I got an email this week. “Is twitter really worth it?” she asked.
My answer? Twitter is worth it if you’re ready to claw your way out of your box, open your mind, and shake virtual hands.
Human beings gravitate to people who are like them. We associate with people who have similar interests, similar thought patterns, and similar worldviews. We like to be reminded of what interests us and we don’t like to be reminded about what is different. Generally.
Twitter – possibly like nothing else before it – allows you to forget all that. Make a change. Break free from your just-like-me box. And it doesn’t cause sweaty palms or heart palpitations. Generally.
Since I know you are one of those awesome people hungry for less of the same and more of the different, Twitter is a place you want to be. In my experience, people quit Twitter because they end up following a small circle of people with very similar interests. While it’s initially exciting to have a new platform with new resources for your perusal, ultimately, it’s exhausting.
If everything you have on Twitter you had before in one way or another, why stick around? In other words, there are far more efficient ways to stay in your box than by using Twitter. When you follow people on Twitter who are pretty similar to you, you tend to also be followed by others similar to you. That means your network is pretty closed. There is little opportunity to meet people who aren’t already part of your network or who have similar ideas to those already in your network.
So how do you claw yourself out of this Twitter box?
Websites of all ilks are posting Twitter handles nowadays. You can follow the reporter who wrote that interesting piece on a cultural event in your neighborhood or the congresswoman who passed a piece of legislation you support. Every time you find yourself outside of your usual web browsing rounds, look for Twitter handles.
Social media is a tool for listening, not just talking. — Sonia Simone, Marketing for Smart People
Follow those who create content of interest to you but who aren’t in your immediate ‘net circle.
Once you’ve been following ruthlessly for a bit, your Twitter stream will be overwhelming. You’ll feel like you’re missing stuff. You are.
Instead of just looking for your friends names as they scroll down the page, look for interesting tweets. Then systematically add the Twitter user to an appropriate list: journalists, business thinkers, philosophers, gurus, geeks, literary agents, hip chicks. Your lists will become little invitations to yourself to learn new things and meet new people. You might even facilitate those users getting to know each other. Or you can use the paper.li service to turn your lists into resources for others.
Take advantage of direct messages and @replies.
Once you’ve used Twitter to find people outside your usual internet circles and utilized lists to expose yourself to what they have to say, make sure you make things personal. Use @replies and direct messages to create a conversation with people you wouldn’t have imagined “talking” to before the age of social media.
Answer questions, offer your opinion, provide help. Twitter is pretty useless if you don’t actually socialize on
If this is where the sweaty palms & heart palpitations of analog socializing return, I understand. Allow yourself to recognize it and then move on past the fear. You are thrilled when new people talk to you whether on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog. Don’t assume that it ever gets old. It doesn’t.
Once you take your Twitter time to a more personal level, you might find opportunities for creative collaboration landing in your lap. Or you might get a chance to contribute to someone else’s project. Or that idea you’ve been mulling over in the shower might find a life of it’s own once you tweet about it and solicit feedback.
Just for fun, use the search box.
Justine Smith, of Create Hype, suggests using the search box to find conversations on topics you care about outside of your normal circle of tweeple.
Using the search bar is a fantastic way to meet and laugh with new people who are not in your social circle.
Just last week I was watching The Bachelor and kept thinking “does anyone else notice how much this girl talks with her hands?” So I went on Twitter, popped in a few keywords and bam! I was laughing my butt off with several other
Tweeters who noticed it too.
Twitter is fun! So find people who make the experience fun for you.
Twitter’s bigger picture
In the end, what people tout as a social media fad or the ultimate business promotion machine is only as revolutionary a platform as you choose to make it. If you choose to only use it for business, socialize with your current friends, reinforce your current opinions, it won’t be much good to you.
Today it’s Twitter. Tomorrow, it will be something new. And shortly after that, there will be another new gadget. The important thing is that as technology evolves and our relationships with it become more intimate, we use new networks to learn more about ourselves, those around us, and the world we live in. If we continue to reinforce the conventions we’ve grown accustom to, we have wasted a great opportunity.
The power of Twitter comes in it’s ability to empower you to claw out of your own box.
Still, you are the one who has to choose to use it for that purpose. You can waste hours staring mindlessly in front of the endless stream of links & witty hashtags, clicking on things that you already know about or sharing a laugh with a friend you could have easily picked up the phone to talk to. Or you can try something different, talk to someone new, and create a connection that hold infinite possibilities.