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Archive for February 5th, 2009

Grand Central terminal, NYC - photo by Olivier Blanchard

Forget Twitter. Twitter is completely irrelevant. What we are really talking about here is a community.

Fact: It would appear that I am completely addicted to Twitter.

Also a fact: I couldn’t care less about Twitter. Twitter is a means to an end. A tool. A platform. Nothing more.

Fact #3: What may appear to be a Twitter addiction is in fact a community addiction. Or rather a love affair with conversations, sprinkled with a penchant for establishing appropriately meaningful connections with people (many of whom I might not otherwise have the pleasure to meet or share ideas with).

So before I go any further, the distinction between the box called Twitter and the magic that goes on inside it needs to be super clear.

Right about now, you are probably asking yourself… why are we talking about Twitter? What is it with this addiction? Can we pleeeeease move on to a topic we care about? And I hear ya. I really do. But I feel compelled to clear this up once and for all if I can, with this little post. (Yeah. As if. You know me: ever the optimist.)

In truth, this post – or rather the idea behind it – came from Spike Jones’ rant this week about Twitter. Normally, Spike’s piece would have prompted a 30,000 character comment, but it occurred to me that the topic deserved its very own post. (That, and I figured that Brains On Fire’s servers would probably appreciate my not taking up 3 gig of space for nothing.)

So anyway… To understand where I am coming from with this post, go read Spike’s piece first, then come back here for further consideration on the topic. Here’s the link. Hurry back.

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Welcome back! I’m glad you took the time to read Spike’s opinions – and if you haven’t done so already, be sure to add BoF’s blog to your RSS reader or blogroll. It’s always a good read.

Now… Spike and I have grown to be good friends throughout the years, and we see eye to eye on most things. I have a lot of respect for him and the folks at BoF – who also  happen to be in the 864, by the way. So a) I don’t intend to bash anyone or trash any of his opinions here, and b) you may be surprised to hear that I actually agree with most of the things Spike brings up in his post. That being said, I have a slightly different opinion of Twitter and feel the need to come to its rescue if just a little.

Let’s go over some of what Spike brings up in his post so everyone is on the same page:

Your Twitter is not my Twitter: Ask 25 people what they use Twitter for and you’ll get 25 different answers. Some use it to keep up with friends. Some use it to find inspiration. Some to find knowledge. Some for mindless thoughts. Some just for fun. And some for none of the above.

Absolutely.

Twitter is not a popularity contest: It’s SO EASY to get caught up in the “number of followers” game. Addictive, even. But who really cares? It’s not about how many people you can get to follow you. Any monkey (or bot) for that matter, can go out and follow 10,000 people and mindlessly they’ll get 4,000 followers back. It’s quality – not quantity.

Again. Right on.

If you’re on Twitter all day long, I really start to wonder how you get your job done. Seriously. If you’re updating 45 times an hour, I’m thinking to myself, “Doesn’t this guy have a job?” Or if you’re constantly Tweeting after hours I’m thinking, “Doesn’t this guy have a family?”

That’s fair. As a Twitter power user, I get those kinds of questions often. Truly being on Twitter all day long is pretty-much impossible unless you are a) jobless, b) hopelessly addicted, c) wealthy enough to hire folks to tweet for you, and/or d) paid to tweet.

The next best thing to being plugged in to the Twitter stream 24/7 is to use a service like TweetDeck (or even Radian6) that notifies you when someone addresses a tweet to you directly or talks about something you are interested in. Kind of like IM or an email. Same thing. Also, categorizing key tweeps in specific groups helps you filter content in a snap. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to integrate Twitter into your multitasking routine. Everyone has a method. It may not seem like it, but I sometimes go a day or two without tweeting if I am busy. Lately, I have settled into a schedule that severely limits my access to Twitter until mid-afternoon. Being self-employed helps. Having a plan and knowing how to manage a schedule/workload well helps even more. Being able to filter Twitter conversations quickly (with the help of TweetDeck) can also mean the difference between a day wasted on Twitter and a healthy balance of work and insightful conversations.

The key is finding a balance that works for you. That balance is different from person to person. Some people watch TV. Others read. Others do crossword puzzles or play World of Warcraft. And some do it all with twitter streaming in the background. As a guy with a crazy schedule, a job that doesn’t stop at 5pm or on Friday, a triathlon training regimen AND a family, I still manage to blend Twitter into the mix without it getting in the way, so it can be done. 😉

Twitter isn’t for everyone or every comany. There are people running around literally badgering companies, politicians and whomever will listen that they should be on Twitter. First of all, companies need a strategy before they are on Twitter and secondly, it just doesn’t make sense for some companies to be on there – because their customers aren’t on there. So whenever someone tells you that they are a Twitter expert you have two options: 1) Laugh your ass off or 2) smile politely, turn and walk away.

True: Twitter isn’t for everyone or every company. But rememberwhat I startedthis post with? The whole twitter is just a box and the real value is in the community thing? Yeah. That. Forget Twitter for a second. Forget the very name, and look at it as a community. Heck, look at it as overlapping microcommunities, even. When I look at Twitter, I see mothers, fathers, bakers, auto mechanics, CEOs, CMO’s, recruiters, teachers, military folks, graphic designers, dog lovers, athletes, foodies, musicians, restaurateurs, web developers, students, doctors, etc. Ergo: I see people.

No wait… I see people talking to other people. I see people making friends. Sharing ideas. Recommending products. Asking questions. Answering them. I see people helping each other. I see people creating value for themselves and for others.

In my very humble but professional opinion, there is TREMENDOUS value in that.  And as Twitter continues to grow in popularity and usage (let’s not forget that Twitter is also a mobile phone app, not just a computer app), that value will grow exponentially.

Now… if you look at Twitter purely as a channel – like YouTube, NBC, a blog or a specific NING community, you’re right. At little more than a million active users, Twitter is a pretty low ROI channel. Most people aren’t on it yet, so Twitter’s reach is still way too small to matter. True.

If you look at it that way, then yes: Anyone preaching Twitter to companies may seem like a lunatic or a fraud.

But remember: Quality over quantity. Meaningful over transitory. Personal connections over automated customer service processes. For a great example, look at what Jet Blue is doing with Twitter (sample tweets from the @jetblue stream):

@foodmomiac head to the North concourse at T5 – it tends to be a bit quieter over there for phone calls.

Travel Tip Tuesday: Slip on shoes make the trip through TSA faster – and it’s good to stretch your feet on a long flight.

Winter weather in the Northeast may cause delays or cancellations. For your flight’s status, go to http://www.jetblue.com/flig…

@shaxxon Sorry but you may still need to set your DVR – We’ve got 36 channels of @DIRECTV but ABC isn’t one of them.

Yes @danwebbage. Daily flights between JFK and Montego Bay, Jamaica begin May 21st. I may need to do a “work trip” for onsite coverage!

@Jonnelle Have no fear, we’ll continue complimentary snacks and beverages. These options are for those who want something more substantial

@gregverdino When were your flights? – we are waiving change fees for customers traveling through NY Metro area tomorrow: http://is.gd/Pjg

Travel Tip Tuesday: Beware of viral WiFi SSIDs. If you see “Jet Blue hot spot” not “JetBlue Hotspot” check further http://is.gd/hocL

@alexsteed what flight number? – follow us and I can get back to you with info.

@sarahbuhr Travel destination packages you ask? Take a gander at our Getaways: http://jetblue.com/getaways

Any Pittsburgh folks thinking about a trip to Tampa? Just for you we’ve got a direct PIT-TPA on Jan 29th and 30th and two back on Feb 2nd

@schvin Unless acting as a documented service animal, pets must be fit in a carrier with combined weight less than 20lbs http://is.gd/fI3x

How cool is that: Jet Blue essentially uses Twitter as a free concierge service. And a friendly one at that. This is an airline, for crying outloud. An airline!!! 😀 If even an airline can figure out how to enhance their customers’ experience with twitter, surely a retailer can. Or a restaurant. Or a car rental company. Or a realtor. Or a politician. Or a hospital system.

We’re only scratching the surface here.

The beauty of Twitter is that it is a) 100% opt-in and opt-out, and b) an all-purpose destination: a) We use it on our terms if and when we want to, from any device – portable or not. b) Twitter is Twitter. I don’t have to look for a website or a blog. I don’t have to hunt down the right url or rss. I dont have to search or click through a menu to find the right page. It’s simple. It does all the work for me. It’s a single destination for every topic or type of connection. Just follow whomever you want, let it do all the work, and engage at will.

And unlike most websites and toll-free numbers, a) the person on the other end responds pretty quickly, and b) they usually aren’t outsourced. There’s something to be said for that on both counts.

Twitter and Politics

Now… to address Spike’s question about whether or not politicians should use Twitter, again, let’s erase Twitter from the thought process: The real question is should politicians engage in live conversations with the people they represent? (Regardless of the medium, platform or tool.) In my opinion, yes. Absolutely. Is Twitter the most appropriate tool for the job? Maybe not. But used in concert with other tools, yes, Twitter can be extremely effective – not only around election time, but every day – or every week – as time permits and the situation demands. Ultimately, the level of involvement a politician has with their constituents is their choice. I can only voice a personal opinion on the matter. I won’t make a judgment call on that one. I certainly won’t fault anyone who supports the creation of new (and direct) avenues of communications between public officials and voters who expect to have their representative’s ear.

Influence, reach and rankings

And last but not least:

The other tangent on this is TwitterGrader and the rest of those “graders” – they’re gimmicks people. If you’re goal is to be in the top 10 in the city, state, nation or world on TwitterGrader, you have my sympathies.

Awwww. Come on Spike. 😀

There are graders for everything. AdAge has its Power 150. Mack Collier’s Viral Garden has its Top 25 list. Technorati ranks blogs by category also. Everywhere you turn is some kind of ranking system. A Top 10 list. A Top 25 or 50 or 100 list. It’s human nature to a) be competitive, and also to gauge everything’s relevance through popularity contests.

Is Britney Spears more relevant than you or I because she has over 13,000 followers on Twitter? I don’t know. I guess to those 13,000+ people, she is. You and I may not like it, but it’s a fact that popularity and relevance are subjective.

In the eye of the beholder, as one might say.

Regardless of the quality of your content, reach does equal influence. If I can reach 3,000 people daily with my advice, then 5,000 is better. Not because of latent ego trips, but because I reallywant to try and help (influence, if you will) as many people in the business world as I can.

Likewise, if growing my crowdsourcing pool to 2,000 people helps me find twenty great sources of information or insight daily, then perhaps increasing that pool to 3,000 people will speed up the process. There is value in that for me, and I have adequate filters in place that allow me to sift through that much info without getting a headache over it.

Whether we like it or not, being ranked in the Top 10, 25, 50 or 100 in any category can be a powerful thing. False humility aside, it does feel good to discover that you are ranked somehow, somewhere. It generally means that a number of people find value in what you are doing, and that always feels good. Beyond the pat on the back thing, it’s also a peer-based validation of your contribution, performance or value. Nothing wrong with that either. From a more pragmatic standpoint, being #1 or in the Top 100 in your city, state, country – or in the world can help validate your position in an industry or authority on a topic. (I said help validate. Popularity or rankings are not an indication of anything on their own.) Still, for businesses and consultants, that sort of thing can make a huge difference.

Just like I don’t see anything wrong with folks training hard to make their way into the top 10 in their age group at a local triathlon, I don’t see anything wrong with people working hard to boost their Twitter rankings. If that’s their trip, why not? I see no harm in it. In a way – depending on why they use Twitter – learning how to increase their relevance and influence there could be a good thing, right? Kind of like boosting website rankings with search engines, driving traffic to a blog or driving attendance to a conference? When you take a step back, it’s really all the same thing. If someone just wants to use Twitter to chat with people, great. If part of their goal is to increase their relevance with a certain portion of the Twittersphere, that’s great too. To each their own.

What’s to ‘get’ of not to ‘get’?

If folks don’t “get” Twitter, that’s okay. Months ago, I tried to get my brother to start using Twitter so I could feel closer to him. I figured that if he tweeted about going to the market or watching a soccer game on TV or working on a website, I wouldn’t feel like he was so far away. (He lives on Reunion island, so we don’t see each other very often.) His response after he took a look at Twitter was “Why would I want the world to know every time I take a crap?”

Clearly, he wasn’t in a frame of mind conducive to a rewarding Twitter experience. (It’s okay, we still have Skype.) The point being that he doesn’t “get” Twitter, and that’s okay. My parents aren’t on Twitter either. Neither are most people I know. No big deal. To me, it’s like people who don’t see the point of ever watching a Star Wars or James Bond movie. They just don’t see the value of it, and I guess I just have to shrug and let them live their lives the way they want to live their lives. Are they missing much? Maybe. Maybe not. Who am I to say?

With some of these folks, it’s a non-issue. With others, it becomes part of who they are: A sort of badge of honor. Not having ever seen a Bond flick is something that becomes more than just… not having seen a Bond flick. It’s a line in the sand. I know people who absolutely refuse to walk into a Starbucks or get behind the wheel of a Ford or leave the United States. My mother refuses to learn how to use email. One of my neighbors thinks that computers and the internet are a complete waste of time. I know a guy who swears that he will never own a cell phone. Okay. Who cares. Your life, your rules, right?

Over time, some of these people’s attitudes eventually shift from being neutral about their opt-out strategy to being negative and critical about the cultural object they refuse to participate in – probably in an attempt to defend or validate their decision. I don’t get it, but it’s okay. The beauty of it is, I don’t have to get it. It’s just the way it is and I am 100% okay with that. Not everyone gets Twitter. Not everyone wants to see a Bond flick. Not everyone wants to own a computer or eat grilled fish or travel to Europe. I shrug and move on. It doesn’t make people any less intelligent, relevant or worth hanging out with. Our differences shouldn’t divide us after all.

Just like some people scratch their heads when they see runners or cyclists glide by on a Saturday morning, some people look at Twitter with an equal measure of curious amusement and annoyance: What’s the point. Where’s the value. Why would you waste time chatting to strangers on Twitter. Don’t you have better things to do. How in the world can something like this help a business. Why would I want the world to know everything I do. I guess if you have to ask, don’t worry about it. If you don’t see the value in it, don’t force it. Nothing says that you have to use Twitter or be on Facebook or LinkedIn. Who cares? If you don’t feel that it’s for you, it’s okay. Really. We won’t hold it against you. It won’t make you uncool or anything. Different strokes for different folks.

Those of us who do get it however, those of us who see the potential, who have been creating conversations and engaging with (and in some cases building) communities will continue to use Twitter to connect people with one another – and to establish these connections for ourselves in the process. We will continue to expand each other’s networks, brain trusts and talent banks. You can frown at us, scoff at us, even shake your fingers at what may seem like bizarre behavior sometimes, but the simple fact is that we of the Twitter world are simply connectors: We create connections between people, businesses, ideas, skills and value sets. It’s part of the way we operate. We were doing it before Twitter (BT) and we will still be doing it (hopefully better) long after Twitter is but a faint memory (AT).

I’ve already rambled way too much, but if you will allow me one last bit of wisdom/advice/commentary/wrap-up, here it is: Don’t get sucked into conversations about tools and platforms and apps. What we are really talking about here is people talking and connecting with people. Twitter in comparison is absolutely, completely, utterly irrelevant to the conversation. Don’t get sucked into Twitter sucks vs. Twitter rocks argument. We might as well be arguing over the color of the microphones used by the United Nations. Totally worthless. Let’s try and move beyond that.

For another take on the subject, check out Doug Cone’s piece on this very topic – also prompted by Spike’s post. Check it out here.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

PS: Spike, nothing but love, brother. I’m buying the next round. ;D

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