When not to use Twitter

tweetsI’ve been working lately with a subject matter expert who wants to drive traffic back to his blog/website. Aware of the digital forensics community on Twitter, he thought that site would be a good way to do it, but he wasn’t sure how.

I plied him with the most tailored advice I could give about starting and joining in conversations, linking, curating related content, and generally being himself. He was already starting to collect followers, and I knew he’d be welcomed.

But he wasn’t posting. When he finally did, the post seemed awkward. And yet, he’d told me he was reading and parsing everything I’d written. So what was going on?

Short bursts of conversation are not for everyone

Most people who thrive on Twitter tend to do so within just a few tweets of joining. They figure out how and where to find the people they want to connect with, and before long, only their follower counts show how new they are to the space. The short form of communication doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest.

I emailed my SME. “It’s not the conversing with people… it’s figuring out how to fit your natural patterns into Twitter syntax. How often do you text message or IM or chat with other people?” I asked.

His response: NEVER. “I hate texting and IM’ing,” he wrote. “I only text my wife and a couple of buddies. I never use IM.”

Of course it would be harder to fit into short-form messaging. And yet, there was still that niggling problem: because of the forensics community on Twitter, it was still the best place to drive traffic back to his site.

I recommended he check out Twitterfeed. Although I don’t advocate automation as a stand-in for the kind of relationship-building Twitter enables, it was clear that my SME wasn’t all that into this particular mode of relationship-building. Automation would ensure that he could tweet both his own, and related content. Enough tweets, and he’d be able to stay in front of followers.

But don’t just “set it and forget it”

Those who expect to be able to build a relationship with Twitter-based experts may be turned off when their RT or attempts to start a conversation go unanswered. They’re not likely to understand that this isn’t because the expert is a snob, but simply because s/he isn’t there to respond.

To get around this, the expert might do one of several things:

  • Post a Twitter bio reflecting that the account is automated and giving users the option to email with questions or comments. This isn’t perfect — people generally won’t check before they reply to a tweet — but when they first follow you, the bio can be useful to establish a ground rule.
  • If you dislike Twitter, but you’re on LinkedIn or Facebook and feed your status updates to Twitter, consider periodic tweets that ask followers to connect with you via one of those channels instead.
  • Ask blog readers to email you or comment on your blog rather than tweeting you. (Twitterfeed allows you to input text before or after a tweet.)
  • Use an app — my SME tells me Twitter for iPhone has one — that pops a message up whenever you’re publicly mentioned.

Twitter is well worth the time and effort to get to know, but if you hate short-form messaging in general and decide, after making an honest effort, that it really isn’t for you, then consider automation and/or combining the channel with the social sites you do prefer.

Have you chosen not to use Twitter? What have your experiences been? How do you connect with the investigative community otherwise?

Creative Commons License photo credit: cevanoff

4 thoughts on “When not to use Twitter

  1. Aloha Christa,
    You brought some good points in your piece, The bottom line use the tools and medium that you are “comfortable” with and which suits your needs. But you do need to do some research to weigh the advantages/disadvantages and most important, it fits in my “lifestyle” or routine.
    Again, “Mahalo” for another fine article.

  2. Mahalo Chris! I would add to the idea about fitting the tool into one’s lifestyle or routine, that the most important part of the research is trying the tool on for size. I myself scoffed at Twitter until I thought maybe I could promote my writing through there. I signed on, followed some, tweeted some, made friends with people and bit by bit found it becoming a bigger part of my routine. However, I’d already IM’d with other friends for some time, and as a writer I enjoyed the challenge of fitting a thought into 140 characters. I just would not have known all that had I not actually tried it! (Just as my SME would not have known that he hated it, had he not tried it.) ;)

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