Okay, technically in the hyper-jargon that has emerged surrounding Twitter, the alpha male of the micro-blogging world, I am considered to be a Tweeter. But for some reason, twit just seems to work better for me. I get a lot of ilTwitterate people asking me why I consider Twitter to be so valuable. Granted, I don’t really care so much to hear that you are currently picking belly button lint (yours or someone else’s). Nor do I need to read your tweet railing against the driver next to you who is texting while driving. (The nerve of some people, eh?) I do, however, need to find an easy way to keep up with some of the news that affects my world – government, technology, Web2.0, life here in western VA, etc. Who has the time to keep up with all that is going on in the world around us today? How many good articles and links have you had to pass up simply because it was the only way to keep your Inbox from a massive melt down? As much as I like to think I am not chained to my job, the truth is, I’ve got the shackles on and if the cage door was ever left open, I think I’d probably shut it myself, just to keep the other freaks out. Bottom line, I do not have enough time in the day to keep up with all that I should or would like to. So, I turn to the Twitosphere and rely on my Tweeters to keep me informed.
There are three crucial parts to an effective Twitter engagement: the Followers, the Following and the Posts.
First – the Followers: I welcome any and all followers (except for those rare yet mega-annoying Tweetspammers). I welcome followers not because I am vain (I mean come on – look at the photo I chose for the header of this column!) Nope, tis not vanity at all! I welcome followers because it is an opportunity to build community, albeit a community that speaks in 140 characters or less in a sometimes cryptic language of abbreviations and tinyurls. But, those tiny posts can often speak volumes and lead me off in new directions of information sharing and news from the world around me. It can change my thinking and I certainly meet new and dynamic people who are in no obvious ways akin to me. Honestly, I love it when I see that new people are following me. I presume it means that they dug in a little bit and saw that I had something relevant to say to them. Perhaps it was a topic I posted or a question I posed. Perhaps it was simply that I said the right thing, at the right time, in the right way that answered a burning question they had. Then again, perhaps they were just drunk-tweeting and clicked on me by accident. Regardless, the point is, I see it as a sign of interest in the work I am doing and any connection is an opportunity to expand on the group symbiosis I gain from Twitter.
So that brings me to my Following list. I’ve had to cultivate the list of people I follow. I do not automatically add someone just because they choose to follow me. I do not mean offense by this, but with the overwhelming amount of information out there, I have to be a little picky lest I get overwhelmed with updates that don’t do much for me personally and what I am trying to get our of Twitter. So until I see the Binford Do-It-Yourself Cloning Kit on the shelves at the local Walmart or learn how to manipulate the time-space continuum, I have to try to line up the most applicable, prolific and accurate Tweeters I can find. I’ll generally do a quick scan for a few key words of the updates and make sure they seem to erupt on a fairly regular basis and somehow fit into one of my loose info categories and with the click of a Follow button, a new tributary to the Greever Tweetstream is born!
Finally, in order to get some real value out of the Twitterverse, you need to be sure that there is a communal send-and-receive habit within your own personalized galaxy. Invest some time and energy in following those links. Answer the questions that are posed by those in your stream – if you can help out, do so and in return you can expect the same treatment next time you are stuck! Also, keep it real. Say something if you think it needs to be said, but be mindful of the context and that you are still a representative of your organization (unless of course you are doing this on your own time with no reference to your day job). Try to be useful. Trust me – it is much harder than it sounds when you only have 140 characters in which to hurl some useful info chunks at your Tweet tribe. As with all 2.0 tools, there is no harm in checking this out. I personally never have made any promise that my Tweets will be interesting, informative or even coherent. I was a fly on the wall for a while, started making some comments and my own posts about the work I was doing in the 2.0 and slowly it became for me an invaluable tool to learn, educate, inform and communicate. Every day new tools are emerging that make Twitter a more valuable and effective tool, but the true burden and the value of the tool relies on you and what you want to get out of it. Like Luke Skywalker rocketing down that trench on the Death Star, you are in complete control of whether or not the tool works for you. You don’t need the computer to do it for you. Use the force to…okay, you get the point.
So, for those of you visual learners out there, here’s a sampler platter of the loose categories of people I choose to follow on Twitter. Given the amount of people on Twitter these days, I am confident you can find your own peeps and get your very own Tweetstream flowing in no time!
Web2.0 in Action (Shout-Outs to: pbroviak, sarahintampa, GovDelivery, govloop,)
Information Security & Technology (Shout-Outs to: govtechnews, Bwoolley, vcuinfosec)
Government/Education Leaders (Shout-Outs to: Bill Schrier, ujdmc, bashley, egvick, webgoddess)
Govts on Twitter (Shout-Outs to: RoanokeCounty, DowningStreet, LAFD, Blacksburg_Gov)
Insight & Generally Thought Provoking (Shout-Outs to: LPT, lewisshepherd, careerdiva, queenofpith)
Star Wars Humor (Shout-Out to: DarthVader - his twitticisms are as funny as his soul is dark)