Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twitter: Scarry's Ten Guideposts

I've been spending a lot of time on Twitter recently, in connection with "The Response" and with the October 8 march in Chicago against the Afghanistan War.

This has given me a great opportunity to think about what can be achieved on Twitter, and how to achieve it, and to engage in conversations with others who want to learn how to use Twitter better.

I've started to organize some of the practices I've discovered, starting with the ten "guideposts" below. I'll expand on these from time to time, and hope to spur continued conversation with all of you!

(1) The First Commandment is the Greatest

Two ideas give shape to all of your activity on Twitter:

(a) Outwardly, it's all about the conversation! Twitter is not about shoveling information out at people. Sure, a part of Twitter is disseminating information. But if that's all you're trying to do, Twitter's not for you!

(b) The framework of Twitter use is a "pyramid of involvement." In short, this means in general you shouldn't expect to leap directly into highly productive and effective interactions with others on Twitter. Relationships build progressively through small steps.

(2) Follow back.

Following (and following back) is the first step in involvement. (You seldom leap right into high-level interaction.)

Due to the Twitter terms of use (insert boring math explanation here) it is critical that you follow back. The sign of a Twitter account that is only interested in itself and doesn't care about the needs of followers -- and the larger Twitter ecosystem -- is that it accumulates lots of followers but doesn't bother to develop a group of users that it follows itself.

The way to connect with new people on Twitter -- to extend a hand and say "Hi!" -- is to follow them (and, by extension, to invite them to follow you back).

(3) Welcome!

Welcome new followers. A private 1:1 direct message (DM) exchange is the crucial second step in involvement. It's your special "face time" with a new relation on Twitter.

However . . .

(4) Be a good listener.

. . . don't leap straight to what you want from your new followers. (The classic blunder on Twitter is to rush at a new follower with the demand to "Follow me on Facebook, too!")

What's the best way to engage in conversation? Ask an open-ended question!

To build a relationship, learn what they want, and what they think. (You might actually find it interesting and valuable!)

(5) Be social.

Be social -- stroking people publicly is the third step in involvement.

Put another way, Twitter is all about feedback. We all need feedback, right?

Some of the basic conventions are "friday follow" (#FF), in which you tell the world who you like to follow and recommend they do the same, "shout-outs" (#SO), echoing (retweets/"RT"), #GRATITUDE, and just plain saying "I like what you're doing!"

At the end of the day, Twitter is just like the school yard. It's not just about being the best at kickball ... or being the biggest smarty-pants .... It's about making friends.

(6) You can't keep it all in your head.

Luckily you don't have to!

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar has determined that in traditional (non-computer-aided) society, human brains evolved to keep track of about 150 other people. ("Dunbar's number" thus is approx. 150.)

Now we have an expanded scope of social involvement, with the help of our computers, and applications like Twitter, Facebook, and others. (I estimate the computer-assisted number of people we can be expected to keep track of -- "Scarry's number" -- to be closer to 1500.)

In the short-run, look at how facets of Twitter aid you in keeping track of this expanded range of people: recognizable screen names, icons, backgrounds, descriptions and locations, tweet patterns, and various listing mechanisms.

In the medium-run, you will want to start to keep a spreadsheet of your tweeps. Your brain needs help, and that's what your computer is for.

(7) Do you have a pulse?

Others will judge you ... by the last thing you said!

And a key question will be, "Is this person still actively using Twitter? Or has this Twitter account been discarded, or become only marginally active?"

Show some activity every day.

(8) Mix it up.

It's tempting to come up with a format for tweets -- one that you are comfortable with -- and then generate tweet after tweet after tweet. ("Here's a link: ....." )

But is that distinguishable from what any robot can do? Pass the "Turing Test": other Twitter users want to feel that there's a human being behind your tweets! Show a blend of activity. Mix it up. Converse with your tweeps. Retweet.

(9) Strength in numbers.

Our social behaviors have evolved to enable us to work together to achieve goals, e.g. hunting in groups.

Start thinking about what form "group hunting" might take in your community.

(10) Start with the end in mind . . .

. . . but don't try to leap there in the first step.

Be thinking about the ultimate "conversion event(s)" that you are striving for. (It may be a purchase ... a vote ... participation in an event ... support for a movement .... ) At the end of the day, that is what must be achieved to realize organizational effectiveness.

And then set to work building the relationship with your tweeps on a solid foundation.

Want to have a conversation about all of this? Tune in with me at @scarry on Twitter!

Related posts

I've discovered that there is a whole group of people who are actively passing along the latest news about Guantanamo (and a whole range of other civic affairs), and they can be found by searching on Twitter. That in turn leads you to certain "hubs" who distribute and redistribute ("retweet") the news on a particular topic. The interaction between the hubs and the "spokes" allows for incredibly rapid dissemination (and *digestion*) of the right information by the right people at the right speed.

(See The World Turned Upside Down - Huff Post, Wash Post, and Twitter )

As I read the article, I kept hearing echoes of lessons that I have been learning in the last several years as I have worked to communicate online about peace and justice issues. Herewith the top of my hit parade, with reference to stories from the USA Today newsroom . . . .

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me )

People assemble every week -- in growing numbers -- to lift their voices together in opposition to continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

It may get loud . . . .

(See #AfghanistanTuesday - ALL LINKS)