May 19, 2009

Twitter literacy: Getting value out of social media

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Beth KanterHoward Rheingold has an interesting post titled “Twitter Literacy (I refuse to Make Up a Twittery Name for It). Stephen Downes went ahead and said the word, Twitteracy. Rheingold points to some research data from Nielsen that more than 60 percent of new Twitter users fail to return the following month. Rheingold suggests that is an example of social media literacy:

Twitter is one of a growing breed of part-technological, part-social communication media that require some skills to use productively. Sure, Twitter is banal and trivial, full of self-promotion and outright spam. So is the Internet. The difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it — on knowing how to look at it.

He goes to lay out some reasons why he finds Twitter valuable, a nice counterpoint to Jakob Nielsen’s critique in BusinessWeek where he suggests that Twitter gives you ADD and can damage productivity. Clearly, if you use Twitter efficiently and in the right way it can provide value.

Rheingold says that to achieve success on Twitter:

It comes down to tuning and feeding. And by successful, I mean that I gain value — useful information, answers to questions, new friends and colleagues — and that the people who follow me gain value in the form of entertainment, useful information, and some kind of ongoing relationship with me.

That last point about “ongoing relationship” refers to ambient intimacy or the ability to feel like you know someone more deeply even though you may not have met face-to-face or only met once.  As a colleague said to me recently when asked if she found Twitter of value as a professional networking tool,  “If I’m following someone on Twitter who I met a conference, I might feel more comfortable picking up the phone to talk to them when I’m networking.”

Let’s dissect Rheingold principles of using Twitter effectively:

To oversimplify, I think successful use of Twitter means knowing how to tune the network of people you follow, and how to feed the network of people who follow you.

The tuning element is about who you follow. Rheingold has a mix of people he knows offline as well as virtual friends. I like Vladis Krebs’ advice on this fine-tuning which is summarized in a post I wrote a few months back called “If you were stuck on a desert island, and could only follow 150 people on Twitter, who would you follow and why?” He suggests identifying influencers in different communities to follow versus following everyone. That’s how I fine-tune who I follow, but I also like to mix it up with a little serendipity.

How is your organization tuning its Twitter network?

The feeding part is what you tweet. Like Rheingold, I avoid over tweeting about myself. I tend to ask questions, share links both what I discover from my RSS reader or retweeting links shared by others in my network, and a few personality items (funny, witty, or something that shows I’m a human.) (BTW, if you want to read some really clever tweets, Shel Israel asked for favorite tweets for his soon to be published book Twitterville — some are hilarious.)

How is your organization feeding its Twitter network? How does what your feed your Twitter networks support your social media objectives?

Certainly, with discipline and a few minutes in the morning as part of your regular routine, you can overcome some the productivity issues that Nielsen points out. And, with Web-based applications like Co-Tweet or HootSuite, you can share tweeting across teams, pre-schedule your tweets and other time-saving tricks. Even better, if you can’t install local clients on your desktop because of IT policy, both of these Twitter productivity tools are web-based. …

Now that Twitter is being used by more and more businesses and nonprofits,  Twitter Codes of Conduct are being added to social media policies.  I like the guideline that Wendy Harman, Social Media Strategist for the Red Cross said last February in an NTEN Webinar, “I won’t tweet anything that would embarrass my mother.”

What questions or tips do you have about improving your organization’s Twitteracy?


Pistachio’s collection of Getting Started On Twitter Guides
• Pistachio’s Professional Twitter Guides

The Twitter Book by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein (pre-order)

Cross-posted from Beth’s Blog

Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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One thought on “Twitter literacy: Getting value out of social media

  1. The more that people use Twitter, the more value they'll find in it.

    Good analysis of Howard and Jakob's recent posts/articles, Beth.