Sometimes it’s easier to think about Twitter in terms of what it shouldn’t be:

  • a place for robots (or people acting like robots) to blast out sales shizzle
  • a place where the gormless stars of The Hills brag about spray tans
  • a place for  faceless companies to spew mission statements
  • a place to be a twat

Twitter is a conversation. It’s a place that facilitates worldwide communication within the tricky parameters of 140 characters. And 140 characters means a very small window of opportunity to get one’s point across. Twitter is as search-y as Google, but in real time, and related to conversations actually happening. Twitter’s usability has morphed and improved with the development of third party applications, particularly for business. Users can experiment with clients such as HootSuite, TweetDeck and CoTweet to manage multiple accounts and access numerous search fields and conversation strands. The ability to stream followers and friends into lists (public and private) is an amazing organizing tool.
In order to be followed on Twitter, a company or individual  (and preferably, an individual from a company) must follow others and initiate conversations, share valued content, conform to the Twitter “rules”, such as giving credit when a link is shared, and respond to mentions and direct messages in a reasonably timely fashion.  Not once a week during scheduled “social media time”.  Surefire techniques for not being followed would be to not follow back (here again is a fine line, since automated following is hugely frowned upon), to blast out scheduled content directed at everybody (but really nobody), and to be unresponsive. All interactions are public on Twitter (except for Direct Mentions, which work like email), so it is easy for anyone to look at a Tweeter’s history and see a gaping absence of real connection. Like any social network, it takes time to build community. But the time to start is now.

Tweeting as a company is a hugely difficult exercise unless one has the brand awareness of a Dell or an Apple, a government agency, or a specifically web-based customer service function (like FlipVideo, FreshBooks, Prezi). Since companies aren’t typically good at making their messages personal and directed at individuals (whether within an existing Twitter channel or a conference related backchannel), they can come across as unwelcome, noisy advertising reps. Companies that Tweet successfully allow the personal and human qualities of their Tweeters shine through. They prove themselves not to be robots by being real, multifaceted, and genuine. They use real photographs, instead of company logos. They indicate which company they work for, but describe themselves in authentic, natural ways.

The consistent use of hashtags (the act of putting a # in front of a term, thus making it searchable for all others and creating a de facto “theme”), makes it relatively easy to follow discussions, events, and topics.  Even the act of monitoring these discussions is useful, because despite their frenetic appearance, many individual issues are being addressed. Most chats are archived for those who miss a week. Lists and groups of participants are available on third party sites like TweepML. Think of these chats as a place to hold a virtual focus group with real, live, online customers. It’s a great opportunity to start connecting and build trust.

Tweeting through events provides a valuable backchannel for attendees and virtual observers alike. Most conferences now assign themselves a hashtag, so that anyone following the event can participate or “watch” by following that particular meme. Examples include #BlogHer, #ISTE2010, and any TED or TEDx event.
If a company is sponsoring a speaker, they might assign someone to tweet from the audience, mentioning that speaker’s key points, external resources, plans for later (TweetUps etc), links mentioned, and manage questions for the speaker from the audience. Presenters might agree to be online to answer questions post workshop. Displayers might offer promotions and contests through the backchannel. Twitter users at conferences often organize their own events, or TweetUps, to make IRL (in real life) connections. Participation or sponsorship of these events can show potential customers that the backchannel is valued, and that companies are listening and participating, and facilitating the IRL holy grail. Because it’s great to meet people. Unless they’re twats.

Tweeting content that people want to share is important, and can include articles, blog posts, free access to desirable content, and promotions on websites. The best way to gauge whether content is valued can be through the number of retweets (RTs) a message earns. But if nobody is following, then nobody benefits. If a tree falls in the forest….  However, the best, most authentic, and only sustainable content worth sharing is interaction. Entering conversations. Asking questions (real ones). Promoting others. Sharing research, within a loop that allows those who access the content to share it, comment, and add their thoughts.
Twitter is full of content, great articles, posts, videos, and discussions. By tapping into what people are talking about, it’s possible to understand what they value. What they share with each other, and the topics that resound.  For organizations, developing an “editorial calendar” can help for planning time spent nurturing and creating relationships on Twitter. Each month of the year presents opportunities to focus on specific content, as well as the more traditional areas of interest.  For example,  September and October offer a variety of opportunities to talk about heading back to school. Hosting a Tweet Up (where Twitterers shed their keyboards and meet up in real life) can be paired with promotions, launches, and bringing people together, eliciting a favourable emotional response from existing and potential customers.

Be real. Be human.  You can’t automate it. You can’t manufacture trust. But get out there. The early bird catches the worm, and poops on the twat.


Ok, now I'm hungry.

First, a disclaimer. I freakin’ love Twitter.  It has been, for me, a goddess-send of networking, a maelstrom of market research, and information value.  It took a fair amount of experimentation to figure out what a Twitter best-practice scenario would be for me, and it has varied with different positions, clients, products, and strat plans.  I use Tweetdeck:  a third-party application to actually “use” Twitter.  It lets me monitor simultaneous accounts and discussions, and links up to my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.  But there are others, and you may like them better. HootSuite. CoTweet. Seesmic.  Tweetie, Echofon or OpenBeak for your handset.  Twitter, for me, serves very specific business purposes, and it serves them extremely well.  Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Still, I encounter a lot of resistance about Twitter. (Twesistance?)
“Why should we?”
“Twitter is just a bunch of noise about people eating lunch.”
“Our customers aren’t online.”
“We already have a website.”
Sound familiar?  There are plenty of reasons to avoid Twitter, and other social media, it seems.  It is true that there are a zillion time-wasting testimonials out there, and a plethora of pundits sharing little, if any, value to organizations and the causes they represent.
I worked for a non-profit think tank. Tiny, but smart.  With limited human resources, we had to constantly punch above our weight and consider smarter ways of doing things. Our limited communications budget meant that we couldn’t pay a PR firm.  And doing things was our goal, of course – we wanted direct action from our efforts, we wanted to measure efficacy, and we wanted people to talk about us. To each other.  Twitter made sense.
The vast array of tools at our fingertips has really changed the way we make things happen, and the speed at which technology solutions keep us competitive, relevant, and always on our proverbial toes.   Management and growth of our brand can’t happen without the alignment of our website to our communications strategy, and we are constantly reiterating, changing, improving, and updating so that our “hub” is a plugged-in place where constituents can connect with us and with each other.  Building in a blog brings us recency and relevancy and improved our search ratings, but it also gives us an op/ed channel that is oft-tweeted and commented on.    A simple share bar allows our visitors to take our content outside of the site and extend its’ life – to remash it, remix it, and use it as they see fit.  Without social media, we’d  be a lot less nimble, and a lot less relevant.

So here’s how I attempt to convince a curmudgeon (phrase borrowed from Charlene Li) or a hater (phrase borrowed from Mary J. Blige), should I encounter one.  The great thing about curmudgeons is that they usually hold the purse strings (and tie them in a triple sailor’s knot), and many social media tactics are possible without snatching the purse.  Ever heard that it’s “easier to apologize than to ask for permission”?  Well, sometimes it’s better to frame your argument around “Because if we don’t….”.  Set the Doomsday scenario.  Couch it in 2012 terms if you have to. But avoid Nicolas Cage at all costs.
Here’s a handy script:
“Because if we don’t use Twitter, we cut ourselves off from the following benefits:

1.    To listen to what our community says about the issues we purport to be experts in.
2.    To promote our work within and connect to a wider audience.
3.    To monitor a variety of topics that we are interested in, simultaneously.
4.    To let people share our work with their networks and beyond.
5.    To respond quickly to our audience’s questions.
6.    To participate in discussions involving our strategic focus.”

Sometimes when we just do it, the tacit approval just comes. Because the tools at our disposal often have such great measurement capabilities built in, it is possible to set metrics with realistic expectations of getting that data.  And a curmudgeon loves data, even if s/he doesn’t know what it means. Lather, rinse , repeat.  And, because it’s Friday (#followfriday on Twitter), word to your #mother.


Steve Steigman: Blown Away

It’s a beautiful thing when ideas converge. When connections are made. It makes us believe that we are smart, and that our connective neural pathways are functioning as they should.  Classroom teachers have long known this – that connecting ideas promotes learning. Chemistry relates to biology. Shakespeare relates to Atwood relates to Chomsky. Those connective understandings create a holistic internal management of content, but also link issues and concepts that become meaningful when we can relate them to prior learning or lived experience.
Anyway, one of the SpaceRace reading list choices has hit me like a ton of bricks (but in a good way…maybe chocolate bricks?).  I’ve just finished Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which was an experience a bit like being the person in the old Maxell print ads. Every section inspired an emotional reaction. Drive made me confront my past employment choices/situations, make amends, and commit to moving forward to contributing to the world.  Pink examines traditional theories of motivation and brilliantly contrasts them with groundbreaking research and analysis in psychology and behavioural economics.  Much of this groundbreaking research, it turns out, isn’t new.  It’s just that now, the conditions are ripe for examining a new way of thinking about work.  Institutions are crumbling. The “sure things” got fired. Organizations and managers encounter the retirement of the baby boomers, and the rise of GenY and the millennials.  Our hyper-connected, yet precarious world creates opportunities for collaboration, but also demands collaborators.  Artists. Creators.
Traditional work environments/employers have had a hard time dealing with the likes of collaborators, artists, and creators, who eschew carrots and sticks, incentive pay, algorithmic tasks, bureaucratic layers and shitty management in favour of more intrinsically rewarding activities.  The proof is in the science. Now business needs to catch up.

The solution?  Create work environments that promote Three Elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Reimagine “rewards”, from fair pay to time devoted to projects of passion. Encourage Type 1 behaviour, and intrinsic, deep satisfaction and fulfillment.
Here’s where it gets personal.  And what about schools?
The conditions are also ripe for examining a new way of thinking about education, and Pink’s Three Elements apply in an exceptionally convergent way to imagine schools and learning.
Don’t get me started. OK, I started.  I happen to know that my kid does approximately 5 photocopied worksheets a day.  Endless algorithms. Memorizing vocabulary. Silent reading.  She’s touched a computer twice since the school year started, which was almost 7 months ago.  Each week she has a spelling test, and scribes sentences she’s had to memorize. Sentences seemingly connected to…nothing.  Her progress is reported to me thrice yearly, through a letter grade and a selection of generic comments. The best worksheet she does, and the worst, are photocopied and sent home in a folder the teacher never writes in.  She doesn’t love school.  Yet she comes home and, with her buddies, turns our second floor into a library, complete with a check out, plot synopses, and clever marketing strategies.  She’s 7.
My kid, spending 7 hours a day at school, doesn’t fulfill her daily potential as a collaborator, artist, and creator.
I’ve been keeping a close watch on the research of the McArthur Foundation, and their research on digital learning and participatory culture.  The beautiful convergence with Daniel Pink’s Drive lives here – in the educational research that supports and complements the behavioural and psychological theories highlighted in the book.
From the MacArthur Foundation:

At its simplest, participatory learning refers to young people’s learning that: is intrinsically motivated because it is connected to their interests and passions; is inherently social in nature because it involves interacting, providing feedback, and sharing with others; and typically occurs during tangible, creative activities, that are open and discovery-based, involve tinkering and play and are not highly prescriptive.
Participatory learning is often facilitated by digital media because they significantly lower the barriers to production and distribution, invite social engagement and interaction, promote the possibility of contribution, and challenge traditional notions of authority and expertise.

Sound familiar?  Familiar enough to light a fire under your bum?  This is what’s keeping me up at night, long past the thoroughly enjoyable hours I spent tucked up with Drive.  And Linchpin, but more on that later.


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.