I signed up to Twitter a few days before Christmas. It seemed like a low-maintenance way of promoting my writing electronically.
As usual, I needed someone to show me. Not that the instructions were complicated – on the contrary. I am just the sort of person whose mental learning pattern responds better to a physically present human being. That, surprisingly, turned into a friendship test. Just about everyone I turned to eluded me with, “Oh, yes, I’m on Twitter but I really don’t know what I’m doing”, even though they clearly were a few steps ahead of me. Until I asked my young friend Mark. He started his response to me with, “I’m really not an expert” but ended it with the magic words “but I’m happy to show you what I know.” Hurray for Mark, my first Twitter follower. So, after a crash course in a West End Starbucks, I flung myself onto the Twitter scene, which felt like walking into a moonless night filled with anonymous barks. I began contributing my own. Woof! Woof! Woof! Listen to me! Read me! Me! Me! Me!
My initial impression (altered since) was that part of the deal was to keep up a rhythmic, peremptory bark, whilst doggedly ignoring the others. So, after a few days, I got bored with the incessant din and logged off. About a month later, BBC Radio 4 aired a piece about crows, which I had recorded just before Christmas. Within seconds of the broadcast, my friend Sue rang me. “They’re tweeting about your crows!” she said. “What do you mean you’re bored with Twitter?! Get on it now!”
So I logged on again and, a few hours later, collected a respectable number of followers. Now that people were barking back, this was becoming fun. Eventually, I worked it out. Like any other social microcosm, the Twitter “community” has its pecking order, its unspoken rules, its club code, and its players. It was simply a question of building my own little structure within the overall edifice.
I thank for retweets and I like being thanked for retweeting someone. Every thank you induces me to retweet more. It is like a nod or wave to the driver who slows down to let you cross the road. Small courtesy, but it oils the social interaction machinery.
I think it is kind and polite to mention/plug someone who regularly mentions/plugs you.
Returning the Compliment
A learned friend of mine, who entered the world of Twitter at around the same time as I did, but quickly became an expert on the subject, tends to follow back his followers. He says it is simple courtesy. I quickly discovered that not everyone shares his two-way street gentlemanly attitude. That is where the pecking order element comes in. Generally, famous people follow other famous people. We are welcome to follow them but that must be satisfaction enough, for they will seldom follow us. They are not aware that we, their admirers, low beneath their feet, are what supports them above the icky mud and makes up the blocks of the pyramid atop which they stand.
Having said that, I – in my relatively inconsequential state – find that I do not follow all my followers, either (all right, I never said I never indulge in the odd double-standards episode.) However, my case is different (yeah, right) – no, but honestly – hear me out. The truth, is that I actually read all the tweets on my timeline. Therefore, I need to limit my number of “followees”, to keep the number of tweets manageable. For what it is worth, if you are reading this and know that I am one of your followers, then you can be sure I read your tweets (and I might well be reading them, even though I do not officially follow you!)
The People I Choose to Follow
So how do I decide whom to follow?
- People I know personally (but that one must work on a strictly mutual following basis.)
- People who tweet information that interests me (links to articles, blogs I enjoy reading, etc.)
- People whose tweets I find entertaining, funny, instructive (tweets that tell me only that the sender is off to walk his/her dog, that he/she is stuck in a traffic jam, or what he/she is having for supper fail to engage me, unless phrased with wit.)
Because I am a cautious kind of gal, whenever someone starts following me, I check out their last twenty or so tweets, to see if they appeal to me. Sometimes, I monitor them for a few days. Then, once I decide to follow, I try not un-follow... Though I do not promise everlasting loyalty, either. I also see the average of daily tweets they emit. However interesting someone’s tweets may be, you can have too much of a good thing, and when I scroll down and see a string of tweets from the same person, I am afraid my heart sinks and my attention drifts.
Let us agree on this:
Tweeter (not Twit nor Tweeterer nor Twitterer): person who uses Twitter
To tweet (not twitter): to send tweets
I learnt this the hard way. Just because someone follows you does not, sadly, mean that they click on all the links you tweet.
Twitter and I – Now
Contrary to advice, I do not chase after hoards of people to follow in the hope that half that number might follow me back. I am far too lazy. I am content with the number of people I follow and whose tweets I read. And I am equally content with having a relatively small number of followers (by Twitter standards). I live in hope that they, too, read my tweets. I particularly enjoy the odd Twitter dialogue or exchange I get with individual Tweeters. Who said you cannot have human contact electronically? Who said you cannot be supportive of people you have never physically met?