I’ve been browsing the Piano Forum on http://www.pianoworld.com/ for a number of months now, both before and after purchasing an old piano and having it rebuilt. (Anyone who has any interest in pianos, either from a technological or musical standpoint, go check out PianoWorld right now—it’s the best.)
I’d posted only once until a few nights ago, when I saw a post from one of the site’s owners, Frank B.: “OT: Twitter users?” asking who uses Twitter and what they think of it. (You can view the thread at http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1214327/O.T.%20-%20Twitter%20Users?.html#Post1214327 .) Reviewing the responses, I found two from a member whose posts on topics directly related to pianos have been knowledgeable and helpful, dismissing Twitter as a useless timewaster for attention-seeking juveniles. Having had more or less the same attitude toward social media until I tried them out, and having just published an article on lawyers and social media (it’s the cover story in the June 2009 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, published by the Illinois State Bar Association and available online at http://www.isba.org/ibj/2009/06/288_law_and_technology.html , I couldn’t resist chiming in.
Here’s my take on Twitter and online social networking in general, partly taken and edited from my PianoWorld post:
Social networking is just another way of interacting with people. Yes, some people tweet about inanities. Some people e-mail inanities, too (or post them on blogs or discussion boards), or bend your ear with inanities on the phone or at a cocktail party or a professional meeting or a school function or when you run into them on the street. Some people make fools of themselves in social situations, whether online or in person, and some people are unpleasant. But that doesn’t mean that you, too, must behave that way. You wouldn’t decide that you’re never going to use the phone or internet, or attend social events in person because SOME people do not behave well (or, at least, after the fashion that you think they should), would you? Of course not.
People are still figuring out all the things they can do with these media. The key is that they all help you to communicate and make connections with other people, and do it a lot more efficiently than you possibly could in person, or by phone, or even by e-mail. And you can use these media–which are mostly FREE, by the way–to benefit yourself personally or to benefit your business (or both).
Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst on social computing at Forrester Research who blogs at http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ and tweets at twitter.com/jowyang , said that nowadays, your business card or your resume is what comes up on a Google search. Like it or not, there’s a lot of truth in that remark. You can use all of these media to help other people find you more effectively and to shape the image of yourself that you want to present to the world. Ignore them, and you’re missing that opportunity.
The jury is still out on exactly how people will use Twitter most effectively. Some question whether it’s just a fad that will be gone and forgotten in five years. But I marvel at the ingenuity some people show in their use of the application. There’s a woman in Northern Ireland who tweets recipes and was written up in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/dining/22twit.html for it; follow her at twitter.com/cookbook . (Chicago chef Rick Bayless does this, too.) If you follow ChessTweets ( twitter.com/chesstweets; www.chesstweets.com ), you can become part of a community playing a game of chess on Twitter. People tweet poetry and novels, too. And you know what? You can say a lot in 140 characters. The limit forces you to be terse.
Someone asked me the other day whether I think everyone should tweet and be on Facebook and LinkedIn. My opinion is that every professional probably should have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. That profile, by itself, is like having a business card or resume on the internet. When you meet people, which may increasingly be online or over the phone more often than in person, you can direct them to your LinkedIn profile so they can quickly get a pretty good idea of who you are, what qualifications you have, and whether they might like to do business with you. As to other media, though, no, I don’t think everyone should or needs to use them, just as not everyone needs to play golf or belong to a private club in order to have the business or social life they want to have. I do think that everyone should investigate and consider, not dismiss, them and make a decision whether one or more fits their needs.
Returning to Twitter, here’s my advice, inspired by Colorado career coach Carol Ross, for how to go about getting a feel for what it is and what you can do with it. I’d suggest following a bunch of people whom you think might be interesting to get a feel for how different people tweet. Do that for at least two weeks—maybe a month. If you find that some do nothing but plug their product, maybe you’ll want to un-follow them. (Or, since different people like different things, maybe you’ll think their tweets are great.) Follow me at twitter.com/helengunnar ; I tweet about a variety of matters that interest me and that I think others might find interesting or ought to know about. Look at whom the people you follow and find interesting follow for ideas of more people to follow. If you, like most Twitter subscribers, have a product or service that you’d like to promote, consider how the people you’re following go about plugging their products or services. What do you like or not like, or find effective or not effective, about what they do? It is totally appropriate to tweet about your own product or services, but you need to do it in a respectful way that doesn’t alienate the people you’d like to be your customers. (Just as you would if you were meeting people at a cocktail party or other in-person gathering and wanted to present yourself in the best possible way.)
It’s also good to keep in mind, as Carol has noted, that an important principle of Twitter etiquette is Give First. That means give credit to others, praise other people’s products or services or posts when you think they’re good, link to other people’s blogs or websites, and do all of those things before expecting others to give something to you. That principle, by the way, seems to me to be what businesspeople and professionals are following when they serve on boards of nonprofit organizations for no pay and do volunteer work for charitable causes. They believe in the causes they’re supporting, yes, but there’s also the hope that their unpaid work will gain them a higher profile and respect among the community of potential clients or consumers or business partners–which, they hope, may lead to more paying business opportunities. And that is a perfectly fine and understandable thing.
In the PianoWorld discussion, another user posted a link to an article that she found helpful, “Why is Twitter so confusing?” at http://timtfj.wordpress.com/2009/04/05/confusing/ . Having now read the article, I agree completely with the points in it and recommend it to anyone who’s wondering what Twitter is all about, who’s skeptical of its utility, or who’s dismissed it without exploring it and giving it a fair trial.
One of that article’s most important points, I think, is that the question with which Twitter presents users, “What are you doing?” is probably not the best question to answer when you tweet. Better idea: tweet something that you think is interesting or important, such as a link to a website—perhaps your own, but much of the time it should probably be someone else’s—along with a brief description of why readers should want to click on the link.
For a better understanding of social media, I’d also recommend checking out my article, which you can find in a law library near you even if you can’t access it online. My sources were first-rate! A sampling:
Chicago immigration lawyer Sonya Olds Som, whose website is http://www.sosimmigrationpc.com/ and who tweets at twitter.com/sosimmigration , pointed out “As someone who’s trying to generate business, I think it’s a very valuable way to stay out in front of your clients and customers without looking like you’re constantly trying to call them and ask them for something.”
Fastcase CEO Ed Walters, whose online legal research company’s main page is at https://www.fastcase.com/Corporate/Company.aspx , commented “We’re dealing with lawyers who are very busy. If you want to tell people about something, it’s really hard to get through. People are in court, they don’t have any time, they’re working really hard, they’re on the phone. For some lawyers, social networks are by far the best way of reaching them.”
John Marshall Law School Professor Mark Wojcik, whose faculty page at http://www.jmls.edu/directory/wojcik_mark.shtml links to his sites, commented “It is another way for clients and colleagues to find you. When economic times are difficult, no one can afford to write off an important free resource. Social networking over the Internet will never replace face-to-face meetings…, but they are a fantastic way to stay in touch.”
I can’t say enough positive things about Colorado career coach Carol Ross, whom I met online through social networking while researching my IBJ article: on Northwestern University’s LinkedIn site. Carol provided me with some terrific insights into online social networking, pushed me (gently) over the edge to get me to start this blog, blogs herself at http://www.abiggervoiceblog.com/ and http://carolross.typepad.com/ordinary_life_extraordina/ , and tweets at twitter.com/carolross . In interviews for my article, she made many of the points I’ve made above. In fact, the title of this post, “140 characters, why bother?” is a direct quote from Carol, explaining her own attitude to Twitter before she, too, “got it.” Carol has also pointed out that you can turbocharge your blog to get more viewers through using Twitter to tweet about your posts.
One of my favorite quotes of Carol’s from my article sums up Twitter, blogs, and other online social networking media: “Whatever you put out there is going to naturally attract what it should. If you put drivel out there, people who like drivel will be attracted to it. If you put really good stuff out there, people who like really good stuff will be attracted to that. With all these tools, you get the whole mix of humanity out there. You get everything from infantile conversations to some pretty heady stuff, and everything in between. How you choose to use it is up to you.”