You Might Be Using Twitter Wrong

You might be using Twitter wrong.

On the other hand, you might be using Twitter appropriately.

Perhaps “wrong” is too incendiary of a term to use regarding Twitter use; people seem to be really easily offended these days. I use the term mostly to gain attention. I may re-post this same article under a new title, “How To Get The Most From Twitter” and then compare the difference in readership.

People in my circle know I am a daily Twitter user and I often promote Twitter over Facebook and other media streams. I understand today many teenagers seem to be moving away from Facebook and using other social media forms, like Vine and SnapChat. While those are fine for communicating with friends, acquaintances, and literal strangers, they do not provide the benefit of Twitter, and honestly, Facebook.

I have been an avid Twitter user for almost 4 years and elected to use Twitter for a very specific reason – to stay connected with the technology of social media. During my first (and only) marriage, I was essentially forbidden from using Facebook. Thus, for 5 years I was really out of the loop. After my divorce – not caused by Facebook, by the way – I elected to establish a Facebook account. I proceeded to use Facebook just like everyone else. I found high school friends. I found college friends and old fraternity brothers. I connected with current friends, family, and acquaintances. I then branched out into groups; I had two greyhounds at the time so I joined some greyhound groups.

As my collection of so-called “friends” grew, I became astonished and then dismayed and then angry at the collective ignorance of people, some of whom were friends. And, because of the way Facebook works, perhaps the friends of friends, even to the extent of “everyone.” In the summer of 2011, in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election, the political atmosphere was increasingly toxic. Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, plus political pundits Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage were spewing their nonsense – and most of my collection of contacts on Facebook I found to be in their choir, so to speak. I found Facebook posts to be increasingly racist in nature, fundamentalist Christian, and bigoted against People of Color. I will always remember the stupendously racist and bigoted rhetoric directed at a Muslim friend of mine by someone who claimed to be a member not only of the local clergy but also the pastor of a local church who challenged my Muslim friend essentially to a gunfight. I wish I was making this up. This pastor claimed to have served in Korea and Vietnam, was a Green Beret, and didn’t fight for this country to be taken over by Muslim killers. I posted he was an embarrassment to people who fight in armed services, and an embarrassment to Christians, and for him to say he fought for freedom implies he supports a form of Fascism, whereby freedom is granted to those who support a certain ideology, namely his. Then he challenged us both to a fight, and further suggested should we meet him in a public place things might go bad for us, as he always carries a Colt .45.

I declared Facebook bankruptcy almost immediately after this moron’s asinine threats. I’m not a person who reacts very well to taunts and threats and have made many a stupid mistake by reacting first and not thinking about consequences. I realized I could make things worse for myself, and my mental health, by continuing to engage in the Grand Central Narcissism of Facebook. I state “almost” based on some consideration of the impact my sudden disappearance would have on my Facebook friends. Because, since when a person leaves Facebook it sort of indicates “oh, so, you don’t want to be friends with me anymore, asshole? Ok, screw you, too. We aren’t friends in REAL LIFE any more, either!” mentality which has become an unfortunate side-effect of Facebook I had to consider briefly what impact my disappearance might have. And then I disappeared from Facebook with much of the anticipated repercussions of my choice coming to fruition in RL. Some of my real life friends reserved judgment on my disappearance. Others, not so much. Which may demonstrate at least anecdotally how vain some people are; more than one might think.

But, then, this is what Facebook tolerates, and the platform Facebook has become, for better or worse. Facebook is a platform for people to promulgate any and all forms of messages, aka bullshit. Even worse, to “unfriend” a person in Facebook translates into breaking that friendship in Real Life (RL).  As if things cannot get any worse, Facebook has also been complicit in online harassment, stalking, suicides, and murder. And, divorce.

A social media platform should advance the conversation. Ideally. This is my euphemism for saying, “Let’s talk about this, hash out some details, and arrive at some mutually acceptable conclusion whereby we have helped advance some noun (person, place, thing, or idea).” I mean, why use brilliant 21st century technology to promote 18th or 19th century parochial mentalities? While Facebook may have democratized content to some extent, Facebook allows too many trolls, aberrant personalities, and nonsense to persist effectively dragging all content into a digital cesspool in my opinion.

But I work in technology. I am an IT manager. Even though I do GIS, part of my job and expertise is in the “IS” part of GIS, the “information systems” aspect. I could just simply walk away from all social media – but that doesn’t seem rational or reasonable to me. I cannot simply abandon information technology simply because I personally find a good portion of it repugnant. I still need to remain relevant, think ahead, plan, maybe dream or aspire. What might I miss? What information, trend, alert or danger, or advice might I miss? My work environment is peculiar; I am the IT staff for two areas. Yes, I work at a university, and am part of a larger IT group, but for the two areas I am responsible for, I am the IT manager. I need to do what I can to stay informed and in touch with technologies so I can provide some service to the people I work both for and with. As a result of my efforts faculty, staff, and students from across campus seek out my advice and recommendations pertaining to technology.

GIS, geographic information systems, have become infused in may of today’s popular technologies. We all want maps for driving directions; we want satellite imagery so we can see what a place looks like before we arrive; we want answers to questions about our environment. GIS and its brother, geographic information science, work to address these questions. GIS technology is rapidly changing; business and industry is rapidly evolving to avail themselves to GPS-enabled phones and tablets, governments collect copious amounts of data, from cellphone records, to water and air quality information, to demographic and lifestyle data, and nearly every commercial drone collects GPS information. I have to try to stay on top of a very dynamic technology and the best means of doing so via social media. Thus, I cannot simply walk away from what has become a professional development environment for me.

And, now we have arrived at the crux of my essay.

If you are not using Twitter for professional development, you might be using Twitter wrong.

People I come in contact with make one or both of the following statements:

“Ehh, I don’t like Twitter. It’s just like Facebook.”

“I looked into Twitter but I don’t know how to use it.”

To the first statement, I answer the person thus:

“If you use Twitter like Facebook, then, yes, Twitter is just like Facebook. And, when you say it’s just like Facebook tells me you aren’t using Twitter properly.”

My reply to the second statement goes like this:

“Twitter is a little odd to figure out how to get started. But once you get started, you will see its value almost immediately. Let me give you some advice.”

Yes, Twitter can become just like Facebook if you choose to use Twitter to follow your family, your friends, and accounts of users and groups which utilize social media for the promotion of nonsense. Then, the question must really become,

“What can I do differently so I can improve my online experience and get better information from my social media?”

Good question!

There are many things you can do to improve your online social media experience, learn, grow, and perhaps become a more well-rounded and well-read citizen of the world. Here is some advice.

  1. Do not use Twitter to follow family or friends.
  2. Do not even entertain the thought of engaging family or friends on Twitter. No close family.
  3. See #1. Then, see #2. Rinse, lather, repeat as many times as necessary. Then, advance to the next section.

Now, do this. Think about where you are in your life.

  • Are you a student?
  • Are you a professional or someone engaged in a career?
  • Do you have a cause, a non-profit, or a hobby you value?
  • What are you really interested in?

If you know these off the top of your head, that’s great. Or, make a short list.

I’m going to use myself as an example, to illustrate what I think is a good use of Twitter. I have a number of interests, both personal and professional.

  • Geography
  • GIS
  • Cartography and map-making
  • Science, in general, and specifically,
    • Cosmology
    • CERN (the European particle accelerator)
    • Astronomy
    • Political implications
  • Comic books
    • Comic art, writing, illustrating, and the industry itself
  • Dogs and pets
  • Writing
    • Writing, in general
    • Science writing
    • Science fiction
    • Fantasy
    • Crime fiction
  • Robotics and engineering
    • MAKE
    • Drones

I decided at the onset of using Twitter I would not follow any account I did not think I could learn from, either an individual or organization account. Being new to Twitter I had to figure out how to find such accounts. Finding great accounts to follow is really easy.

First, take one of your topics I had you think about above. Now, think of a person or an organization who represents that particular topic well. Using myself as an example, I like to read and write. One of the authors I enjoy is Neil Gaiman. I searched Twitter for Mr. Gaiman, found he had a Twitter account (Twitter: @neilhimself). Mr Gaiman also happens to be active with his fans on Twitter so his account is very interesting. He often shares insights, sketches, and news of his travels.

I had one account to “follow.” How to find more? Well, I thought, who does Neil Gaiman follow? Those people must be fairly interesting if Neil is following them.

Twitter-sample-Gaiman

Mr. Gaiman tweets a lot, over 76,200 tweets. He has over 2,100,000 followers, yet follows only 927 people and group accounts. I’m interested in these select 927 accounts. These must be fascinating people, right? Realistically, people are people and I’m not going to find all 927 of these accounts to my liking. But, not a bad place to start.

Clicking on “Following” will reveal in most cases the accounts a given account follows. The accounts appear in a format which reminds me of Monopoly properties, cards arranged in a matrix detailed with the Twitter account name and the bio of the account.

Twitter-sample-Gaiman-follows

I’m not familiar with Elisabeth Evans, but we will revisit her in a moment. If you enjoy music, Tori Amos might be a good account to follow. She might chat with fans, talk about writing music, her cats, what food she likes; some personalities will reveal details which will remind us they are flesh and blood people just like us normals.

Anyone who knows science fiction will recognize Harlan Ellison’s name. Controversial, to say the least, but a genius in the science fiction genre, he has written numerous books, stories, and screenplays for movies and television, including Star Trek: The Original Series. The most popular Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” is his story. IDW Comics has recently published a comic book adaptation of this story, as well.

Anthony Stewart Head is an actor most people will recognize from his years on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” television series.

Then, we see Neil follows updates from the founder of Audible.com, Donald Katz. A person interested in streaming media might want to follow his account, and discover who Mr. Katz deems acceptable to follow. Michael Green leaves us in the dark with his nebulous bio. A Twitter Bio should be written to help people decide if your content is worthwhile. Because Neil follows Mr. Green I might be tempted to figure out why but not when I can see Elisabeth Evans seems more interesting.

People who write interesting bios can be worth following. Some celebrities won’t chat with their Twitter fans, or don’t update very often. I have a few guilty pleasure accounts I follow: William Shatner, George Takei, Steve Martin, and Louis CK. William Shatner and George Takei update constantly and will chat online with fans. So amazing to see them talk to people. They are awesome accounts who love connecting with their fans. I chatted briefly on some topic with Mr. Shatner one night. Very cool. I’ve been a fan of George Takei since being on an elevator with him in Kansas City during one Star Trek convention. My dad finally relented and took a friend and I when I was in the 4th grade. We just happened to get on an elevator with Mr. Takei and he was very nice to us. During the Star Trek convention I got his autograph that my friend later stole. On the other side of the spectrum, Steve Martin rarely seems to engage his fans and mostly passes on mild witticisms. Louis CK is not a frequent tweeter.

Elisabeth Evans provides some details about herself. By examining her bio we can decide if she might be a worthy account to learn from. I would then go to her Twitter page and see what sort of content she is posting. Is she mostly chatting with friends? If so, about what? Her job, work, or projects? That can be interesting. But, if she isn’t providing good content, advice, links to good websites, or engaging people with information I might pass on her.

I tell people, “Use Twitter as professional development. Engage accounts who are informative, provide good information, who engage their audience, and either pass along good content or even create their own content.”

The graphics embedded above were captured using a Google Chrome extension made by the good people at TechSmith. TechSmith also makes Camtasia. I use Camtasia for making educational videos I post to YouTube. I tweeted them one afternoon a link to a video. They then contacted me about my use of Camtasia and interviewed me for about 40 minutes. They then retweet my content every so often. They do this because they are good people and have a good product, not because I asked them to or because of any Memorandum of Agreement we have. I know they are responsible for increasing my viewership to my YouTube channel, the blog, and my Twitter account, though. Good public relations!

Reading got me into more trouble in childhood than anything else, with the exception of flipping people off constantly. I was the kid who would fake-sleep until his parents went to bed. Then, I would awake, grab a book – usually a Hardy Boys Mystery or Encyclopedia Brown or Jupiter Jones and the Three Investigators, and some source of light, and read under the covers until the wee hours of the morning. I was then excruciatingly difficult to get out of bed. I follow many, many authors, editors, agents, and publishers on Twitter. From these people I have learned a bunch. You may even get lucky and you yourself may get followed by a famous author. At one time author James Rollins was following me on Twitter. His books are an example of compelling story-telling, infusing current events and tomorrow’s science to create fantastic fiction. If you like Michael Crichton, you should give James Rollins my “two book chance.” He has chatted with me on Twitter, as has Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, and recently Sara Paretsky thanked me for some kind words I passed along regarding her novel “Critical Mass.”

I listen to several podcasts. Two of my favorites are StarTalkRadio, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, and The Nerdist, featuring Chris Hardwick. Dr. Tyson has a Twitter account (@neiltyson), as does Chris Hardwick (@nerdist). Now, someone might be tempted to ask, “What can I learn from Chris Hardwick? I can see learning from Neil Tyson, but Hardwick?” In the early 90s, Chris was all over MTV, and I found him annoying, to be honest. But, as I’ve listened to his The Nerdist podcast I’ve learned he has paid some dues. Furthermore, his podcast is a long-form interview with people of all types. He has interviewed John Cleese, Stan Lee, Morgan Freeman, and many other really fascinating people. He is a great interviewer, probably better than Larry King. Chris allows his guests to feel comfortable, no limits on what they can talk about, and they simply chat. If you want some really honest conversations, or conversations which sound really honest, do yourself a favor and download some Nerdist podcasts.

The additional benefit from engaging with Twitter in positive ways provides you with good content to pass along. When I pass along good content, I tend to get good content back, or at least good feedback, either from positive comments from other Twitter users, or additional followers. Good content tends to result in more good content, and we know the Internet needs better content, as do our real-world lives, to some extent.

How do I manage my content? I have tried a few social media management dashboards and I keep returning to HootSuite. HootSuite works with most popular social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Twitter-Hootsuite-sample

Here is a screen capture of my HootSuite dashboard. The dashboard tabs I have highlighted are custom tabs. HootSuite allows a user to create custom tabs based on content produced by other accounts and #hashtags.

Hashtags, e.g. #edchat, allow users to follow a conversation associated with a particular topic or theme. The #edchat hashtag is common for users who are involved in education, usually K-12. People will often ask me how to keep track of information. I recommend two strategies.

The first strategy is to use Twitter Lists. Create a new list. Then, as you find worthy accounts, place them in an appropriate list. Then, you can simply choose a list to see all of the recent updates for pertaining to the list.

The second strategy is to use a Twitter hashtag. Search for a hashtag, like #edchat, then save the search as new tab using your preferred social media dashboard. On the image above I have highlighted a few custom tabs associated with hashtags. By clicking a tab I can see all tweets using that hashtag. As you can see, the use of hashtags can be sort of helpful.

I’m not getting paid to promote Twitter. I’m receiving no compensation for anything I have written. I merely offer some advice on how to have a more positive experience using social media when the world seems so enthusiastic about promoting all sorts of negative messages and hurtful imagery.

PAX

One thought on “You Might Be Using Twitter Wrong

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky | Constant Geography

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