I Was a Social Media Debutante — on Twitter

We last left our hero at the front door of any of a number of social media sites, uttering the fist-shaking plea, “If I had friends, I wouldn’t need you, you stupid social media site, now would I?”:

• FaceBook
• MySpace
• LinkedIn
• MyBlogLog
• CoComment
• Spock
• WhyGoSolo
• Seesmic

The invitations to join them are always large and gleefully insistent (often taking up the space in which I would have liked to see a paragraph of what’s so special about this entry into the horse race). I joined all of them effortlessly, except of course when it came to forking over my entire inventory of contacts, some of whom were barely acquaintances, to make them “friends” online. Which would prompt the second pathetic cry: “I’ve joined. Now what?”

Then came Twitter. I had heard raves about Facebook, and MySpace prior to that. But nobody ever said, “Facebook changed my life.” If people feel the warmth of friendship from MySpace (people over 30, that is), I haven’t heard it.

I forget what made me decide to try Twitter, on October 18, 2007. Could have been because five days prior, I turned 50, and was in the middle of a well-worn rut of depression from which I’m still not completely recovered. Clearly I was reaching out. (That’s another post, or perhaps something for the bio.) I can trace through my tweets (the ones I left up, that didn’t disgust me) and see the progression: soon I wrote “Twitteresque” tweets (I felt like such a poser), finally realized how completely useless the public stream is, made suggestions to my first followed (I forget who), discovered my first follower (ditto), learned new things about the platform from off-site tutorials (which have gotten better even in this short time and continue to improve), and only recently got a reply from a call for help—something I thought was a privilege of the “Twitterati” with 1000 followers (in more than the Twitter sense).

I know exactly the breakthrough day when I got Twitter, and in a sense, got social media. It was on February 11, 2008, about 3/4 of the way into my Twitter tenure to date, after which I did about 3/4 of my current tweets. I had read part 3 of Jennifer Laycock’s article (see link above), which was the catalyst. Before this, people had seemed opaque, and I felt invisible. Some of the conversations were one-sided, and I felt imposed upon to “follow a perfect stranger” to get the full point. (No, you just visit that other guy’s page, with the option of following if you feel like it.) But that’s the breakthrough: these people were at one time all perfect strangers to each other (well, no more than average) when they were new. They took tiny leaps of faith in following each interesting someone. In butting in with a suggestion or joke, into a conversation to which they weren’t invited (but you see, you’re always invited, and the only thing stopping you is a sense of propriety, which serves you well in the physical realm but holds you back here). That’s why I couldn’t seem to break the surface tension and make real connections: I was too damn polite!

I wonder if other social media platforms are anything like this. I wonder if I can take what I learned and continue to learn in Twitter, and apply it in, say, Facebook—to which I’m now adding my Twitter friends and acquaintances. Am I doing it backwards? Do I care? Do you?

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2 responses to “I Was a Social Media Debutante — on Twitter

  1. Hey! So glad to have helped! 🙂

    I was with you, honest. While I’m a huge fan of the potential of social media and do my share of social media marketing, I too found myself looking at sites going “what’s the point?” It took me more than a year to “get” LinkedIn. It’s only been in the last month that I’ve started to see value in Facebook (and believe me, that value is pretty limited!) and since you’ve followed my series, you know I was a Twitter-scoffer.

    Not every social network has value and even the ones that do, don’t have value for everyone. It’s a matter of digging deep enough to give it a fair shake and then deciding if it fits your needs. I’d rather spend time on Flickr than Facebook and on Twitter than Digg.

    I think the key point you make is that it’s all about stepping out and being brave. For a long while, I didn’t add anyone to Facebook that I hadn’t communicated regularly with and therefore counted as an actual “friend”…or an acquaintance at the very least. Now I’ll often add someone simply to get a better look at their background or because I’d like to get to know them well enough to call them a friend or acquaintance.

    I don’t think you can really do it wrong…if it’s working for YOU, it’s working.

    🙂

  2. I love the idea of breaking the surface tension to make real connections. That’s exactly how I feel some days, watching the Twitter stream flow by like a complete outsider, not able to find a way in. Other days I feel more at ease, ready to jump in without hesitation. Once I break the surface tension, I suppose I become part of the surface connected to all the other water molecules, if that’s how it works.

    I feel somewhat the same phenomenon in Seesmic; some days it’s easy to post a reply or a new topic, other days I do it out of sheer will to avoid fading from the space. In general, Twitter has taught me to take chances, to speak my mind as accurately and honestly as possible. It’s when I think I’m being clever that I get into trouble, or try to say something for effect.

    Good post, Rick! Thanks for getting me interested enough to weigh in. (Although since I’m procrastinating work on an essay I’m writing, any distraction will do…. 🙂 )

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