Some time ago I wrote an article for this blog called Social Ecosystems and the New Rules of Engagement. In it I argued that the rise of social media was forcing businesses to rethink the old 'firehose' method of advertising. Products and services could be targeted to the people most likely to respond favourably and share with their friends. In this post I'd like to look at a specific part of 'the new rules of engagement' by looking at a specific social network: Twitter.
Much has been made of Twitter, the 140-character social networking and microblogging service, but in my opinion (and I have to stress that this is just an opinion) it is one of the most important tools ever created for the internet.
You may think that is something of a bold statement, but I ask you to read on and try to follow my logic. Lets look at some of the key aspects of this service and see how it impacts our work, our play, even our everyday lives.
Brevity: Making your words count
Twitter has a built in limit of 140 characters per post or 'tweet'. This seems like a strange limitation at first, and may new users will sometimes grumble at not being able to make their point clear with such a limitation. I would argue that it is this very limitation that makes points more clear. The writer is forced to abandon ambiguous and circuitous language and get to the point. This has the added effect of limiting and sometimes even eliminating 'non-speak' or 'fluff' from a message. (assuming the entire message was not fluff to begin with)
Networking: Hello my name is...
If you are looking for work, or are at all interested in forwarding your career (especially in the fields of technology, marketing, etc.) then you need to be on Twitter. Because of the global reach, it is conceivable that something you say or write could be viewed by some of the top people in your industry. Take a moment to think about that - an industry leader could be seeing your ideas. Makes you think, doesn't it? At the very least, you should be following them to learn what they're thinking about and working on. Making these types of business connections can open doors you never knew existed for your career. I've literally made hundreds of valuable connections in the fields of content strategy and marketing through Twitter.
Hashtags: Put it in context
In its simplest form, a hashtag is a word or a phrase prefixed with the symbol #, a form of metadata tag. Twitter uses these to allow related messages to be 'grouped' together on the same subject. The hashtag has evolved however from its IRC beginnings to also be used as a way of putting a message in context, or to add another level of meaning to a message. This is often used in a humourous way.
The Bad News: There's always a fly in the ointment
As with anything, there will be those who will point out the flaws inherent in the system. I'll address the most common one here:
"Twitter is just vacuous blather and people talking about what they had for breakfast."
My rejoinder to that would be: Who are you following? A person could read a selection of pulp romance novels and then conclude that all literature is mindless drivel. The problem is not the medium, the problem is in the person's data set, their 'representative sample'. The quality of the content on Twitter is only as good as the people you are following. Many people join Twitter and follow their favourite celebrities. Often this turns out well, people such as Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, (@Cmdr_Hadfield) actor/author/raconteur Stephen Fry, (@stephenfry) actress Jeri Ryan, (@JeriLRyan) and singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer (@amandapalmer) are quite active on Twitter, using it as a method of connecting with people and sharing ideas. However many Twitter accounts are vacuous, full of spam messages, or worse inactive. The best advice is to be selective with your choices, and cull your list from time to time. Follow people whose work and ideas you respect and be as selective with Twitter as you would be in real life.
Twitter is a 'connector', the spark that starts a blaze. It may be that a conversation begun there will shift over to email, video conference or even an in person meetup, but Twitter is the catalyst that brings people together.
The internet has become the most powerful force for human collaboration ever created, but it is still largely an untapped (or imperfectly tapped) resource. Twitter is becoming a vital tool for harnessing that resource and using it in new and creative ways, in much the same way that we can harness the awesome (but largely uncontrolled) power of electricity to operate the device that is allowing you to read this blog.
Now is the time to connect, to collaborate. The world is waiting.