Finding a Voice on Twitter
I’m not sure I’ve quite found my voice on Twitter yet. What kinds of things should I say? Who am I talking to, and why am I doing this anyway? I did start off with two rules:
Amy’s Two Golden Rules of Twitter
- No bragging
- No whining
I find these help. I’m always tempted to make that cynical little quip about one of the aggravations of every day life. The “why does the toast always fall buttered-side down” sort of remark–but about traffic or iPhones or absurdities of academia. But you don’t want to hear that, do you? And I don’t think you want to hear about my latest keynote address or million-dollar grant either. (See? You’re bristling cause I just said that.) Of course it’s a judgment call, and sharing big things is important. But most of the littler ups and downs might better be left untweeted.
I started off with a private Twitter account. But then as I got requests to follow me, I didn’t know who to approve and who to deny or why. So I finally made my main Twitter account public, and opened a private one for close personal friends. My rule for the private account is: must have been at my wedding. Or at least invited and had a good excuse for not showing. I have precisely four private followers. And I honestly don’t say much there–a few cute things my kids do now and then.
For the public feed, I mostly just comment on things in my field. I’m assuming this is mostly a professional presence. I comment on funny things happening on Wikipedia, or pass on the cool link my grad student sent me (with credit, of course). I’m always tempted to talk about hobbies (like NFL football, or investing), but I don’t want the whole thing to be too random for people who are following me because they’re interested in social computing research. I suppose I should work in a personal comment now and then. I like the way Nancy Baym has a mostly professional Twitter feed, but shares enough personal stuff that you feel like you know her. I haven’t figured out how to do that well yet.
That’s my strategy–so far. I’m sure it’ll continue to change. One unsettling thing about life in the land of Twitter is that I sometimes find myself searching for clever things to tweet as I go through my day. It’s almost like I’m back in the Adams House dining hall in college, hanging out with my clever friends, and using all my brain cycles to find the hip/witty thing to say. I’m not sure this is healthy–it feels like regressing. Erving Goffman would say that we are all always performing. It’s just that now we’re doing it more consciously.
So is Twitter a fad? Part of me hopes so. More likely, it will persist–but how we all use it will evolve over time. Evolve so much that we’ll look back on tweets from the last decade and cringe. With new software layers on top of the basic functionality, and more evolved genres of Twitter use that become implicitly understood within different social groups.
I assigned Twitter for online communities class yesterday. My students all agreed on two things: First, Twitter is not one thing but is used in different ways by different people. Second, what it is will continue to evolve. No one has quite figured it out yet.