Thursday, 18 July 2013

Ants Don't Use Twitter; People Use Twitter

Recently, I’ve begun to interact a bit more on Twitter. It used to be that I’d tweet about things that interest me – writing, news, media, communications and the inspirational story or quote here and there.  What’s left? You may wonder. Let’s just say, a lot. But, I would post-and-run, in a sense. Just say it and move on. After a long while, I met a few nice people – I am positive they’re not bots!
It turns out, though, that the past few months have had me chatting with more than a few folks. At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. I have always been wary of the open conversations I might have with strangers. Turns out that once you both get a feel for each other and remain respectful of each other, it’s pretty okay. The sky doesn’t fall at all. Yes, I’ve found that mutual respect is key to a good online interaction. Dare I say, relationship.

Here’s the thing (Monk):  My online interactions – mainly Twitter – are embedded in respect and kindness. It is true, for me, anyway, that all I need to operate well within this space that is so public, I learned growing up. Yes, the result of good broughtupsy, as we’d say in Jamaica. Simply, good home training. And, that transcends to the online world quite easily. The same courtesies that you would demonstrate in your day to day offline, do apply online. For example, you wouldn’t heckle someone during their speech and point out a mispronounced word, right? Well, it takes a certain kind of person… Similarly, such a courtesy may be applied on Twitter – you wouldn’t reply to someone and point out a typo. That’s not gracious. You may, however, (again, depending on whom it is and how anal you are) send a gentle DM. It's like a private meeting. That's classy.

Similarly, if a few people are having a conversation, offline, you wouldn’t simply jump in - especially when one or more parties are not familiar/acquaintances. I think I’ve messed up on that one. But it was something trivial and humourous – is my story. But, I usually approach with an “If I may…” so they know I’m not barging in. Little things like that.

The Twitterverse can be a dangerous place. It can also be a very revealing place. Many users, I imagine, do not think about how their way of thinking and persona are betrayed by how they interact and how they say what they say. I’ve blogged about this particular idea before – how Twitter helps give place to a messianic complex, if you will. The whole idea of having followers, hanging on to your every word (as some may perceive it), having influence over many – especially those who are easily influenced – can easily lead one to think that one is "all that and a bag o’ chips.” It may lead to oversized egos, self-centredness and ideas of magnanimity.  

How do you know if this is happening? I do the kindness test. Note: This does not apply when someone is being a troll or being intentionally annoying or hurtful. The freedom to tag someone in a tweet or the ‘have device will tweet’ mentality, giving yourself ‘free’ reign to bash or badger someone, comes with consequences, like, oh, blocking? For example?

But, the kindness test is simple and easy. Know the quote:  real power is knowing that you can, but don’t? Or, it’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice? Or, how about, real kindness is doing something and expecting nothing in return?  When you know that someone has wronged you, in that open space, and it hurts, with thousands of eyes looking on, how do you respond? I saw an exchange earlier this week and came away feeling sad. An apology was given but the response was not gracious. No sincere and gracious apology says, “I accept but. ..” And,  not to mention that it takes gusto to apologise in the first place. I thought, that could have been done in a kinder way.

Depending on how and what you tweet – but, I find, mainly how you engage – people will come to follow you. Twitter is great for interaction. Millions of people on it from all over the world for different reasons. There are some horrible people in the world. There are some beautiful people in the world. And there are those in-between. Twitter has made large corporations engage like a mom-and-pop store and has made the celebrity like a friend next door. Even parody accounts, like Doritos Ontario, get more love sometimes than the real companies, because of how they engage! When you have a direct access to your favourite singer or athlete, it’s a beautiful thing – if you’re into that sort of thing. Little wonder, then, that when that direct link is broken, fans/followers will immediately detect a disconnect. And they don’t like it. Remember Ashton Kutcher and that time when he'd come out in support of that Penn State football coach in the sex abuse scandal? After he realised what the brouhaha was all about, he acknowledged his error and backed off for a while from tweeting.

Remember when…well, I remember when I was little, I'd occasionally watch, and be fascinated by, an army of ants carrying crumbs and just moving in a line, up and down, this way and that – until I stuck something in their path. Immediately, they'd scatter a bit, scurrying to find the nearest exit that would take them back to their familiar route. They had a direct line to what they wanted and something had come in their path. Now, this is reaching, I know, but, if ants used Twitter, when something like that happens, no doubt there'd be hashtags popping up all over the colony: #whatswiththewall or #wheresthecandy and the like. Anything to restore things to how they were. In time, they find their way around, often creating a new path. But, as if I need to make the point, ants don’t use Twitter; people use Twitter. And, when a direct link is broken, people use this new tool to tweet their questions and frustrations in search and hope for the restoration of that direct link. Doesn’t matter that there may be someone who’s trying to make it all better. All they know is they had a direct line, it is no longer there and they want it back. The voice of the brand was connecting directly and, in a moment, it has been replaced.The filter thing doesn't work! Can hardly blame them. They had got accustomed to that guy or gal tweeting/speaking directly to them. There is a way to deal with matters of this nature. Kutcher had shut down that time; Jamaica's VCB went quiet on her TL after news broke about adverse findings. Point is, people are not tone deaf or stupid. Their ears are tuned in to what is happening. They know their “stars” are working out their problems offline. They understand radio-silence on the Twitter feed. They know that tweeting during controversies only provide fodder for media houses. In the meantime, however, there is someone else working tirelessly on their behalf; a voice from their own corner of cyberspace or other space, being a direct source of information. Social Media marketing and PR is a work in progress.

 Another thing to note…to remember, really, is that the number of followers is no measure of one’s status or calibre. In some quarters I've seen a semblance of hierarchy  - like, those who make it to the "society pages" vs. those who don't, kind of thing. It is pathetic, really. Those who fawn over and those who, in the way they relate, are only left to have their followers bow at their feet. It is pathetic and it is ugly. And, just as offline, some human beings in Twitterverse often find themselves wanting to belong. Beliebers, I imagine, have got over JB reaching out to every single one of them, for example. The Twitterverse is a vast community and, as lives shift to the online space, the same longings persist.

People have lives – or, ought to have rich and meaningful lives – away from these online spaces. No matter how much I get along with tweeps, I know that my offline life is richer and more meaningful than what I do in cyberspace. I keep reminding myself of this as, one day, I may have more than my current 300+ followers. At no time should I take that as a thing. It means zilch. Zip. Nada. One of the thoughts that keep me grounded as I write and work at becoming a published author, is that, were I to become a bit more known, I must remember that on my death bed (if it happens there), my thought will not be: “I wish I had got a few more followers.” Or, “I wish I had done one more book reading. “ Yes, the thoughts of what my final thoughts may be as I depart this weary sod, help keep me grounded.

As someone tweeted today, we are all just learning. And, another pointed out, it changes so fast, this social media marketing thing, it's hard to say that anyone is really an expert at it. It really does seem that by the time you think you've made the two ends meet, somebody moves the ends. Much of it is about doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you. Basic communication principles and common sense will get you far. Much of the netiquette required, we already know.  And, when that gut feeling says, "Think twice," it's better than for it to later say, "I told you so."


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