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The Culture of Twitter (Why Twitter Works Part II) January 18, 2009

Posted by Brian Link in socialmedia.

booksMost people think all social networks are basically the same. Twitter is similar enough to other networks but its capabilities are severely limited – on purpose. Your profile is limited to a small snippet and your communication is in 140 character bursts. Because of this, microblogging (as it’s called), caters well to people who want to consume a lot of messages from a lot of people or catch up quickly with friends very efficiently.

You choose who you want to follow. And then you’ll see all the messages and replies from and to people that are on your follow list.  Important yet perhaps subtle note: Twitter calls these people “followers” not “friends”. This implies Twitter is more of a tool than a social network, doesn’t it? A tool to do what though? Well, to communicate, right? Which I suppose means it *is* a social network, but it’s definitely a different kind of one.

The difference is that with these bite-size pieces of information, you have some choices about how you consume them. There are also different ways people interact and participate, but first let’s discuss consuming:

  1. Some people (and I think most people actually, especially new Twitter users) treat Twitter like a new inbox. And it’s why people get overwhelmed when they first start using it, feeling like they have to keep up.  It’s a fine choice actually, because it means you’re truly interested in everything everyone has to say.  (It’d be really hard to run around a large party and hear every conversation, but that’s why with this strategy you probably keep your follow list under 200 to stay sane and not let Twitter entirely absorb your whole world).
  2. For others, 200 isn’t enough.  You need to graze more in order to find more of the stuff you like. Maybe you’re like me and you’re reading everything you can about social media. There’s a lot of people sharing links, providing advice, having conversations about it – and you might decide to follow 500-1000 people in order to throw your net wide enough to glean enough of the information you want.  At this rate, however, chances are you can’t really keep up.  When you step away for a while, there could easily be too many messages to get caught up, but you also don’t want to miss any of the good stuff. So you get good at skimming and glancing through those familiar avatars (it’s amazing how well you can retain 500 recognizable images – and notice immediately when Chris Brogan has changed his image again, but again I digress.) At this rate and beyond you become more concerned about the signal to noise ratio and to optimize you may need to unfollow people who don’t contribute enough to why you read Twitter and add others that do.
  3. Super users follow thousands of people. Similar to following several hundred people, you must skim through the tweets (or only plug in and read in short slices of time). You might focus more on @replies and individual conversations, but realistically you’ll dive in an out of the stream of conversations and likely miss much of what’s going on. At the risk of sounding like a total Chris Brogan fan-boy, I’ll reference him again and a post of his here where he talks about how he manages to follow tens of thousands of people. In real life, if you walk away from your friends sitting around talking and drinking beer, you miss that part of the conversation, but when you get back you jump right back in and don’t worry about what you’ve missed. It’s like that.

One other point about consuming. I’m often reading tweets from my phone. But mostly what I’m looking for on Twitter are great shared links but as much as I love my iPhone, it just doesn’t download web pages fast enough for me to do it frequently. So, I like to bookmark tweets to follow up on later by favoriting them. Then, next time I can afford to spend some time reading those pages, I do from my MacBook Pro. 

Which of these – or other ways – do *you* use and consume Twitter?  

More to come soon in Part III: on the Twitter culture of interacting and participating.


1. Socbum - January 19, 2009

Spot on! I started as the first type, following closely all of the people I followed AND looking for responses from people that followed me. I learned that not all of my followers were going to respond AND I could not respond to all of the people I followed. I moved into the second type and I still follow some people closer by using my mobile as a filter. I’m starting to learn about #hashtags and how to learn of new people to follow based on a subject or event.

Great article — Keep me on your shout out list 🙂

2. Mary Wehrle (Merrycricket) - January 23, 2009

I’m no super user but I do follow more than 1000. I use tweet deck when I am really in the mood to “consume” tweets. I organized some of the people I follow into Local people and another column for not local very interesting people I want to keep up with. I will create a temporary column for any hash tag conversations I want to keep up on. I do cast a pretty wide net to find people that are interested in the same things I am. I use twitter on my smart phone when I am twittering from an event and just follow replies in case someone asks me a question. The number of people I follow has built up over the past year. I only added a few at a time in order to be able to make the adjustment to the new number of people in my tweet stream. I wouldn’t recommend following that many in a shorter period of time.

3. Sandy Blanquera - January 23, 2009

Good post. I agree with the profiles of different users. More is better for me than less. I felt a need to read everything in the beginning, but now I read key people’s tweets via a special group in tweetdeck and then duck in and out of the “all” conversations, occasionally making a new friend.

Everyone has a different strategy for using social media. Follow and unfollow rates will depend on your need or usage. My objective right now is to better understand twitter for businesses. Mass seems essential to that user.

I only use twitter on my blackberry when I’m at an event and want to tweet. Keeping up is much harder on the phone…I can’t see at replies or DMs very easily so carrying on conversation is frustrating that way, while microblogging works just fine.

I hit 2,000 followers recently and it doesn’t feel any different to me than 200…tweetdeck certainly helps manage.

Sandy or @sblanquera

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