ALERT: This is not just another post about “How to Use Twitter.”
A few months before I joined Twitter I attended a panel discussion on social media. A self-described Twitter expert was filling in us novices on this magical pixie dust technology. He talked about how to schedule tweets and use tweet-management software. Yet he talked as if my Twitter following had already gathered, a mass of devotees in St. Peter’s Square watching for my white smoke.
From the back of the conference room I asked him how you get followers to begin with.
“Send good tweets,” he said.
At the time I found that comment absolutely moronic. I now realize it was a statement of genius. I have had to learn the hard way, however, what a “good tweet” is. It’s actually “good communication,” something that dates back to grunts in caves.
“Gruhh.” (That was tasty mammoth meat, Ord.)
“Ruggh.” (Thanks, Naal, it took Grok and I half a sun-cycle to bring the bastard down.)
There are many things to love about our 2.0 world, but 2.0 evangelists do not make that list. They seem to believe time began with the first tweet. You can’t have a 2.0 without a 1.0. Our social media world is not revolutionary, it is evolutionary. (More on that in a moment.)
As loyal readers know, I’ve begun advising individual creatives on blogging and social media. Some of the great feedback I received on a recent post about whether a creative should blog has inspired me to share another lesson I’m providing in these consulting sessions.
The lesson? Social media is not new. We’ve been doing it our whole lives.
It’s called communication.
Let’s go back to the “good tweet.” Remove the word “tweet” and substitute “communication.” With caller ID and voice mail, we can screen our phone calls today. Which phone call — which “communication” — are you more likely to answer? A call from a telemarketer or a call from a friend? Wait, before you answer that, let’s clarify which friend. A friend who always has suggestions for fun activities or a friend who wants to bitch (yet again) that her boyfriend won’t leave his wife?
The lesson here is that when we answer the phone, we want a positive experience. It’s possible the telemarketer is selling something we desperately need at just the right price, but our experience is the opposite, so we’re not likely to answer. And as for our friends, those who bring positive energy are going to make us want to take their call more than those who are simply looking to take. At least the telemarketer is promising us something in return for our time and money.
In our social media world, we are all empowered to filter our communications. I can follow you or not follow you. I can friend you or not friend you. And even if I follow you or friend you, I still don’t have to pay attention to you. My eyes are capable of motion. Your tweet or post can be ignored.
We communicate every day, over the breakfast table, at the office, in the supermarket checkout line. If we spend too long asking in our communications without giving, we learn the ineffectiveness of that approach. Those same lessons are true in social media.
But because the platforms of social media are new, many promoters of these platforms overlook the fact that it’s not about the medium, it’s about the message.
Back to the notion of evolution vs. revolution. Here in the United States we’re starting to see news articles and columns about the Civil War, as it was 150 years ago this spring the war began. That war marked a communications revolution.
When the American Continental Congress in 1774 sent a list of grievances to Britain’s King George III, they had to wait months for the petition to reach the king, and still more months for a reply. (FYI, the King’s reply was a “bad” tweet; he said if the colonists continued to make demands they’d find themselves hanging from trees. A revolution ensued, not a communications one, a guns-and-cannons one.)
Mere decades later, when Abraham Lincoln wanted to know what was happening on a Civil War battlefront, he would walk a few blocks from the White House to the War Department and read the latest telegraphs coming in from one of his generals. That was not an evolution in communication, that was a revolution. Distance went from being everything to being nothing.
We’ve had instant communication for more than 150 years. The telegraph evolved into the telephone, the telephone into the Internet, the Internet into Facebook apps that tell you when your high school crush has changed his status to “single.” But the sooner we stop thinking of our digital age as a revolution — the sooner we realize that communication remains communication regardless of medium — the sooner we’ll be able to write a “good tweet.”
If you’ve found your way here, you know your way around the interwebs. What are your thoughts? What lessons have you learned?