Home > Twitter > Finding a Voice on Twitter

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

  1. No bragging
  2. 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.

Categories: Twitter
  1. beki70
    January 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Amy,

    I’m interested that you’re already at two twitter accounts. I try so hard to separate things (I have two IM accounts, which means that one is completely unused), can’t separate my email (into the myriad of accounts, but at least two regularly used accounts), or even my blog (a real mixed bag).

    I’m also struggling with my twitter groove, more than you I think. I tend to actually like it the most for taking notes during talks, which seems a rather odd use. I’ll use it a lot at CSCW.

    I’ll be curious about your thoughts about whether or not Twitter and Facebook should be used the same way. Some people echo their messages on both systems. I don’t, for me they are two distinct genres, which means I use one or the other.

  2. January 29, 2010 at 9:51 pm


  3. January 29, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    p.s. I think we do want to hear about your keynotes and your grants.

  4. January 30, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Two accounts, and managing the channels: Hard to imagine anyone but the power users doing that. However, I do know people who have highly evolved twitter usages. Strange, but the simplicity of twitter is what enables all these different ways of using it.

  5. January 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I have to say, I for one hope that it is a passing fad. One of my blogs is on a site with a 10,000 character limit, and I often find that annoyingly restrictive. If I wanted to write poetry, I’d do it. So Twitter…I can’t even begin to imagine being that brief.

  6. beki70
    January 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I’m with Nancy, I think there’s a place for telling people about the markers of career success. I think it can be overdone, but I think it’s good to see good women doing good things.

  7. Kurt L.
    February 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    You inspired me to give Twitter another try. I’m still not sure how to navigate the complex terrain of bragging and complaining, except that too much of either, as in face-to-face conversation, is probably a bad idea.

  8. February 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Actually, I have one rule for twitter which is – minimize your broadcasting. My criterion for someone I want to follow on twitter is participating in a conversation I want to engage in. I want to see a stream mostly full of RTs and links to news, and @replies, broken up by some “what are you doing right now?” I don’t want people shouting at me. Bragging and complaining, in both cases, should feel genuine in the spirit of “what are you doing right now?” and be designed to elicit engagement with folks (“hey, I just did something good, I’m excited!” or “this particular thing is sucking right now, I need some empathy!”).

  9. jennylu
    March 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I try to tweet about things that are mostly professional in nature, but as your network grows and you get to know your followers well, the personal tweets intercede. I like that; it’s humanity in action.

  10. Rad
    March 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Interesting. I have multiple blogs, for personal use, professional use and personal interests, but only one FB and only one Twitter account. My FB is strictly personal, but my Twitter is a hybrid of personal and professional. I’ll tweet about TV programmes I’m watching, research I’m doing or the weather. my followers are a mixture of people, some of whom live in the same city and are interested in others in the same location, some of whom are friends in real life, some of whom are colleagues and others in the same academic field, some of whom happen to like some of the same TV shows.

    I’ve considered multiple Twitter accounts but decided against it as I’d end up having a professional account, a watching TV account, a personal account and probably several others – some of my followers would want to follow all of the above and it gets too complicated! I follow a massively eclectic mix of people and news feeds and for me Twitter’s an ongoing set of conversations which I can choose to participate in or not. I’m not the kind of person that needs to follow every tweet everyone has made, I like to see what’s happening at the time (and occasionally backtrack to see what people I really like have been saying in the past).

    I guess my style isn’t to everyone’s taste, though. I know several people who have a similar style to mine and I like it because it helps me feel connected to them in more ways than just through one shared interest, and it often offers me new things to discover or think about, but I know some people find it too manic. On the other hand, my brother regularly threatens to unfollow me because he only uses Twitter for personal use, but to me, that’s the purpose of FB (or real life conversations!) and the messiness of Twitter is part of its charm.

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