Matt Waldman shares his perspective on the social media site that people love to hate.
I used to hate Twitter. When I signed up in 2008, I found the platform overwhelming and off-putting. For the better part of two years, I didn’t use it.
In May 2011, I embraced the fact that I didn’t understand Twitter and gave it another chance. Thanks to Twitter, I grew my audience, added customers, and made unlikely connections.
I wouldn’t have convinced a marketing director to send me to L.A. on assignment if I couldn’t couch surf with friends I met on Twitter who lived there.
It took awhile for me to warm up to Twitter, but I have grown to love it. Even so, I feel for those who get frustrated with it.
As with any technology, the capabilities of social media outpace our ability to use it wisely. I refer to Twitter as the ultimate exercise in restraint that breaks even the best of us.
Despite the likelihood that I’m testing my fate, the combination of positive feedback about how I conduct myself on Twitter and the number of people visibly frustrated with the medium is why I’m giving advice on the subject.
This is not advice on how to earn followers or a rulebook on how you should behave. My position on behavior leans toward neutral. There are people who intentionally cultivate specific personality types with an end-game in mind that won’t appeal to you.
The idea of this post is to help you step back, look at the medium with some detachment, and figure out where you fit within it. When you develop awareness about yourself and others on the site, you’ll limit the frustration factor and develop a greater appreciation.
My hope is that you figure out how to use Twitter rather than feel used by it.
Figure out how you want to portray yourself on Twitter.
There is a range of characters and personalities on Twitter. Most accounts are a mix of several types because they aren’t approaching their account with a plan and the full spectrum of their personality shines through.
Being genuine is a good thing. However, being genuine without having any savvy about the medium can easily lead to misunderstandings, costly choices, and frustration. There are some conversations you reserve for a select group of people in your life because the subject matter is complex.
You may have questions or thoughts that you haven’t completely worked through and you don’t want others to judge you as you express them and seek feedback. You won’t avoid judgment on Twitter.
Social media is a magnifying glass (see below) and it’s a good idea to use that tool skillfully rather than accidentally. Many successful users of Twitter understanding this by highlighting a few qualities of their personality. Some even intentionally craft a personality that’s an act but it achieves the purpose of attracting specific audiences.
Here are six that are easy to spot:
The Caper: These folks take a stand all day, every day about specific ideas and beliefs. Some want to educate. Others want you to know that they’re intellectually or morally right about their cause and everyone who doesn’t have the same view is wrong — and they’re willing to shame, insult, or denigrate you in the process. Depending on where your views fall on the subject, you may agree with that person’s decision to fight the fight — even when they’re doing it every 15 minutes.
Some of you may agree and love that you’re part of the cause. Others will agree with certain Capers but wonder if these folks would be more effective logging off Twitter and doing something substantial about their cause because there’s a risk that the frequency of their caping becomes overkill.
If that Caper is a recognized voice in a specific industry, the rest of you may wish that person would spend more time talking about their craft instead of the subject they’re caping. This is the feeling of the “stick to football” crowd.
The size of your following adds weight to your statements. This is different than credibility, which can be mistaken for “weight.” Swing the weight around with a plan. Some accounts are using a sledgehammer with the whack-a-mole game. Others are surgical with their decisions.
If you believe the whack-a-mole capers that you’re following are genuine about their cause and not just trying to look cool, it’s easier to deal with the behavior — even if you disagree with their side. If that doesn’t help, creating Twitter lists will (see below)
The Mingler: A person who develops relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds. The motivation of many Minglers is to serve as a guide for their audience. Some were the person just on the fringe of the cool-kids clique and have a subconscious desire to show everyone they meet that they are the vanguard of every subject raised within earshot of them. Regardless of their motivation, they make great connections on Twitter and they’re a strong source of information.
The Heel: Some accounts behave like wrestling heels. They know it’s a quick way to gain a following and keep their following interested in seeing what they’ll do next. They will often troll other accounts or generate controversy because they believe that any attention is worthwhile.
It’s a good strategy if your goal is followers by any means necessary. I have no problem with it — in fact, some have a real talent for it and gain a following who crave it.
My only advice is to make sure you’re prepared for the potential consequences of this behavior. The more followers you generate, the more likely you earn notoriety that transcends a social media account. As a result, it’s more likely that you meet someone in public.
If they know you’re cultivating the Heel act, you won’t have an issue. If they don’t (and many won’t even if you try to make it clear), you may encounter more angry souls who want to kick your ass. While this can also happen with non-Heel accounts, karma has a greater pull toward the heel account.
The Troll: Related to the heel, but they care only about disrupting the mood of others or the flow of conversation. Gaining a following is not one of their goals.
The Expert: These accounts specialize in a topic and most of their interactions are focused around it. Their range is narrow but extremely deep. They are here to learn and share the product of their efforts. Some of these folks are underdeveloped socially and it becomes markedly apparent when they comment on other topics. They also can be so deep into a topic that they bring up points that others don’t understand the layers of ideas they’re built on. It can lead to misunderstandings.
The Babyface: The opposite of the Heel, the babyface wants uses harmony to attain a following. They post pet pictures, engage in discussions about food and drink, and their humor is often self-deprecating. They rarely call out others, and they don’t take the bait of trolls or heels. Less polished babyfaces are people pleasers who can slide into caping and sheep-like personas.
Whether it’s to be true to your genuine personality or a mix of characters, figure out the personality you want to be. While you can certainly be a different persona publicly, the intent of my advice is for you to figure out how you want people to see you, because…
Twitter is a Magnifying Glass
Although Twitter is meant for quick communication and we all hope to post things earn positive feedback that goes viral, the unintended consequence of the medium is that a vast audience will scrutinize a bad tweet until you are burning in its glare. Quick communication isn’t necessarily meant to be casual or lacking forethought.
Think about the parts of your personality that you want to share before engaging. If it’s not characteristic of what you want to portray, think twice about posting it.
If Being the Heel isn’t Your Thing…
Restraint, Courtesy, and Humility are Underrated
When news breaks, someone makes a provocative statement, or you’re feeling emotional about a subject, it’s a good idea to wait before you tweet. There are so many accounts where it’s clear the person has spent 60-70 percent of his time trying to cultivate a certain personality and then undermined that effort with a few tweets.
Those tweets aren’t always negative posts that earn criticism, but posts that are motivated by the desire to have something to say because everyone else is chiming in on a subject. Sometimes the way to cultivate a unique identity isn’t two weigh-in on every matter.
I erase 10-12 tweets a day before they ever make it to Twitter. Some thoughts are meant for people close to me, and not 46,000 people.
If you aren’t on Twitter for provocation, I suggest that you rarely (if ever) take the bait from someone insulting you. Whether it’s someone trolling you or you’re having a debate about a topic that doesn’t need to degenerate into mudslinging, remain polite and direct when you do engage. Learn about passive-aggressive behavior and if you’re engaging this way, cut it out.
If you make a joke that isn’t taken well or you insult someone because you reacted emotionally, be quick to apologize if that’s not in your character. There are specific accounts I make fun of routinely but they know me and understand the dynamic is friends ribbing each other. Sometimes, I step over the line with an account that I believe I can engage this way and when I see they don’t react in kind, I apologize.
It’s ok to be wrong and admit it. Many on Twitter are deathly afraid of it. Many have cursed Twitter and left it because Twitter didn’t kiss their asses the way they thought would happen because they’re renowned in their field.
Sometimes you’ll debate topics where there isn’t an immediate way to determine if you’re right or wrong. It’s okay to end the conversation unresolved. You’ll be remembered more for being an ass than you will for being right or wrong.
Get Tweetdeck or an app like it and create lists so the flow of information is paced to your level of comfort and you pay the most attention to feeds that focus on an interest or set of personalities that make your experience pleasurable. You may follow people who are provocative or trollish and find it entertaining, but if you leave Twitter feeling frustrated and angry, maybe you need to reconsider how much exposure you want to give them on your feed.
If you want to up the pace and variety of personalities, you can always move the lists around so the provocative and fast-moving feed gets primary viewing.
Focus on who you are and what matters to you and use the tools that are available to customize and magnify that experience. If you do this, you’ll feel a lot better about Twitter.