I’ve been following the NYC public advocate race for the past few weeks, and noticed a while ago that all of the candidates are on Twitter. As I started following each of them, it became clear that they might not understand the full potential of social media and networking, because most of their tweets have been one-way broadcast tweets–posting how they feel about an issue, where they’re speaking that night, etc.
I griped a little yesterday about this, and Elana over at Wellstone Action asked me what advice I’d give candidates running for office. Here’s a quick, handy-dandy list of pointers for candidates, from the position of a voter:
In short, act like a normal person who cares about the people around them, because we know you do!
Note: Bill de Blasio was the only public advocate candidate who responded to my gripe, and he gets extra Twitter points for both that and at least retweeting people once in a while. Go Bill!
I had the immense pleasure of spending most of the week in Toronto, training about 90 people on the ins and outs of all things social tech. It was an honor to join the other trainers, real rockstars of both American and Canadian social tech for social good worlds: Beka Economopoulos, Cheryl Contee, Roz Lemieux, Jason Mogus, Sam Dorman, Phillip Djwa, Darrell Houle, Samer Rabadi, Eric Squair, Tim Walker, Julia Watson… man, I felt smarter just hanging out with these peeps all week.
Here’s some links to the presentations and workshops that I led and co-led all week; thanks to the participants who took killer notes. There’s tons of incredible info on, and being added to, this wiki, so check back often:
As more people are jumping into the social media river, many are wondering what they should share online — specifically, where are the boundaries between personal and professional behavior in this brave new world, where we’re all able to peek into the windows of our friends, family and coworkers.
I talked in pretty simple terms about some different approaches in “The non-fanatical beginner’s guide to Twitter.” With this post, I’m going to flesh out some of the nitty gritty and help to answer some of the tougher questions.
It used to be said with one of the very first popular online social tools — email — that you shouldn’t write anything in a message that you wouldn’t want to appear in the New York Times. Few people ever followed that rule, thank goodness. How boring would our lives be if we all subjected ourselves to Grey Lady standards of information sharing?
Nowadays, new tools make it easier to share as much of ourselves as we want, and especially if you’re just getting going, it can be difficult to know what’s okay to post and what isn’t. A flat-out easy beginner’s guidepost comes from the illustrious Susan Mernit, who told participants in a workshop we led: “If you’re wondering whether you should post something or not, you probably shouldn’t.”
The genesis of this proverb comes from a key principle of social media: Authenticity is king. That word is being thrown around quite a bit these days (“authenticity,” not “king,” heh).† Social media “gurus” and “mavens” often slip “authenticity” into smarmy marketing posts. Ignore them. They are not the guides you are looking for. But authenticity is.
First of all, let’s make it clear that despite technology’s best efforts, we still have multiple authentic selves. We are the same person, for sure, at work and at home, but the mix of personality components we use is at least a little bit different in each setting. Social media makes the mix slightly more transparent, thus we have to think more about which parts we present, as well as when and how. But just like our personalities in the offline world, it’s those different parts that make us unique — and our perspective and experiences interesting.
One of my cousins, who’s a therapist in D.C., told me recently about a model of thinking about intimacy in relationships as a stereo equalizer, where things like reliability, trust, availability, etc., are the main components. Skew one of those bands outta whack, and the whole mix is off.
Social media authenticity works much the same way. It’s a mix of personal insights, professional announcements, expertise (whether it’s a job or a hobby), general passion, lots of opinion, and often humor. (Question to advanced users: What other bands would you add to the equalizer?) It takes some experimentation to figure out what mix sounds right to you. This is why Susan’s advice is so dead-on: What you perceive to be good, what you feel comfortable with, that’s what people will pick up on as they share in your experiences. For people who are largely private folks who don’t want to tell the world about the silly stuff their kid just did, that’s fine. Share more about what you thought when you read an article related to your work. It also doesn’t have to be your most familiar voice, either, if that doesn’t make you feel comfortable. You can maintain a fairly professional tone in social media (though do try not to be emotionless) and still provide value.
It’s all about the mix that’s going to make your voice sound good — to you and others.
For some people, it’s easy to share personal news and events. Me, I have no bones about tweeting funny things my mom says, details of a party I’m at, or (loads of) pictures of my dog. It’s a way for me to keep a running log of things that are important to me. That said, my guidepost is to not share things that would make me feel vulnerable, like details of my dating life. I share things once in a while about my health, either to reach out for help or to show solidarity with others, but I consciously keep it to a minimum … simply because that’s what feels right to me.
The experimentation can be uncomfortable to start with, but know that it’s okay to make mistakes here and there; social media is quite a bit more forgiving than more traditional forms of media (and I would say, also more forgiving than blogging). Worried about it all being Out There? Jaclyn Friedman made a great point recently in a workshop I was leading about how our perception of social media is rapidly changing, similar to how our perception of tattoos has changed in the last 50 years. Think about the attitudes toward a person who got a tattoo in 1959, versus attitudes now. It’s the same with social media. Ten years ago, someone getting a swig of TMI via Google might have had an adverse reaction, versus today, when seeing something a little off-topic in a Twitter stream is no big whoop.
That said, I do want to mention that there are some folks in jobs where more attention needs to be paid to privacy and security (you know who you are). There are different parameters to work with when establishing your mix, but you shouldn’t keep yourself out of social media altogether. Almost all of us are, in some way, already represented online. Social media sites generally appear within the top 10 search results; you should do your best to influence how you appear, even if it’s to show that you’re largely a very private person.
In a really big picture sense, I see all of our social media voices combining into this huge, glorious mix that has a real chance to change our cultural perceptions and values. (Note: this is the premise of the book I’m writing this summer for Berrett-Koehler.) All of this social technology has a humanizing effect on our digital interactions. Much like everyone getting tattoos, if we’re all presenting our authentic selves and experiences — versus relying on gatekeepers to tell our stories — we stand a chance to cause a tidal wave of change and inject our values, finally, into a culture that has long ignored too many of our experiences.
(This is part 2 of a chicken-‘n’-egg series explaining the usefulness of Twitter. If you get what Twitter is, but need help getting started, you might want to look at “A non-fanatical beginner’s guide to Twitter.“)
I’m tapping away furiously on my Blackberry as a friend arrives to join me for coffee. “Whatcha working on?” he asks.
“Just updating my Twitter,” I say. “Two secs.”
“Twitter, huh? I just don’t get it, I guess.”
“Oh, my. Allow me to get you to ‘get’ it, my friend.”
This is a conversation I have often, and while it might make some diehard Twitterers cringe, I relish this moment to expound and explain this little phenomenon that’s happening around Twitter and services like it. I’ve clearly drunk the Kool-Aid of the micro-blogging revolution, and I’d love to walk you through some of the ways people are enjoying it.
Twitter is a service that functions like a giant bulletin board where anyone can stick a short note — 140 characters or less. These posts are called “tweets.” You can choose to read other people’s tweets (called “following” them), and other people can choose to read yours (these are your “followers”). Some people choose to keep their tweets private, and approve each request to be “followed.”
The most basic way to use Twitter is via the website, where a list of everyone’s tweets appears once you log in.† If you belong to Facebook, it’s similar to the home screen there (aka, the “news feed”)– which features a list of your friends’ recent activities. The main difference between the two services is that while all your friends’ activities appear in your news feed (though this is tweakable; another post on that another day), only people you choose to follow appear in your Twitter feed.
There are two main groups of twitterers, and I want to address them separately — individuals tweeting on their own behalf, and organizations and business who are on Twitter. There’s some overlap, for sure, but have their own ends for which Twitter is the means.
Or purr, if that’s the case. Many people are on Twitter for some pretty basic reasons:
Sure, you can push out information all you want, but there are a lot of other ways for organizations to connect with their constiuencies:
This is one of my favorite, illustrative moments in for how Twitter humanizes our digital interactions: Last fall, I was visiting my parents after participating at a media symposium at Ithaca College. My mother knows I have a thing for shoes, so while we were shopping, she decided to mess with me. We were at a store with rows and rows of discounted awesomeness, and she called across several aisles, “Come look at these! Should I get them?”
I was greeted by a blinding set of cream-colored, bejeweled, pointy-toed, gold-stilletoed boots on my fashion-conservative mother. We fell over with laughter, and I sent this picture to Twitter with the question, “Should my mom buy these boots?” (Best response came from @rit, who said, “That depends. Is your mother Dolly Parton?”)
A few days later, I was on the phone with Pete Leyden to discuss a potential project. We played phone tag for a few days while I was traveling, and I was excited to finally hear what the project was about. “Before I get into it, though,” Pete said, “I need to know: Did your mom buy the boots?”
It was one of those moments that allowed this entirely personal — but not necessarily intimate or vulnerable — connection between me and a potential client. We had a great laugh over it. Following me on Twitter gave him a fairly rounded picture of the type of person I am, and it let me know that he’s appreciative of the level of silliness that often invades my brain. It humanized each of us in what otherwise is a connection governed entirely by ones and zeros.
Attention, Twitterati: what else is there? Tell me why you Twitter in the comments. Two great resources that I’d like to share before we go:
Later this week, I’ll† follow up with a post on the big picture of Twitter, and what it ultimately all means. See you then!
(If you’re not sure what Twitter is, or why you should consider Twittering, check out “Why Twitter, anyways?“)
Edited 1/3/2010 to include updates to Twitter interface over the past few months.
Note 11/9/2010: This was written/edited/updated before Twitter’s redesign in September 2010. I’m hoping to update certain bits in the coming months, but for now, know that some references to the interface might not make so much sense. Sorry!
Edited 4/21/2012. Phew, finally. Twitter has been changing things so often that I sort of abandoned all hope, heh. But I think I’ve caught all of the new interface references and adjusted things in this guide.
Edited 3/2014. Yeah, the madness continues!¬†
Thanks to a bunch of mainstream media coverage, a lot of folks around me are becoming more interested in participating in the Twitterverse. “All right, all right,” they say. “You’ve convinced me. But how do I get started?” It’s almost like walking into a giant party for the first time: You’re not sure where your friends are, the bar is on the other side of the room, and the bathrooms are anyone’s guess. Allow me to be your party guide.
Sure, sure, you could also just Google “beginner’s guide to Twitter” and read a any number of other guides that have been written. Problem is, I feel like most of them focus on two niches: how to be a fanatical Twitterer, and/or how to be a really obnoxiously popular Twitterer. What I’m aiming for here is more for people who want to experiment a little and connect with other folks on a pretty direct level. We’ll talk later about different ways you can participate, but for now, let’s just get the basics down.
First, it’s good if you can get some of the lingo down before jumping it. Pretend you’re visiting a foreign country where you don’t speak the language– there are always a few basic phrases you want to have in your back pocket.
OK, you’ve got your phrasebook, now it’s time to wade in. Let’s start with the technical aspect of finding people to follow. Twitter should have taken you through a process when you signed up– where it asked you to scan your contacts or other networks that you belong to. But just in case you skipped this, I’ll show you how you can return to this screen.
On the left side of the screen, the second block down shows you suggested users to follow. Click on “Find friends” in that block.” You’ll have the option of scanning your other address books;¬†Twitter lets you choose who you want to follow from the list of people that it finds. It also recommends that you invite everyone else not on Twitter, but you can definitely skip that. (Please — it’s considered spam!)
Consider looking for Twitter folk who you don’t already know, but who you might find interesting. The most effective way is often the organic way: Watch your friends’ mentions of other users you don’t know. Click on those names. Scan through their tweets. Find them interesting? Follow.
Also, ¬†pay attention to certain hashtags on certain days, particularly #FF¬†(which stands for Follow Friday: every Friday, people tweet lists of their favorite folks on Twitter), and others in specific topic areas, like¬†
“But how will others know if I’m on Twitter?”
Well, you might want to start by telling them. You could go old school and send an email to people you think might be interested, though not that many people do it. I added my Twitter page to my email signature as a subtle way of “announcing” it. Note that the people you choose to follow likely have their profiles set to get an email or other alert every time someone new follows them, so you don’t have to tell them. You can also post a note to your Facebook profile, if you have one, telling folks that you’re tweeting.
Update: Two other points made to me about making sure people can find you:
One of the best things about using Twitter is that it’s available from any number of devices. You can read and post on the Twitter website, sure, but you can also set up your cellphone to be able to send and receive messages — go to Settings –> Devices to see how to do that. (Update 3/2014: I don’t think many folks do this anymore, because it’s pretty overwhelming.)
You can also download any number of applications to use Twitter on your smartphone– Twitter’s own apps for each platform are excellent. The other platforms — Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, etc. — all have mobile apps, too.¬†What’s your favorite Twitter app? Leave it in the comments.
You can also keep your tweets private. In the Settings page, at the bottom, there’s a checkbox that reads “Protect my updates.” Select this if you only want people you approve to read your updates.
Another thing to consider is that you can have your tweets also update your Facebook status. Most folks are split on whether this is a good idea or not; I’m a more the merrier kinda grrl, so mine are hooked up. You can do this by adding the Twitter app to your profile and adjusting your settings there. Or check out the¬†Ping.fm service. This bad boy updates all of your social networks at once, using whatever type of communication you’re most comfortable with. Last, there’s another app for Facebook that lets you selectively post from Twitter– it’s conveniently called “Selective Twitter.” (Update: 3/2014: Don’t do this. Just don’t. Each platform has its own dialect and crossing the streams just makes life uncomfortable for many.)
There are also tons of applications that you can download for your computer, but that’s a whole ‘nuther post on its own. Currently, the most popular apps seem to be Tweetdeck¬†and Hootsuite. I personally use Twitter for Mac; it’s simple, clean native interface is lovely.
Well, just about anything, really. Okay, we’re probably not going to be interested in your belly button lint… but here are some methodologies you can try out:
One of the biggest things to keep in mind about Twitter is that it’s a conversation. I generally dissuade my fellow Twitter gurus from making blanket statements on how to use Twitter, but it’s clear at this point that one of the joys most everyone gets out of it is talking to one another. Reply often (remember your vocab? the @ symbol is your friend!) to your followers and people you follow. Twitter is a two way street, with many, many lanes going both directions.
Which is another thing that I want to stress: Twitter isn’t actually as much about you saying things as it is about you listening to others. It’s one of the best listening devices out there right now, and listening is something we culturally don’t do enough of. Social media are changing that.
Stop following them.
No, really. If people are irritating, or tweeting so much that your stream/feed is overwhelmed and you’re missing other stuff you find more interesting, stop following those people. It’s okay. Consider adding them to a list, manually check their pages every once in a while, or friend them on Facebook to follow their updates there, if you want. Or just walk away altogether.
In closing, there are a few final wrap-up points:
I’d love to hear from folks who are just starting out with Twitter: Does this clear anything up for you? Did I miss anything? And you hardened veterans out there, of course feel free to leave your $.02 in the comments as well.