Twitter (and Facebook and LinkedIn): What’s the Dif?

Yesterday, I began looking at the three big social networking sites, to help readers understand what the difference is between them. The reason for these posts is simple: I am not a techie, and as I began getting into the arena of social networking, I found that all the information about “how to” and “why to” was written by people who love technology. And as often happens, they wrote all that stuff as if I already had a base level of understanding which – well – I don’t!

As a non-techie, I had very different questions than techies might have. I wanted to know things like, “Is this somewhere I’ll feel comfortable, or will I make a fool of myself?” Or, “Ok, I visited the site, and I totally don’t get it. What does one DO here?” And of course, “What’s the big deal?”

I hope these posts will help answer those sorts of questions for you. If not, let me know. We will explain this till it DOES make sense. And we’ll do that for one reason: Social Networking is an amazing way to meet people who care about what you care about, and can help you do your work more effectively.

In yesterday’s post, I tackled LinkedIn.

Today, let’s look at Twitter.

If, as I noted yesterday, LinkedIn is like a Chamber of Commerce mixer, Twitter is like an outrageous party – picture the Party at the End of the Universe.

At this party, you will find more people than you ever imagined could be in one place, with just as many conversations going on, all at once, all around you. As you roam around the party, you overhear one conversation and it is so boring you laugh to yourself, “I can’t believe anyone would think that is interesting!”

And then the very next conversation you hear makes you stop in your tracks, thinking, “WOW this person is FASCINATING!” As you chime in on that conversation, suddenly someone pulls a friend over and, pointing at YOU, says to her friend, “You have got to listen to this gal, she’s amazing!”

And that happens over and over, all night, as you mingle and sip a bit of champagne. An experienced party-goer will navigate away from the people they find dull, and will seek out the people who interest them.

Whatever your agenda – business, pleasure, sheer browsing – you will find it at the marvelous party that is Twitter. And just as you would do at a party, you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, you’re into ponies? That guy over there was just talking about ponies. Let me introduce you…”

That is what Twitter feels like, all the time. People are on Twitter for any and every reason. Business, personal interest, connection. Unlike LinkedIn, there are no unspoken rules about “business” vs. “not business” because it’s a HUGE party! If you want to talk about business, you will find folks who share your interest. If you want to talk about volleyball or the best cure for a hangover, you will find those folks, too.

Twitter’s Value:
• If you are interested in something, someone else is, too. You will find people on Twitter who are interested in any possible thing you are interested in.
• Brevity. A post can only be 140 characters long. Not 140 words – 140 characters, including spaces – the size of a telephone text message. It’s hard to get long-winded when you’ve only got 140 characters to make your point!
• Easy to sift the wheat from the chaff. If you “follow” someone (stop to listen to them at the party for a while) and they are not what you thought, you can easily “unfollow” them. When you “unfollow” them (in essence, walking away from them at the party), their posts will no longer show up on your screen. Poof – boring-party-guy is gone from your sights!
• The ability for an idea or thought or message to spread is incredible. If you post something interesting, and 100 people are following you (reading what you post), 20 of those people might like your post so much they re-post it with a note that says, in essence, “You’ve gotta listen to this gal – she’s great!” If each of those 20 people also have 100 people following THEM – then you just got your message out to 2,000 people. (Remember, though, you have to be interesting for that to happen – just like at a party!)

Twitter’s Downside:
• Twitter can be a huge distraction and a huge time suck. Why? Because you are following people who are interesting! They might say, “I just read this amazing blog post” and provide the link. So you go to that link, and it IS amazing. Next thing you know, you’re commenting at their blog, and reading other posts that person wrote and BAM ½ hour is gone! Or because you thought what that person posted was interesting, you head to their Twitter page to see what else they have been posting about. Whose posts are THEY reading, that they find interesting? Wow – that one does indeed look interesting, let’s see what she has to say. And so on, until BAM another ½ hour is gone! Multiply that by all the people you might find really and truly interesting on Twitter, and it is possible to lose a lot of time there.
• It takes time and effort to cultivate relationships. Again, because this is a big party, if you were new in town and wanted to make friends, and you decided a good way to do that was to attend parties, you would have to put a lot of work into that. First, you would need to be present – you couldn’t just RSVP and not show up (i.e. sign up for Twitter but not participate). Second, you would have to not just meet people that night, but get back in touch with them after the party. Same with Twitter – if you meet someone by their 140 character posts, you may then send an email and get into conversation. Or comment at their blog. But regardless, just as it would be if you were getting to know people at a party, for those relationships to have any meaning, it’s what happens AFTER the party that counts. Twitter is great at introducing you and and keeping you in touch daily, but it’s not great at creating the depth a real relationship requires. Just like a party.
• There are some techie protocols you will want to learn to participate well. Not a lot, and they are easy to learn – how to reply, what the codes are for things. But they can seem like Martian to a newcomer. The reason for the lingo is simple: Brevity. Because posts are only 140 characters long, commonly used words become smushed into abbreviations. (For example, why waste all those characters writing the words “Direct Message” when you can write “DM”?) There are also signals like the # which actually means something in Twitter. It’s nothing you can mess up, but to get the most out of Twitter, there is a bit of learning-the-lingo that goes on. (My recommendation yesterday, for John Haydon’s blog, still stands. John does a very good job of explaining stuff.)

(2/7 Note: Just saw this post by Shel Israel, which may be helpful in further understanding Twitter.)

In the last installment, I tackle Facebook. You can find that here.

I anyone still has questions, ask them in the comment section. (Until we re-do the blog, the comment button is at the TOP of the post – sorry about that!) And if you have other ideas about either the value of Twitter or its downside, please add those as well.

In the meantime, if you’d like to meet me at any of the Social Networking sites we’re talking about here, please just click on the buttons in the right-hand column. I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

3 Responses to Twitter (and Facebook and LinkedIn): What’s the Dif?

  1. I am new to tweeting and Twitter so my comments are impressionistic at best.
    Pros: There is an immediacy that is useful–a “you are there” quality. Making new connections from a feed is easy and quickly navigated. You also move rather quickly outside of your comfort zone of reliable, “go to” sources and expand your sphere.
    Cons: For a newbie, deciphering the shorthand can be daunting. Also, not knowing some of my followers, I am worried that I am not being interesting enough or relevant (particularly the luminaries of nfp/association/philanthropic social media community!). Time suck, still figuring out how to incorporate and how to manage the twitter world and still get work done.
    I have decided that I will build it and our community will come.

  2. Elizabeth:
    I completely agree. Once I decided to just dive in with no water wings and figure Twitter out from the inside out, I really enjoy it – sometimes way too much!

    As for the shorthand, every time I came across something that confused me, I typed it into Google. So perhaps “# Twitter shorthand”. I always found answers, as the Twitter community is huge and so passionate about the medium that lots of people are writing glossaries and etc.

  3. Dear Hildy,

    Thanks so much for your post. I like the way you decrisbed that twitter is like we are at the party. I like the idea of that.

    Twitter is a great way to communicate with the people who you want to communicate with. It is such fun place to be, I like twitter, however it can be time comsuming as well.

    Thanks for sharing this information with us and I am looking forward to the next part of article tomorrow.

    Best regards,

    Susie Cheng