Six takeaways from my eight years on Twitter

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This week marks my 8th anniversary on Twitter.

The early months I spent on the platform – from November 2007 to roughly mid-2008 – were somewhat odd and often punctuated with me feeling: “What the heck is this stupid thing?”

If I recall correctly, I was also experimenting with Second Life at the time; Second Life was very clunky but I had a bit of fun teleporting across a virtual world in my fictiticous 3D character interacting with others who probably looked nothing in real-life like their hunky/gorgeous avatars!

But gradually Twitter started to make sense. Well, as much sense as a social network involving the crafting of tweets 140 characters at a time can.

As 2008 rolled into 2009, I was starting to meet people IRL (in real life) that I had connected with on Twitter. Indeed, there was an event called Tweetup Mellers that many of us were involved in (Mellers is what English-born organiser Sam Mutimer called Melbourne at the time! Check out photos from those early days, you might see some familiar faces – hat-tip Neil Creek).

Fast forward to today and the combination of Twitter and LinkedIn has formed my ‘one-two punch’ as far as social networking channels are concerned.

I will note here, I haven’t just been on Twitter as a random individual having a bit of fun (although there has been a bit of that); I have largely been on Twitter to learn first-hand about the platform so I can be more informed from a professional standpoint.

twitter

To this day I continue to study what others are doing on the platform; specifically, I take note of businesses and nonprofits that are using Twitter to its full potential – I also like to watch how individual authors, thought leaders and entrepreneurs use the network to build their community and interact with followers.

Of course, I also use Twitter to share a lot of content – mine (like this blog post) and other people’s plus I drop in on conversations most days, I shine the spotlight on other people’s events and causes, as well as answer people’s questions where relevant, and every now and then will participate in interesting hashtag conversations.

With that out of the way, here are some observations and key takeaways gleaned after 50,000+ tweets and eight active years on Twitter.

1. Twitter is a bit of a paradox. 

On the one hand, of all the major social networks Twitter is the simplest and most intuitive to use; on the other, conceptually, it can be the most difficult for people to grasp.

Basically, people tend to over-think Twitter. Maybe it’s because it’s public, real-time and spits out 140 characters (plus visuals these days) in staccato-like bursts.

To continue this paradox theme, Twitter in Australia has (only) 2.8 million active users compared to Facebook’s 14 million. On a global scale, Twitter boasts 320 million monthly active users, behind Instagram with 400 million users, LinkedIn (also 400 million) and Facebook (1.55 billion).

So while Twitter sits behind the other big three networks in terms of numbers, it punches above its weight because it is public and real-time and full of influencers such as journalists, bloggers, celebrities and politicians – plus people are sending 500 million tweets per day. Often, the media will use Twitter as a source for their news stories. There is no doubt journalists are using the platform for news-gathering as well as watching with hawk-eyes any Twitter trends (or corporate/celebrity mishaps) that occur.

2. Twitter is like your local bar

One of my earliest recollections of Twitter is when someone referred to the platform as like your local bar; Facebook, in comparison, is your lounge room, somewhere where you’d invite friends in for a cup of tea and some scones, while LinkedIn is your Chamber of Commerce.

The bar analogy works. Show up regularly, pull up a stool and greet people warmly; add value to conversations, have a laugh and connect like-minded people with one another and I think you’ll find you’ll be embraced by that bar’s community over time. However, be loud and/or obnoxious, always big-noting yourself and shoving your business card under people’s noses and, well, we all know how that will go down.

twitter is your bar

3. If you’re not using Twitter to humanise your brand, you’re missing the point.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity Twitter affords companies and organisations is to show their human side, to inject some personality into their outward-facing communications.

Encourage your people to use Twitter personally, empower them to talk freely about your organisation (within certain guidelines, of course) – what you’re doing, what it’s like to work there; use the channel to take people behind the scenes, give them a warts-and-all flavour of what goes on behind ‘reception’.

4. Get Twitter right and the rest of social media will follow

Okay, this might spark a bit of debate, but I’m of the opinion the companies, organisations and individuals that ‘get’ Twitter and use the platform to its full potential, chances are they will probably get the other social channels right as well. Not sure why that is, but probably has something to do with some of what I outlined earlier i.e. it’s public, real-time, full of people with opinions who often won’t hold back if they feel a company has done them a disservice.

It’s scary, because the people are in charge, and many business owners and senior executives hate that fact. But those who embrace this uncertainty with positivity and pragmatism generally succeed on the other less wild ‘n’ woolly social channels.

5. Businesses still use Twitter to talk about themselves

I still see so much chest-beating on Twitter; in fact, I think it’s probably worse than it’s ever been!

Businesses essentially have taken their old practices (i.e. shouting at people with their promotional messages) and transporting them to their social channels.

I wrote this piece last year – ‘The one massive opportunity most businesses are missing on Twitter’ – and it still holds true today, more than one year later. People may say nice things about a brand, and what happens? Those in charge of the company’s Twitter account will favourite the person’s tweet, and retweet it, but not actually interact with the tweeter. As I said, a massive opportunity lost. I see it time and time again on Twitter.

6. Twitter will make you smarter

I wrote this article last year – the main reason you need to be on Twitter is to follow (and take note of) smart people. I was writing it from the perspective of an individual; my contention is it’s a great way to start building an online ‘brains trust’ that will serve you well over your professional journey!

I’ll leave you with this cool little story.

At the weekend I was at Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast to speak at the WE ARE PODCAST conference.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 11.29.00 pm

I tweeted where I was and what I was doing, next thing my Twitter friend – Mark Masters from regional England – tweeted that one of his cohort was also on the Gold Coast on business – Matthew Desmier.

matt and trevMatthew joined in the Twitter conversation and tweeted me his address and suggested I swing by if I had the time (although I had to do it before 4:30 pm on the day in question ‘cos he was meeting the Mayor of Gold Coast, as you do).

Anyway, I did indeed swing by and meet Matthew – and of course took a selfie as proof for Mark.

Mark and I know each other pretty well from Twitter and other social media interactions, but we’ve never met in person. That’s why I think it’s pretty cool that I have at least caught up in the flesh with a good mate of his!

FURTHER READING (AND LISTENING): How recruitment industry leader Greg Savage grew his Twitter following to 30,000+

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