Twitter Sense and Sensibility

This was inspired by @mehwolfy and his post “The Social Media Zebra Question“. A highly recommended read.

A week-long break from the usual rut of predictable work weeks and IV-induced twittering is just what I needed for this post.Two heads are better than none
Last week, dear ole friends welcomed me into their homes like second family. And they expected me to go with the flow, relax and not get too stressed over planning and schedules.And then I started to talk about Twitter. Quickly eyes rolled, chuckling among the down-to-earth luddites, and everyone looked at me as if I had two heads.

Serene dusk. Napanee, Ontario June 2009. Nothing to do with this post.

Granted, my jolly peeps are a motley lot: from devout hockey parents, creative designers, real estate entrepreneurs to writers. I’ve always preferred diversity among a close circle, and despite the jokes and head-shaking over my bugged out social media diatribes, I was acutely aware of the interest, the genuine curiosity and the light-bulb-going-off look when they finally got a sense of what this Twitter thing was all about.

How’s that for an example of real-time, face-to-face social engagement?

Below are more random thoughts on the “social ying to the media yang” and vice-versa. I may have tweeted or read of these thoughts before; if so, I hope the reminder is helpful. And if not, well, lucky you.

Acknowledgment enhances the social vernacular
Indeed, when you are fully engaged in discussion with someone, you listen attentively, react accordingly, and provide body language cues that either fuel or abate the movement of interaction.

The online experience is no different. Barring tiresome, troublesome anonymous commentating trolls, the majority interacts with a back-and-forth motion that not only defines the context of the interaction, but also depicts the quality of engagement.

Think about it: re-tweeting (RT) someone’s tweet creates an initial level of mutual affirmation. Take that a step further with acknowledging the person(s) who RT’d your tweet and suddenly the effort means something more. It’s like saying, “wow, you cared about what I had to say/think. thanks!” So for those who don’t bother or think it’s lame to thank people, think again. That’s actually a perfect example of how you start to build strong bonds within your network.

Attribution is good journalistic practice
If you’ve ever written a paper or essay on a subject that required research and some form of citation from a source, you would typically annotate these references either as footnotes or on a bibliographic page.

I’ve started to pay close attention to how I tweet by making a concerted effort to see if the author of a given article, blog, etc. is on Twitter and then naming them after the URL. It just feels proper and professional, the way printed media would accredit sources. PLUS, I’ve gotten great follows as a result. Yes, people whose work you’ve attributed will actually take interest in following you. Common courtesy, really.

With all the debate over the accuracy, authenticity and overall professional lacuna of citizen journalism and crowdsourced factoids, attributing your tweets to a source would, in my mind, at least show some form of respect to that source (be it accurate or not): that it was not your own original thought/idea you are sharing. Does it matter if it’s accurate? Not really. But at least you’ve made it clear it’s not proprietary to you.

Transparency is a mode not a point of view
Social media has demonstrated the power of transparency. And by transparency, I mean the degree of open communication characteristic of frank dialogue, candid opinions, and plain honesty, which often act as kindling to a raging, bonfire discussion.

But I think people tend to forget common sense in favour of quickly indulging their unbridled emotional angst. Hence, the disastrous consequences that curtail people’s ability to widen their networks, secure jobs, advance careers, and sometimes completely lose credibility altogether.

Being transparent should not have to mean taking a blisteringly raw point of view, without careful attention to decorum and civility. Now these two words may seem contrived and pretentious, but would you rather conduct business (i.e., earn your keep and bring bread to the table) by callously spitting hellfire all over the internet to get your point across? Or would a tactful approach be more effective? Why not show how open you communicate, while keeping the pejorative aspects of your statements in check and opting for other offline venues to take your beef to a more traditional social setting like say tweet-ups, conferences and the like.

Social engagement is a best practice for business
It’s a point that hardly needs repeating. And while many frontline practitioners have already done the research, made appropriate assessments and started layering social media into their business mix, those unable to jumpstart their social mojo are likely in need of more practice.

While I think the principles behind social media practice are largely based on traditional models along with a good dose of common sense, it is most puzzling how so many articles and blogs (like this one) seem to keep repeating the same chants. Is it repetitive or is the act of repetition a genuine form of rehearsal or repetitive drilling-in-the-head, as it were, to hammer the point home?

To me (and probably others), Twitter is social media’s iconic face. And if its creators’ roots have any relation to the peace and love generation of the 60’s, then that bunch must be some kind of genius for designing a network conduit that leaves you no choice but to first discover sense and sensibility before you can take a step further.

25 thoughts on “Twitter Sense and Sensibility

  1. I recon the situation with off-line friends 🙂 Even many top communications professionals don’t find value in twittering In my opinion the value comes from your ability to get in touch with people sharing the same interests as you do. If you have success with this Twitter can at it best work as an exchange of links and ideas. When participating you of course quote your sources with transparency as a result. This gives you reliability and is polite too. And, which is utmost important, it makes it possible for us, who participates, to distinguish between bad sources of information and reliable sources. Don’t retweet unless you are sure of the veracity (via @grahamjones). Transparency is the fundamental basis for a professional, trustworthy and enjoyable conversation!

  2. This reminds me of all the things we were taught when we were little: Don’t forget your manners, say please and thank you, always tell the truth and admit when you’ve done something wrong. It sometimes seems that when we’re dealing with online communications we forget those basic fundamental rules of growing up. In any social situation you should always show common courtesy. I’ve seen a saying thrown around Twitter that I think ties in very nicely here: Tweet others as you would want to be Tweeted.

    Great post as always Autom 🙂

  3. I would echo all the earlier responses and say: Your post, Autom, reads like the best of Ann Landers and Dear Abby — the gentle, candid reminder of what we all would do well to keep in mind (even though we sometimes forget). As for the puzzle of so much repetition of the principles of good communications practice, I have a theory. In my experience, the barriers to entry to the Twittersphere are significant and require pushing through various sorts of impediments: (1) it’s difficult to know the value of Tweeting without actually having done it for awhile; (2) the technology is decentralized — i.e., the core tool (the Twitter site) has no direct relationship with the third-party applications (e.g., Tweetdeck) that greatly increase the efficiency with which one may tweet; (3) these impediments only aggravate any pre-existing technophobia on the part of the user. My theory is that with so many impediments to surmount, early users may lose track of the basics. That’s certainly been my story. I’m typically not one to fulminate in plain view, but I’ve been lazy about the thank yous and acknowledging direct communications. Your post, Autom, reminds me that I can and prefer to do better.

  4. Fantastic post! We all win in a civil environment. We all win when we respect one another, acknowledge one another, and try to keep the conversation open.

  5. What a great reminder. One of the things that has always stuck with me is hearing a fellow marketing/communications associate and friend talk about courtesy when using SM. He said that if we approach it the same way as we would approach people at a cocktail party/wine reception, things would be a lot different. Meaning this: you don’t see people (except the ones you despise) shoving business in your face before they actually introduce themselves or create a relationship. Usually if a person likes what they see and hear, they will ask for a business card from the person they are talking to. On the same token, if you have a meaningful discussion with someone, you are probably likely to send them a thank you note or email letting them know you appreciated it and look forward to further communication and building the relationship. SM is much the same. When we begin to engage other businesses and individuals, we don’t start by selling ourselves or ways to make money (I for one, un-follow anyone that sends me tweets like that or how many followers I can have in 24 hrs). We start by sharing, collaborating, and building a relationship of trust…which will lead to far greater things than immediate cash in your pocket.

  6. I am privileged by your audience and not for a second do I take any of these great vibes for granted. Thank you.

    Although I must share this: Each time I fire up one of these posts, I am always initially overcome by second thoughts. I suppose that’s just human nature: to have doubts and second guess one’s instincts. In fact, just cycling to work this morning, I thought: gee, wonder what the other half thinks about this Landers/Abby take (thanks Tom, I quite liked that :)..what about the radical thinking, anarchistic spirit who by dint of their chaotic nature EQUALLY contribute to the debate and choose NOT to act/react in civil terms?

    What’s wrong with being a smart-ass? Nothing. But would you hire them to represent your breadNbutter? your brand? it even depend on anything? Hmm..their stage is somewhat limited in that context. But I felt I needed to be holistic about this..ensuring that whatever I share will not only provoke thought but invite dialogue. However, there are times when consensual agreement is complicit. Nature of the societal beast, I suppose.

    Again, most honoured by your participation. Thank you!

  7. Well-written and well said, Autom. Your sensitivity to these issues is a great boon to all of us. I especially like what you say about how interactions online mirror interactions in person. Much research has been done on this. While there are less “cues” online, they do exist and serve to break or bond individuals. I also like your discussion of attribution.

    What really makes me smile about posting other people’s work is that 9 times out of 100, referencing them makes them happy. When you reference someone in a quote, image, or otherwise, you essentially promote them on the web. We can talk about the gray area between attribution and plagiarism, but I think the social media factor tilts in favor of sharing . . .

    By sharing others’ work, you spread their influence on the web. Most people appreciate this, and indeed, seem to want it.


  8. Great points – funny how easy it is to forget common sense. One additional thing to I also found myself telling non-Twitterers: I learn a lot via the people I follow. A lot. Like where to find this article. And, among a groups of us live tweeting a conference, I heard myself say, out loud, “If you can’t twitter something nice, don’t twitter at all.” Maybe that one should be amended to include “or useful” after “nice.”

  9. Thanks for the link and props for my article!

    I have to disagree with you about the retweet thanks thing. I’m all for thanking in a DM or something, but someone acknowledging someone else I don’t know for something I didn’t see isn’t interesting. I say the best thanks for a retweet is a retweet.

    I like the idea of crediting a source with a twitter name. If I can spare the letters I’ll do it. Otherwise, as a source, I’m happy with the web link. One of my most viewed pages on my blog is which has my social media contact info, so I’m confident that it’s easy enough to find.

    Twitter is definitely the iconic face of social media. Without a doubt. Blogs were that face a few years ago. What’s next?


  10. Great post.

    One of Jane Austen’s main points was how horribly we can misjudge one another based on hearsay and first meetings. Twitter, and all social media, seem to suffer from just this type of prejudice. Agree with Tom Schierholz – there seem to be stiff barriers to people’s acceptance, esp. of Twitter.

  11. Thanks elisapiper! I should clarify that I had not intended this post to specifically allude to Austen or her works. Although I can’t deny that most would automatically make associations given the post’s title. Admittedly, I was suckered into the clever alliteration, which came to me quickly and sounded so well in my head at the time. Glad it’s been useful in some way to you. – A

  12. Autom – Terrific post and true to your words, I came in via Twitter due to our occasional DM’s. I really believe that transparency is the one area where companies are just starting to appreciate the value and also potential pitfalls to social media. I recently wrote where I noted that companies need to get more savvy and realize that there is opportunity for them in being customer centric. Not only will that customer take notice but a whole group of potential consumers also get the same good vibe about a company.

    Your post reminds that at the end of the day offline or online treating others with respect never serves you poorly.

  13. Hi Autom
    Very good post indeed although the points that Wolfy raised have crossed my mind as well. I have difficulty just getting through the new updates and I do tend to run out of characters especially on RTs.

    Either way you post is a good reminder of one of the most important aspects of social media…..interaction.

    Thanks again for the post and conversation.

  14. Hello Guru, what entice you to post an article. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

  15. It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place.

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