A few things I’ve learned about Twitter

Twitter can get you discounts/deals/help: All you have to do is ask in some cases. Even yesterday, a person I follow was tweeting about how mad she was that her airline wouldn’t answer the phone and she was stranded at the airport thanks to the blizzard in Boston. But because she tweeted these messages and included @jetblue, the airline responded and helped her reschedule her flight. How do I know? She later tweeted that the airline had helped her and without Twitter, she’d have been stuck.

There are probably thousands of similar stories out there with social-savvy brands, but it was pretty neat to see it in action. Not every brand can respond to individual customers in that manner, but when it does happen it’s refreshing.

Strangers are generally more interesting on Twitter than the actual people I know who use the service: (Note: I’m guessing the feeling is probably mutual anyway…)

It’s a strange phenomenon; maybe it’s a touch of digital voyeurism, but I find myself much more interested in the tweets of people I’ve never actually met, especially when I have something in common with them.

Maybe they’re professionals in the same industry from a different city, or perhaps they’re just randoms I follow because I stumbled upon their feed and found them intriguing. Whatever the reason, Twitter opens a window into the world of others that is unique, and would otherwise be unavailable.

While there’s something creepy about getting Facebooked by people you don’t know (and sometimes, even by those you do know, tangentially or otherwise), Twitter seems to encourage the behavior and it doesn’t feel strange at all have hundreds of people you’ve never met reading your thoughts.

I’m also fascinated by who other people follow, and who people I actually know follow: Part of the power of Twitter is using your contacts to expand your network. I’ll frequently raid the “following” list of people I follow to find new folks to follow. I’ll presume the same has been done to me, and will become more frequent as my following and influence grows.

You need to have (at least) two Twitter accounts: It’s true for several reasons, the most important being that your public Twitter persona is far too valuable, and if you intend to share jokes, gossip or nonsense with friends, family and acquaintances, you’re best served to set up a separate, aliased account that is locked and not easily recognizable.

With Twitter being sourced in search engines for real time information, it’s become a large part of one’s online reputation. And whether you have 10 followers or 10,000, it really only takes one retweet of a slightly ill-conceived tweet to damage your brand. Public figures are still learning this lesson, and the same really applies for (once-private) citizens. But if you want to help control what shows up the next time you’re Googled, own the Twitter handle that most closely approximates your resume name and fill it up with content related to your professional persona.

You can grow your following just by following others: I don’t have any official data to back this up (get used to that…), but it seems like if I follow people who have similar interests, backgrounds or professions to my own, they’ll more than likely follow me back. It takes a while to get the ball rolling, and as you can tell by my Twitter statistics, I’m no power Tweeter yet, but Twitter is unique in that it allows you to build an small audience with little effort. Building a large audience, though, takes some real effort.

140 Characters is more than enough: Almost without exception, every message I’ve felt the urge to tweet fit neatly into 140 characters. Retweeting or responding to the tweets of others in this format can be a challenge, but who doesn’t love a good challenge. There’s definitely an art to shortening the original message (without changing its meaning) and retorting with a pithy, clever reply.

Non-sequiturs are (unfortunately) part of the deal: I make a special effort to make sure that every message I tweet can stand on it’s own, and doesn’t require outside information to make sense. Maybe that makes me an outlier.

I get frustrated with folks who just assume that all of their followers are watching/experiencing/discussing what they’re talking about when they tweet things like, “That was an amazing catch by so-and-so.”

Unfortunately, that tweet makes no sense if I’m not watching the game. Far too many sports reporters suffer from this problem. It makes a little more sense coming from official team feeds (since they can presume followers know exactly what they’re tweeting about), but even then, if I didn’t see the catch, I’m at a loss, and even if I did see it, what value are you actually adding? Why was it amazing? Did he keep both feet inbounds? Was the ball tipped? Did he pull it in with one hand? Was he smothered by a defender and made the grab anyway? Give me more details.

Similarly, when folks string a series of five or six “related” tweets together over the course of several minutes, they can’t always expect that said missives will display in readers’ timelines consecutively without interruption or separation. Too many tweets just feel like non-sequiturs.

Unfortunately, like any nascent technology, it will take a long time for the masses to understand it’s power and effective usage. Obviously, even the self-appointed experts are still learning, too.

Over-sharing is finally on the decline: The good news is, I think people are figuring out that maybe, just maybe, 148 people don’t care what they had for lunch. And I still don’t think they’ll ever care that you’re the mayor of Shake Shack either.

Just so we’re clear, (again) I don’t have any actual data to back this up. Perhaps someone else does? Either way, I’ve noticed a general lack of trite tweets in my timeline of late.

Twitter is a gateway drug for blogging: If you made it this far into my post, I guess that’s a good thing, right? Either way, micro-blogging seems to have spawned a rebirth of long-form blogging. Since it’s so easy for anyone to tweet, those who will really separate themselves in the field of digital marketing and social media will likely be those who can back up their microblogging sizzle with some juicy long-form steak.

I forget all about Twitter when I’m having fun: Despite all the time I spend thinking about Twitter, digital marketing and social media professionally, otherwise, I try to ignore it. (Spoiler alert: It’s getting harder to ignore.)

It’s not that I don’t see the value in Twitter, or enjoy the interaction, insights or information it provides, it’s just that I don’t feel the need to check it when I’m otherwise engaged or having fun. I would presume that’s true for most people.

That said, when a relevant thought comes to mind, my first instinct is usually to tweet it.

Twitter can waste a lot of your time: Speaking of boredom, when I am struck with it, I find myself digging through an endless stream of tweets from people I’ve never met, and this somehow captures my interest for 10-15 minutes at a time.

Couldn’t I be reading a book, writing a book, talking to someone, face-to-face (remember that?) working out, or contemplating the universe?

If you must waste time online, Twitter is infinitely superior to Facebook: At least I learn things on Twitter. In fact, I learn new things daily about technology, marketing and branding on Twitter.

What have I learned on Facebook? Typically, that my fictional friend Mary “really loves her husband” (something I already presumed), that my fictional friend Joey is “struggling with an epic hangover” (something he does every weekend) and that my fictional friend Lucy is “snowed in and loving it”.

That’s not new insight, analysis or criticism, but it’s certainly been reinforced over the last year as Twitter’s relevance has grown. I read a quote this year that said something to the effect of, “Twitter makes me like people I don’t know more, and Facebook makes me like people I do know less.”

I couldn’t agree more.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ryan Knapp says:

    Good insights peter. Your last point for me is the take away. In the world of especially Sports Marketing/networking Twitter is infinitely more helpful and worth it than Facebook. I still feel a bit weird about friending people I’m not really too familiar with on Facebook, and that medium solves the not need for two Twitter accounts. I share info there with my family/friends who I wouldn’t otherwise see.

    Also, the solving problems on twitter is a great way to build a personal or professional account. If you simply talk to people, your network grows, but if you can add value to another person’s life (by solving problems especially) then you really connect and grow.

  2. Mike Cook says:

    I really like that final quote. “Twitter makes me like people I don’t know more, and Facebook makes me like people I do know less.”

    For me, Twitter is where I communicate about stuff I care about with people I (for the most part) don’t know, and Facebook is where I read stuff I usually don’t care about from people I do know. I also find Twitter to be the more interactive of the two mediums.

  3. Like most things, Twitter can be very useful, or a huge time-waster. I find it’s best to skim-read Twitter for a few minutes, then minimize/close it for a while. I think lots of people glance at it every 1-2 minutes. I can do that, but it sure makes it hard to focus

    – Jeff

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