In Search of Quality, Not Quantity on Twitter

by Dan Hutson on June 4, 2009

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photo by art comments

I began to use Twitter on March 7 of this year. Technically I suppose I began on Nov. 30, 2007, when I signed up for an account and posted, “I’m at that odd point on a Friday afternoon where you just finished one project and don’t have the wherewithal to begin another one.”

I didn’t tweet again for more than a year. That’s when I wrote, “Am I really going to do this on a regular basis? That’s the question.”

My initial impression of Twitter was that it was the most inane thing yet on the web. One hundred and forty characters. What the hell are you supposed to say in 140 characters?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one having trouble answering that question, because much of what I saw on Twitter was pretty moronic. The problem was that far too many people answered literally the question Twitter posed: “What are you doing?”

They were stuck in traffic. They were at work. They were eating a sandwich. They were wondering what to have for dinner. They were taking a dump. They were going to bed.

If only the people behind Twitter had posed a different question. Like, “What’s on your mind?” “What’s exciting in your life?” “How are you going to change the world today?”

Fortunately, most people ignore the question now. People have figured out that their tweets can serve a better purpose than to ponder what to eat or announce bowel movements (well, most people).

Twitter is used to engage people you’ve never met and probably never will meet in meaningful conversation. Answer questions, Solve problems. Point people in the right direction. Shine a light on interesting stuff. Be helpful. Rally others around a cause. Sell things (but not too overtly, please). All in 140-character increments. Amazing.

But it’s still a shiny new object. We haven’t mastered it. By the time we do, it might be gone, replaced by the next shiny thing.

While some seem to think it’s a race to attract the greatest number of sheep to their flock, I’m more interested in the possibilities of crafting a network of people who share certain interests, bring certain skills to the party. Seems to me that a lot of people are approaching this as if it’s just another mass advertising play.

I’d rather be connected to 500 people with whom I share a passion than to 50,000 people with whom I have nothing in common. Five hundred people interested in how social media can drive change. Or 500 people who want to support my local independent business community. Or even 500 people who love a good zombie novel.

What I don’t want is 500 people trying to sell me the latest scheme for auto-generating thousands of followers who don’t share my interests, like @15Buses098 and @RightClick013. Or 500 followers enticing me with the latest and greatest Internet marketing strategies, like @profit09sd. Or 500 beautiful girls who just want to be my friend, like @Alexa03il and @nikiibVokAr.

The promise of Twitter is that we can all connect with our individual communities of common interest. Maybe I’ll come looking for you because you can solve a problem for me. Or maybe you’ll come looking for me because I can answer your questions. Or maybe I just like how you think and what you have to say. The rest is no better than junk mail and badly aimed mass advertising.

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