We use twitter because… wait… what exactly is it again?

Yesterday I had the great privilege of attending the Media140 Conference here in Perth. It was a great event for many reasons – to match real people to usernames, or to ‘network’ – but also, from a web designer’s point of view, it was good to try and gauge the general mood about social media in various organisations.

In early 2007, I was talking up Twitter, Facebook and Flickr before I had even really embraced them myself. I had a Twitter account myself, of course, but it was pretty inactive, and I distinctly remember telling @lisaloeb4real about this new “group SMS” type feature. I thought that, knowing Lisa, she would love the ability to just SMS from the airport, or backstage, or whilst eating the world’s greatest donut. So there she was, tweeting away, and in fact, I think she was one of the very early “celebrity” adopters of these new social media tools.

I attended a Conference in late 2008, and after seeing it’s true potential, I was hooked. I finally understood (sort of) what a hashtag is. What it meant to “RT”. And it appears, that, to date, at least 80 million people, including a bunch of fairly inane celebrities, enjoy it too.

But, after attending the Media140 Conference yesterday, I have a feeling that there has been a whole industry of people who, despite selling “social media consulting” somewhere in their services, are still in the idea of talking up social media and it’s potential without fully embracing it – or even using it appropriately.

I had the opportunity to meet quite a few people who work in various aspects of Health care. Some get it and some don’t. It was actually very interesting what came out of these discussions, because the common theme at the Conference was the idea of how “the BRAND” is affected, how companies can “CONTROL” negative information on the internet, and I daren’t count how many times the words “engage”, “citizen journalist”, “social media policy” and other buzzwords cropped up from the speakers. There was so much talk about top-down internet communities that it actually made me wonder if people really understood the power of social media at all.

The precise point is that you cannot control negative messaging. But what social media does is provide you with the tools to try and intervene at the word-of-mouth level and make it better. This, without buzzwords, is what is so great about Twitter.

But a big part of Twitter is not so much the bottom line stuff… because that can have mixed results… and by continually focusing on mere dollars and cents, you miss the entire point.

Twitter is more than just dollars per tweet.

Twitter in particular has intangible benefits in so many other ways that make “branding” and “bottom line” seem, honestly, so trivial that hearing those words from “experts” made me feel a little nauseous.

We heard from the HR Rep telling us about how they are policing and monitoring the social media activities (and by implication, disciplining) their staff online. NOT about how they create communities, or improve morale, or that they add a third dimension to the inevitable death of the faceless corporation that hide behind PR & Lawyers. Instead, it was about risks, and controls, and potential client losses.

People are afraid of Twitter when they needn’t be. And in all honesty? I think way too much emphasis is placed this arbitrary line between employee/business owner and human being. And instead of corporations speaking in really great buzzwords, like “humanising your corporation” – how about the idea of the generic “consumer” finally having a face. And a VOICE.

The conduit for community

I had a chat to a couple of people who, after hearing all of the speakers, still weren’t entirely sure on how Twitter, or Facebook, or social networking in general, applied to their organisation. For those who are in service delivery organisations like Mental Health and Community Services, the temptation is to make Twitter a means of broadcasting out to the “80 million people on Twitter”.

I’ll tell you now, that there are not 80 million people on Twitter. There is a potential audience of 80 million, sure. But people tout this figure off like it is some big huge deal when you know what? It means NOTHING to most businesses. Especially seeing as there is so much bad advice about using Twitter in the first place – the chances of people reading your message by accident, is, frankly, overstated.

I read an article in 2008, in reference to the music industry, about how all you need to make a decent living, is 1000 True Fans (and arguably, no crippling record label contract ;)), but this applies, figuratively, in so many ways to other businesses as well.

The strength of Twitter is in the building of micro communities. The Perth Twitter community is a good example of people who have found each other, through various means, over time, and a community has been built that is not just an audience, but a support network.

For me, during the day, Twitter is my chatterbox with other people who work in Home Offices. For others, it is a stress release from their day jobs. For others, it is just having a laugh, sharing a joke. I am also part of a few other networks, but to simplify, I know that at any time of day, someone in my community will be around to talk to.

This is the power of “Twitter for business”. We don’t talk about business much and when it does come up, it is understated and fairly innocuous (much like a social occasion where people ask what you do and leave it at that… you don’t launch into an Amway sales pitch on first meeting….do you…?)

When people can find a community, they can also find a support network, a counsellor, a group of people who understand. This has massive implications for service delivery, or health organisations that are on the ball, to start having discussions with your clients. Build a community of people who have a shared experience and let that community organically grow.

How about a discussion for parents of children with cancer or other chronic illness? How about a support group for those who battle Bipolar disorder or Schizophrenia? How about asking your clients what they want from you? Despite buzzwords like “engagement”, it is more than just talking one on one with your clients, customers, etc. It’s about allowing a community to build organically alongside your traditional means. In the health industry, these support networks can quite literally be a lifesaver, for people who may feel isolated.

Twitter is as much about shared experience as it is about access to information.

Stop talking and start LISTENING

Noone wants to be talked at. If you’re anything like me, you have emails, tweets, Facebook messages, radio ads, billboards, TV, internet banner ads and limitless numbers of people trying to sell you limitless amounts of stuff you don’t want or need. I for one am saturated. I am immune to corporate messaging. Most people are. But if you stop, and listen to what your clients actually want, you’ll be surprised that all they are trying to tell you is that they want to connect, in a meaningful way, not with a 2 dimensional CORPORATION, but with 3 dimensional people. People who understand. People who are flawed. People who might accidentally drunktweet and make bad mistakes sometimes. People who make them laugh one time and can have a deep & meaningful conversation another. All social media is… is people trying to connect.

If you can filter out the wanky PR buzzwords, and the talking up of social media from the “experts”, and the “OMG JOURNALISM IS DEAD AND I MUST FIND ANOTHER WAY TO SHOVE MY PRESS RELEASES DOWN PEOPLES THROATS”, and start actively listening, reflecting on what you are hearing, and embracing the incredible humanity and compassion that you see on Twitter every day, you have a small chance of being ahead of the curve. The “Corporation”, as we know it, is dying a slow, painful death. They’re fighting it by trying to control social media, control their employees (or the employees of other companies they work with), but, it’s a futile battle.

And try to write in Haiku. They’re fun.

The pondering of the online persona…

I have been thinking a lot about the whole “social media” thing, the whole blog thing, the whole “OMG she swears” thing of late and I still don’t have an answer. I have been using Twitter and Facebook for a long-ish time, and I am conflicted.

I run a comedy blog where I talk about stuff that I would NEVER talk about on the LinkArtist blog. I have many different places for a lot of different thoughts.

Just this week, I have been speaking on social networks about my health problems and my quest for a diagnosis. Sure, my friends and family are interested… but does it reflect on my professionalism? Does it help to explain to clients, on a subliminal level, why I might fall behind on occasion? And more importanty, does it *damage* any perception of my professionalism?

Some of my friends think YES. Some think NO. My friends, it seems are pretty well representative of my inner conflict.

We’re all aware of the “Facebook gone wrong” or more recently the furore over the woman who tweeted her miscarriage during a boardroom meeting. Or all the well-meaning advice about appropriate conduct online… and frankly, I am confused as shit about all of it.

Because as the boss of my very own company (that is quite personality-centric), Twitter and Facebook are excellent ways for people to get to know me better. They are also places where I meet old school friends, talk shit with my “real” friends, and network with colleagues and potential and current clients. It feels like a big warm & fuzzy melting pot, where often my status updates take on a life of their own in the comments… and on a good day, it’s all love and kisses and hugs.

But on a bad day, I look at the stuff I share and I am worried about how it looks to people who aren’t in on the joke. And especially to those prospective clients who don’t realise that my online persona is 20% of who I am.

I go through stages where I use social networks a lot. I also go through stages where I just cannot bear to look at any of it and it just becomes too much input… but ultimately, I really enjoy social networking and that “in the moment”, off the cuff kind of communication that I enjoy.

But, you know, I have SAID SOME SHIT. 99% of the time it is tongue-in-cheek, or deliberately provocative, or just plain vulgar (let’s be honest here). You can generally assume that when I say something there is a big fat smiling face behind it… but I am also acutely aware of the fact that a “foul-mouthed smartarse” (which roughly translates as “woman with opinions”) might turn people off.

I mean, I have a business to run and a reputation to uphold.

And it is these quite conflicted thoughts that run through my head. Ultimately, I end up deciding that a “take no prisoners” approach works for me. I think to have to eat shit and pretend that I *don’t* think these things is probably more damaging in the long run than saying a few dirty words. But it nags me.

Am I just being naive?

Am I seeking instant gratification over long term success?

I go through stages where I lockdown my Twitter feed, or cull Facebook friends (usually because of some interaction with a douchebag who just doesn’t get that I have an online persona separate to me as a person) when I have serious doubts about how my online behaviour might be perceived.

At a meeting with a colleague, he said to me how he talks about my services to (quite important) people, but then inserts a disclaimer “be aware, she swears a LOT” to any potential followers. He doesn’t give me any indication that it’s actually a problem, but I find it interesting that my language is how I am perceived, over the IQ, the good friend, the passion & conviction and the comedian that I see myself as.

It’s all a bit. But how do you explain it?

Should a friend who understands what you are about, who is promoting your services, HAVE to explain?

In other words, am I that uncle that hurls abuse at people whilst his family meekly apologise for his behaviour because “we love him, but that’s just how he is.”

And where do you draw the line?

And is it arrogant of me to assume that people know I am being facetious? That I am a multifaceted, educated, ballsy woman who just happens to enjoy saying the things that noone dare think?

I think all of these things briefly, and then I decide “FUCK IT”. And I post about my urine jug on Facebook.

My business has exploded since being on Twitter and making connections there… but it would be arrogant to assume that it was because of my brutal honesty and comedic candour… and not that my business could actually be bigger if not for my big fat mouth.

What do you do? How do you reconcile it?