A while ago I had a twitter-exchange with someone that ended with his observation that perhaps we are using Twitter in different ways. You see, he’d stopped following me, and although I’ve never met him in person, I felt (and still feel) a little lost without him.
Like an actor on a community theater stage, frozen in the middle of a scene, slack-jawed, lines forgotten as an audience member leaves. Time stopped as I wondered why and resisted the urge to chase after him.
How is it that Twitter brings to mind so many aspects of school yards and cafeterias and gym periods and locker rooms? Fundamentally, we want people to like us. Following me on Twitter is an indication that you like me, and that you’re interested in what I have to share.
The investment in follower-relations is low. I follow you, you follow me. I don’t have to pay more for the service. It seems courteous to follow back, like a handshake or a friendly wave. Relationships can be awkward if one-sided. For the most part, I’m looking for mutual commitment.
When, after we’ve been together for a while, you quietly ease out the back door, I find myself fretting over what I might have said or done to offend you. It’s silly, really; I know that. I don’t expect everyone to like me, and, when all is said and done, I am not sure what I’m looking for in our relationship anyway. But, why did you leave me?
The next time it happened, I asked. I’m not that good with social graces, and I really wanted to know. Talk about awkward! The poor soul was 100% gracious about it and followed me again, blaming an overzealous clean-up of his account.
There are random occasions when Twitter haphazardly unfollows people. I’ve been on both ends of that bug, and it’s no fun either way. But, that anomaly aside, I’m fascinated by the dynamics of social media friendships. Particularly in a realm where people can follow and unfollow me in the span of an unplugged vacation.
In the past weekish, one friend posted a great piece about the interactions of silence, experienced in person but lacking online. Another friend posted on “Five Ways to Make Yourself Interesting Online,” which I found relevant to life, not just the “online” aspects. Yet another friend tweeted a link to an article on the foibles of social media. It shouldn’t be surprising that my analytical mind kicked into overdrive and I’m forced to crunch on my thoughts and spill them forth so I can get back to work on the million other things I have to do today.
How do I use Twitter?
- Communication with my network: Sharing of myself (i.e. “Hey! Here are some interesting thoughts and activities I’m involved in, if you’re interested.”)
- Communication with my network: Learning about others (i.e. “… and what are you up to?” caught in snippets, when I’m able to devote a few minutes to a quick scroll through the folks I follow)
- Developing friendships: engaging in back-and-forth exchanges of conversation
When I first signed up with Twitter, creating an account under the moniker @YouGottaWonder, I was there solely to communicate with my sisters. First one, then later the other. In between, I began to grow a network based almost exclusively on people I’d met on-line, through the network of blogs I read. Since then, I’ve continued to grow my network, in breadth and depth, just like relationships “in real life.”
Although in large part I play the follow-me/follow-you game, if I think you’re just a marketer, or you’re responding to something random I tweeted, I don’t follow back. If I do, and after some time you consider me firmly on your hook and you unfollow me, I unfollow you. Quid pro quo. I doubt we’ve developed much depth in our relationship, anyway.
If, by chance, I followed you because of some connection (which turns out to be the case for *most* of the Trifecta and 100 Word writers) and after a few months I realize you’re never going to follow me back, I have to cut the cord. I mean really? You’re all that?
The notable exceptions have broken through Twitter, crossing over into the *other* social media: Facebook, and occasionally e-mail.
It’s a lot like life with just the social, no media. I have plenty of casual acquaintances, particularly through work. At the broadest level are the people I know by sight, but not by name. We smile and nod in passing, and can strike up a conversation in the lunch line, but we don’t really know each other. Then, of course, there are those I’ve spent more time with, and I might ask about the little ones or the latest project efforts.
Closer still are the people of mutual interest and respect. Most of these people are linked via Facebook, so the bridge from Twitter to FB puts people I’ve never met face-to-face in good company. And in that circle, there are always opportunities for greater intimacy and deeper sharing, through other venues (in person or private messaging). These are the people that beckon me, drawing me in, creating a desire for a shared meal, pitcher of beer or pot of coffee. Maybe someday.
There is one other Twitter-group: those I follow simply because they are interesting, or produce content I find relevant. These are not my friends, but they are “all that.” The cool kids. I don’t mind being a follower, if the leadership is worthy.
In the end, I manage my network by choosing who I’ll follow, passing on folks like 革命姑娘, because even though she’s followed by five people that I’m following, she tweets in Chinese and I’m not likely to get much out of it (and I’m tempted to unfollow the five who are following her, because clearly these acquaintances are not too discerning). This is the same way I manage all of my relationships. I don’t consider a face-to-face meeting a requirement for friendship, and Twitter connections are part of my real life.
So, I’d love to know… how are YOU using Twitter?