a good job of grouping your replies and direct messages into separate columns of information you can cycle through. For larger conversations, however, I don't find Twitter as appealing- it's great to get the ball rolling, but for sustained efforts or deeper explanations other venues work much better. That's why Twitter works great for simple information questions where crowd-sourcing is appropriate. (What is a good documentary on Netflix? What articles should I read about 'issue x'?) People can then respond with their answers/recommendations, often pointing to a source online for further information.
This leads me to my second point about 'Call & Response' on Twitter- it works best when you use links to guide people to larger sources of content. Any time I write a new post for Peasant Muse, I post links to Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+. My limited experience (8 months) has shown that I receive the most 'clicks' and interaction from my Twitter crowd- far more so than people who see my link on Facebook. TNW just wrote about how link-sharing is the 'secret to success on Twitter' for commercial brands. Here is a quote from their article:
Twitter is increasingly becoming a space to share content and receive information, as opposed to a more direct platform such as Facebook, where you might just converse with friends. When we go into our Twitter stream, what we want is information and news, and we get that by streamlining the people we follow to get relevant information, mostly contained within links. Twitter is developing much more as its own news platform, competing with traditional publishers in this respect. Herein lies the biggest opportunity for brands. Instead of looking at Twitter as the place where you just try and converse with people and make friends, consider what you can give them that is going to allow them to get more out of their Twitter experience. Tweeting links to relevant articles and other content will allow people to attribute a value to you – as an important news or information source.
In 2010, when 90 million tweets were being sent per day, Evan Williams revealed that 25% of these tweets contained links. This is an incredibly high proportion of tweets being sent that contain links to external sites and it shows the importance of links to the Twitter ecosystem. Links are what we want to share on Twitter and they’re what we want to discover as well. Brands should be taking advantage of this and include it as a vital part in their Twitter marketing strategy. Of course behind this lies a complete content strategy that needs to be considered. Sharing links to interesting things online is one thing, but you’re only going to start seeing real value if this interesting content is actually on your own website and is being produced by you. Original content is what people want most of all.Again, this only makes sense as 140 characters is really not the place to have in-depth discussions- but a short statement in tandem with a link works beautifully. However, I have found some guidelines for how to construct tweets I want to be shared and even commented on. Another person on Twitter (sorry, again can't remember who said it) made the insightful remark that Twitter embraces one of the basic rules of style made famous by Strunk & White- omit needless words. When constructing a tweet with links, I often try to use far less than the standard 140 characters provided, as this allows others to 're-tweet' my link to their networks with space for their additional commentary. When people have room to add their own take, they are far more likely to re-tweet your original post. I also try to use hashtags (# = hashtag, not pound sign) when my tweet fits into a larger subject, or category, of importance. This way, people outside of my network have a greater chance of seeing my comment as Twitter allows anyone to search the ocean of tweets and hashtags make it very easy to group similar themed tweets together.
For example, if I was at a conference (like the American Historical Association, or AHA) and found or heard something interesting and worth sharing, then I would use #AHA at the end of my 'tweets'. In this way, when others search #AHA they would come across my thoughts alongside others who used the same hashtag. In effect, by using hashtags, one can extend their voice beyond that of those who follow.
Twitter is a great source to find curated information sharing. That's why I try to follow academics and cultivate my academic network, as the diverse opinions across disparate disciplines exposes me to ideas I would not normally find strictly in the study of History. New articles, blog posts, videos, viewpoints- all are shared constantly on Twitter, and while I don't find everything appealing I do find the interaction rich enough to maintain and even grow. Twitter is a great conversation starter, while Google+ is, becoming, a great place to continue the conversation.
Google+: From Laser Focus to Wide Open
Google+ is the very new kid on the social block and has brought an equal mix of Facebook imitation and social/sharing innovation to the table. I won't go into what makes Google+ the same/different than Facebook, nor will I add to the, in my opinion, useless banter over whether or not Google+ is a 'Facebook killer'. It's just far too early to make such conclusions, as the service is undergoing revisions and improvements based on user feedback. However, there are some fundamental features I feel separate it from Facebook and make the platform a potential boon to professionally minded people. The first, much talked about already, is the use of 'Circles' to sort one's social contacts. For example, I have a 'family' circle where, you guessed it, members of my family are sorted. I have a 'friends' circle for the same category of people. Yet I also have an 'academic' circle where I keep, again surprise, my academic contacts. If I find something that would generally be only of interest to my academic contacts, I can selectively share to only that 'circle'- my 'friends' and 'family' wouldn't see it unless they were also sorted into the 'academic' circle. Facebook has a listing feature, which accomplishes roughly the same thing, but Google+ gives users much more fine-grained control over who receives what information. As it says in the section heading above, with Google+ you can share information with a laser focus, targeting one person or group of people, or bring it into the wide open, by designating what you are sharing as 'public'.
|Teaching Origami via Hangouts|
Photo via rosefirerising
Now I am far from the best user of social media. But what I have tried to outline above is how I've found value in using services like Twitter and, now, Google+. What makes these tools so remarkable is that, given the short amount of time they have been on the scene, they are are already reshaping the way we share and distribute information. One of the consistent themes I touch upon in my posts on digital culture, that information is only relevant if it is circulated, is made possible by far greater numbers of people that use these new digital platforms. I highly recommend trying out these services, if only for the incredibly potential they hold in the production and distribution of information.