The Truth About Twitter

Over the past year, Twitter seems to have hit its tipping point and truly entered popular consciousness. (@idpkbrian called it when he saw a reference to Twitter in a Wal-Mart ad in a movie theatre this summer.)

Just to be contrarian, I think it’s time I shared my Twitter peeves. Let the Twitter scroogin’ begin!

Twitter != IM
If more than half your tweets start with @, you might want to consider downloading an instant messaging client. Of course, if all those @ replies are interesting to your followers, more power to you. But, more often than not, @ replies consist of stuff like, “@ so-and-so, what are you doing tonight? I’m washing my hair!”

Know what I say to that? #annoying! Pick up the phone, send an email or use instant messenger.

Watch the re-tweets, Mister.
RT, or re-tweeting, is repeating what someone else said because you thought it was funny or interesting. That’s fine, but if more than half your tweets are RTs, what the hell are you doing? Add something interesting to the conversation, or don’t talk. (This from the girl who tweets pictures of her kid. Who do I think I am?)

Twitter is also not RSS
If all that you or your company are tweeting about is your latest blog post, please stop. If we want to read your blog, we’ll subscribe to your RSS feed. (If you sprinkle your blog notices among other interesting tweets, no worries.)

On a related note, if all you’re doing is @replying to people who mention you or your competitor, please stop. You’re killing me.

Quantity vs. Quality
This goes for tweets and followers alike. If you’ve been on Twitter for six months and you have thousands of tweets, you are either:
a) incredibly interesting and knowledgable
b) self-obsessed
c) in need of an IM client (see: Twitter != IM)

The answer is most likely b or c. Sorry.

Low or No-Value Tweets
When it comes to followers, I’m glad you have X-hundred or thousand. Good for you! Seriously, good for you. But, you don’t have to tweet every time another 5 people start following you. “I have 100 followers!” “I have 110 followers!” gets old very fast. As someone who’s following you, I obviously think you have something to say. Rattling off your number of followers is not that interesting. If I want to see how many followers you have, I can look at your profile anytime I want. On a related note, it’s really not necessary to publicly thank all your followers.

I am Not a Snob.
I saw a video last month decrying Twitter “snobbery.” The basic message was that if you have a ton of followers and don’t follow all of them back, you’re not social media, you’re solo media.

Um, no. I certainly don’t expect every blog that I read to also read my blog. Similarly, I don’t expect everyone I follow on Twitter to follow me back. I’m busy, they’re busy, we’re all busy, and keeping up with 2,000 tweeters may not be high on my list, or theirs. There are certainly people with thousands of Followers and Followees, and God bless them (see: @stephenfry). But, I have a full-time job, a blog, a husband, a house and two kids. I use Twitter to follow some friends and some industry people that I think are interesting. That’s it. And it doesn’t make me a snob, it just means I’m smart enough to know my own limits.

The Elite
It bugged me when bloggers did it years ago and it bugs me now that tweeters are doing it: lists of who is “elite” based on number of followers or number of tweets or other wacky methods. What bugs me is the “I’m more popluar than you” mentality that smacks of junior high school. The beauty of where technology is right now (Web 2.0, if you will) is that we all have a voice. Not everyone can start a radio or TV station, or start printing a newspaper, but anyone can set up a Twitter account, a web site, a blog, or a Facebook page — and if they have something interesting to say, they’ll find an audience.

If anyone has this kind of right, it seems like Mr. Tweet does. He looks at it in terms of influence and relevance, which seems right on the mark. Trying to calculate who is elite based on followers or tweets just seems silly to me. I’ve seen people who have made thousands of low-value tweets. That ain’t elite. Where Mr. Tweet gets it right is in understanding that it’s in the eye of the follower: what’s relevant to me may not be relevant to someone else. This is not high school. There is no “in crowd.”

The Echo Chamber
Just like in real life, there are clusters of Twitter users. Many of us follow many of the same people. The result is that I might get the same article tweeted 5 times in 5 minutes. (related: my RT gripe). @jongordon noted a few weeks ago that it seemed like Twitter was made up of 90% PR people and “social media experts” and sometimes, it sure seems like he’s right.

Everyone was all a-buzz about the Motrin Moms a couple of months ago, but only ONE DAY after the whole thing happened there were so many tweets ABOUT it that it was impossible to find the tweets that actually WERE it. Echo….echo…echo…

I got a lot of Amens this week when I tweeted, “the more people use twitter, the more it becomes a place for ego-tripping and butt-kissing. i’m ready for that to stop now.”

Here’s what I’m talking about: the ego-tweet is the standard annoying bragadocious comment. This was brilliantly parodied by @lolife who said, “Having lunch with @god, then a meeting with @obama and then drinks with @bono before my date with @superhotchick.” Ego-tweets are all a variation on that theme. #snore

The butt-kiss tweet is usually a reaction. It goes something like this: powerful client-type person tweets about their business. The bajillion vendor-type people who follow this person go into a tweeting frenzy, each one trying to prove their smarts and derring-do. “Why yes, @powerfulclient-typeperson, we are incredibly strategic and smart!” And then we’re all subjected to the equivalent of a group capabilities presentation in 140 character bites. Which makes me, and all the kittens in the world, weep.

The Circle of Life
Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. It’s changed my life, cleared up my acne and I have lost 15 pounds since November. It’s just going through an interesting phase.

If you think about the arc that blogs have followed, it’s easy to draw parallels: began life as geek-only tool, gained popularity, users started defining crietria which make them “elite” to set them apart from all the newcomers, companies thought they were a golden ticket, blog ad networks developed and PR companies actively wooed bloggers, some bloggers were outed as shills and some managed to make a living at it, “real” journalists bristled but grudgingly started accepting blogs, blogs pronounced dead.

This same arc applies to Twitter. When I joined almost two years ago, there weren’t a whole lot of other people tweeting. Now that it’s hit the mass consciousness, the elite lists have started popping up, more and more companies are tweeting (and just like with blogs, a few are getting it right and the rest don’t know what to do), Twitter ad services have started popping up and will soon start to infiltrate. When I was watching CNN last month they were scrolling tweets across the bottom of the screen which means that sometime later this year, you can expect the “Twitter is Dead” headline to hit Wired.

Of course, blogs aren’t really dead — they’re just not the Next Best Thing anymore. Now, that mantle is carried by Twitter. We’ll see how long it lasts. In the meantime, happy tweeting. Follows or rotten tomatoes can be directed @irishgirl.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog]

Note to new Geek Girls: if you need to know more about what Twitter is, you can check out my earlier post. There’s no shame in not knowing, but there’s no excuse for not learning!