The Thinking Man's Take On: Twitter

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I feel like, with all the press that has been gathered, I would be remiss not to write about Twitter. Twitter, in case you have been living in a cave for the past month/year, is a way that you can tell your friends what type of sandwich you’re eating for lunch without addressing an e-mail to them. It allows you to follow the day to day actions of strangers. If you’re vigilant, it’ll tell you where to find Shaq at all hours of the day.

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You’re probably thinking “I can find Shaq? What a magical tool!” but I assure you that not all is magical in Twitter land. In fact, the service has come under fire from a lot of different angles – it promotes overexposure, it doesn’t make any money, and it has limited policing making it difficult to distinguish between DarthVader and iamdarthvader. Jon Stewart called it a gimmick, Doonesbury author Gary Trudeau mocked the need to maintain constant Twitter relevance, and NPR lamented the loss of editing. For a service so tiny, it has certainly caused a big commotion.

I’ll admit, I’m a Twitter novice – a mere Tweeginner, if you will. I tried starting an account up in September sometime, but never could really stick with it. Starting out without a base of followers it’s tough to keep a constant update stream going. If a tree tweets in the forest and no one is there to hear it, will anybody respond @tree? Unlikely. But I’ve seen the merits of the world’s favorite microblogging platform in recent weeks, and have made a new resolution to get better. Over at The Stu Reid Experiment we’ll be keeping our twitter up to date from now until we lose interest again. But before launching into any willy-nilly twittering I wanted to establish some ground rules. Let me know if I’m making any faux pas or if you have any advice – I’m sure there are golden rules of twitter somewhere, written in concise 140 character nuggets.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet?

To Tweet: You are an inside source at a major news organization/important news happening!

Tweet away, inside source. I think that news is one of Twitter’s main utilities – if I were CNN I would be desperately trying to figure out some way to integrate twitter-like flashes into my existing news coverage. Think of twitter as the scrolling news bar across the bottom of the screen, except searchable, customizable, and rarely involving women’s golf scores.

Not To Tweet: You are an entry level intern at a major news organization!

Sorry Kenneth the Page, you don’t qualify as an inside source. If you get information before others, share it with the world. If you get coffee for others, keep it to yourself. LOOPHOLE: If you’re tweeting about behind the scenes going on like the tea Brian Williams drinks on set or the type of light bulbs they use on Hardball, Congrats – you’re back on the insider list! Write about what you know!

To Tweet: You own a major sports franchise!

Talk to Mark Cuban about how this one works – he was recently fined $25k for complaining about NBA referees on twitter. But that’s OK because he has billions of dollars. Which is why he’s allowed to tweet – when you have billions of dollars, you can do anything!

Not to Tweet: You spend 16 hours a day looking at excel sheets!

The reason people follow others on Twitter is to escape the ordinary, to be entertained, to become widely informed, and to stalk celebrities. They don’t follow people to read about how long it took you to Merge Cells E2 and F2. Here’s a test – write down whatever you want to tweet by hand for a day or two before you actually decide to take the jump and start a Twitter account. At the end of two days, go back and read what you wrote. If you can read through it without getting bored, you might be alright. I’m pretty sure that if I had a personal Twitter and did this test, I would throw away the paper and run outside as quickly as possible, never to Tweet again.

To Tweet: You are a regularly updating website!

I think people and organizations fill very different niches on Twitter – unless you’re a celebrity, I don’t see the need for regular humans to have Twitter accounts. Websites, however, can use Twitter to notify readers of updates, new posts, related content, and news, without requiring readers to visit each site individually. Rather than pushing every little thing through an RSS feed, use Twitter to highlight important features of your site. I know I personally follow a number of music blogs on Twitter to keep up with the action – headlines point out articles I want to read, and I can filter before even getting to the site. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Not To Tweet: You only re-tweet what other twitterers have tweeted.

Nobody likes a plagiarist. I know that you think you’re doing a good deed by spreading the news from somebody else – and occasionally this can be a great thing. But if it’s the only thing you do, you’re just clogging the lane and making it harder for people to find the important stuff. Re-tweets have a place, but if your voice isn’t at least somewhat original, you probably shouldn’t be around.

To Tweet: You are a witty and well written parody!

There are some amazing parodies out there on Twitter – Fake Michael Bay, the_megan_fox, DarthVader, etc. If you are witty enough to be the wittiest impersonator of a celebrity on the interwebs, flaunt your stuff. These are my favorite twitter accounts to read, and probably what originally helped Twitter gain a foothold in membership.

Not To Tweet: You don’t understand twitter, but desperately want to seem hip to the jive like the kids these days!

Don’t be that way, please. It’s like my high school history teacher who once told us that he was “with it” and knew what “bliggy bliggy” was – some sort of 60 year old twist on bling bling. Don’t tweet if you had to have your grandchild set the account up for you.

To Tweet: You can give away free things!

Everybody loves free things, and twitter is no different. Shaquille O’Neal recently gave free tickets to “citizens of Twitteronia” that could find him in a mall. Paul Pierce gave out tickets to people who found his car in Boston and said a secret twitter’d codeword to him. Every day people give out free software, hold contests, and some companies even offer free services if they find you complaining about them on twitter. If you are one of these magical people with goodies to give out, feel free to tweet away!

To Tweet: You’re in Egyptian jail!

Seriously, you should definitely tweet in this situation. On the downside, this guy has already written the most important word of his life.

So, there are some general guidelines for Twittering and Twitter, from a self-declared rookie. I hope they make sense and have inspired you to either start or stop twittering, depending on which way the evidence points. For now, I’m off – I’ve got to go update my tweets. Or something.

Chris Barth writes a weekly Thinking Man feature here at Pretty Much Amazing.  You can read his more succinct daily entries at his blog, The Stu Reid Experiment.  Follow Chris and The Stu Reid Experiment on Twitter at tsre.