With just 140 characters, folks are striking up conversations around the world on a variety of topics and in “real time” with Twitter. If you are not already familiar with the tool, essentially users get a “platform” from which to speak about their passion (similar to a blog) that occurs at the speed of instant messaging. Like blogs, it creates a medium where everyone has a voice; like instant messaging, it is sometimes irreverent. (If you’re not familiar with Twitter, Fortune Magazine published an informative article in August 2008, The true meaning of Twitter.)
Once you have a Twitter account, you’ll need to “follow” someone to get the most out of the tool. This means you’ll be listening (or reading) to what that person has to say. As an information junkie, I follow those who talk about things that interest me. Although, I have to admit following a hundred or so simultaneous conversations can sometimes be daunting. Nonetheless, I learn new things daily, I’ve found a great breeding ground for new things to think about, and I find new sources of information relevant to my interests. Because these topics interest me, I can also contribute something to these conversations.
On the flip side, some may desire to follow you and here’s where it gets a little sticky. Not everyone thinks the way I do and follow people who engage in topics of interest. Some believe that it is the size of the network that’s important. I would like to think the general idea behind Twitter was “relevant conversations” with others; therefore the size of your network would be somewhat limited by those with similar interests. Unfortunately, like rabid “network marketers” some desire to follow solely so someone in your network may see them and investigate the latest “business opportunity” being pitched or product sold. Those people are only trying to increase the size of their network. I dislike this approach, as it seems to me that the “follow” is somehow disingenuous.
Consider this: When you met your neighbor the first time, did you work to find common interests, or were you pitched all-purpose, non-toxic cleaning solutions that he or she happened to be selling? I dislike the latter and will avoid that neighbor for a while.
The same is true online, and especially on Twitter. It’s very easy to “unfollow” someone. You can also block your updates, as I do so that you must approve everyone who follows you. I like this because it gives me the opportunity to manage my “implied endorsement” of those who follow me. I review every website and a Twitter stream of every follow request and make a conscious decision as to the “fit.” If there is not a fit, I decline.
Social media tools are specifically designed to build conversations. Think about it like talking with your neighbor across the back fence; only you’re talking across the Internet. Shared ideas and interests are paramount to building personal credibility and friendships. Twitter and other online tools can accelerate credibility building, but they can destroy it just as quickly.
For me, Twitter is not about building a large, non-interested following. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and erodes the credibility of the followers. I hope those I follow feel the same way.