Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Networking at the speed of Twitter: social media

Thanks to Matt O'Neill and the London Communicators and Engagement Group for the invitation to this week's April meetup in London and the chance to hear Euan Semple discuss the latest trends in social media.

I like to think I've fair put myself out there in social media terms: besides this blog, you need only have a look at the left hand column next to this post to see that I've taking part in LinkedIn, Xing, ecademy, Naymz and various Ning communities (Applied Improv, Solutions Focus in Organizations Linkup, Sustainable Leadership and Open Source Integral).

But twitter...well until now I've until recently been of two minds, asking myself: How much social media is enough? Or too much...? I was still unconvinced of the twitter's value proposition for my business.

Downsides of twitter

You may already share some of the concerns I had and understand the causes of my hesitation: the short-message format of "tweets" encourages a trend I find sinister, namely the mangling of language and grammar that was begun by mobile text-messaging and has now found its large-scale cousin in twitter.

I've also had a concern about the utility and purpose of twitter - by and large there seems quite a lot of inane, vacuous and valueless noise about the mundane trivialities of people's everyday lives, posted (as put in the article Fear of Twitter) as part of the present day's "look-at-me adolescent neediness, constant-contact media addiction, birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity."

And to add to the dramas, there has lately been research warning that Twitter and Facebook could harm moral values as the phenomenon of instant/always-on messaging tempts us to act speedily (and emotionally) rather than morally (and rationally). In brain terms, these instantaneous media seem to promote or at least foster and environment in which limbic reactions (and re-tweets) are the norm. People are prone to action without consideration.

In sum, I've been conflicted.

A personal twitter tipping point: channels, concision, choices, currency

Then I had a conversation with Kay Ross in Hong Kong and it tipped me over from the blogosphere into the twittersphere. What did it was when Kay mentioned at least two business opportunities that came about as a result of twitter - that is, with people that she would not have met any other way and that twitter made possible.

This nicely illustrates the first salient point that I took away from this week's discussion with Euan and the London communicators: more channels means more chances to connect with other people whom I might not otherwise meet.

The corollary: different channels serve different purposes. I use LinkedIn, xing and ecademy more or less as calling cards to present my online CV with credentials, background and experience. Ning groups are a way for me to keep up on the events and people associated with particular communities of practice and interest. And I use this blog to share insights and content with a broader community.

The question for me was: would twitter simply duplicate efforts or could it be a useful and complementary application?

The answer to this is the second aspect of twitter that I find useful: it requires concision. Tim Ferriss' outstanding piece on how to use twitter without twitter using you, including his insight that twitter's best use is as a micro-blogging platform - a quick and concise way to share info and ask questions of my network without writing an email or writing a blog post.

As the title of his post also suggests, and a point that was made clear in Euan's talk as well, the explosion of twitter and all preceding forms of social media makes it all the more important to make choices about how much content I post and consume. With social media the brakes are off and constant streams of content are more than ever the norm. Anyone who's ever emerged from endless surfing wondering what happened to the day can attest to the stream-of-consciousness quality of trolling about on the Net.

At base, however, it's about priority-setting; if one lacks direction and purpose, procrastination can as easily happen online as in the kitchen rummaging for snacks. And if you're really not so into hearing about someone's updates on location and activities, you have the choice to turn it off or ignore it. So there is a case to be made for taking personal responsibility - just because it's there doesn't mean you have to use/see it.

As for keeping current with people, Joel Comm, makes the case that twitter "goes to the core of one of our most important needs...connecting with others of our species." But does the currency that "Twit Power" offers really stem from sharing inane details about favourite donut flavours and whether I've shaved today, or is there some onus on me as a micro-blogger to provide some value to the folks who follow my content?

The conclusion I've drawn is that if I am adding to the information stream I want to add things of value and potential interest to others, to be the signal that people seek out rather than the noise they filter.

So I've taken into account the potential downsides and, on the basis of the above four factors (channels, concision, choices, currency) I have now been twittering for a short while.

I should add: online social networking is different in character from the kind of face-to-face networking that's behind my current travels and enables much of my work. More about that in an upcoming post!


Alex (Your nephew) said...

The problem is that people are viewing this as "social media" rather than "social networking".
I disagree with the remarks about teenagers because (on facebook) I have as many mature adults who send me useless applications and requests as I do teenagers. Twitter and Facebook are powerful and valuable advertising tools but when these social networking websites become commercial there will be a majour decline in their usage.

Todd Montgomery said...

Hi Alex,
Thanks for your comment. Re "teenagers" yes my take on the term "adolescent" in terms of attention seeking is that it referred more to mental than chronological age.