Why I Tweet

I find Twitter to be an incredibly useful tool for me in my job. I have conversations with people who don’t get it, and I find myself making the same claims over and over again.

I had an email exchange on the subject today, and once again I wrote it all out, so I thought I’d capture it here for anyone who’s wondering why Twitter has value at work.

It started with someone asking a question on an internal EPA Web manager listserver. I responded that I would put it on Twitter to see what the folks who followed me knew about the subject (posting on Twitter is called “tweeting”).

Someone else on the listserver then asked what I meant and how Twitter works.

This was my response:

Go to http://twitter.com/levyj413

When you follow someone, their posts become part of a combined feed of everyone else you follow. When you look at your personal Twitter home page, you see the latest posts from everyone you follow. Theoretically, you could read everything everyone says. But functionally, that rarely happens.

2563 follow me, and I follow 254 people. I certainly don’t see everything all 254 have to say. I usually just check in a few times/day and see whether the first screen of posts has anything worth reading or replying to.

I use Twitter professionally, to share thoughts and links about social media in government. The people I follow also talk about that subject, and I pick up all kinds of interesting ideas and links to check out. And from time to time, I get great answers to questions I have, like today.

When I post links, typically 20-50 people follow them. A really high-interest item might be clicked 100 times.

Thus concludeth Twitter 101 for the professional user. 🙂

Then someone else responded to put down Twitter as not giving enough space to write out a coherent thought, including suggesting that my normal email signature block wouldn’t fit in a tweet and that people don’t bother with punctuation. That pretty much missed the point of Twitter. He also referred to a recent Doonesbury cartoon that mocked Twitter for its banal use. Here was my response:

Yep, Twitter’s standard question “What are you doing” is essentially useless. Doonesbury and most media coverage have been about the inanity. Let me be clear: I agree 100%. I don’t care when someone had a great cup of coffee or is now walking the dog.

I use it completely as a professional network. And this isn’t blogging; it’s quick blips out to people you know. In fact, I know more than one person who blogs (including me) specifically to give more breathing room to thoughts that don’t fit into 140 characters. My sig block is irrelevant, because there’s a bio section and a link to whatever URL you want to provide.

Have you ever used an IM service? Do you write 4 paragraphs at a clip? Anyway, you’d be surprised at how much you can fit into 140 characters.

And I even use punctuation. 😉

One thing to know right off is that you shouldn’t even try to read everything said by everyone you follow. Just dip in when you have a chance. At any given time, my home page features many interesting links that open my eyes to new things, discussions I’m interested in, and questions people ask me.

It’s also a very useful early warning system. So far I’ve learned of three different environmental issues days before I was aware of them through normal channels.

Here are some examples of my recent tweets. I think there’s a lot of info in there, with links to more. Note that these are just posts that started with me; I also frequently talk back and forth with one or more people at a time, but listing examples of those would lose the context and therefore be meaningless here.

  1. Level of interest in social media in gov’t? 400+ people are currently attending a Web 2.0 overview webinar we’re running. 80% w/.gov emails.
  2. Great animation on how to respond to various socmed objections from someone at the Smithsonian: http://twurl.nl/wyg4jk
  3. RT @shaboom You can make a lot of mistakes and still succeed. But you can’t succeed if you stop making mistakes.
  4. If it’s not clear, pls rob me blind: presentations, thoughts, turns of phrase … that’s why I post it. Crediting me is fine, but not vital.
  5. First response when a mgr says “Go get me some of that Web 2.0” shouldn’t be “OK!” Instead: “Why? What are you trying to accomplish?”
  6. The minute anyone says “you’re supposed to …” send them to this blogpost from @chrisbrogan: “You’re Doing it Wrong” http://twurl.nl/jurabp
  7. Vivek Kundra, formerly the Washington, DC CTO, is now the “federal CIO” – still don’t know about a federal CTO: http://twurl.nl/wjofj0
  8. Very, very good thoughts on top-level federal web governance from HUD’s former web manager: http://twurl.nl/uvd5ru

BTW, I got more than a dozen solid answers from the people I follow on Twitter to the original question.

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Joe Flood

Government needs tools that require concise communication, like Twitter! Imagine if all communications had to be less than 140 characters. People would have to become better writers. And countless hours would be saved by those who currently slog through verbose all-staff emails.

John Sonic

I also recently joined Twitter. But I took me a while to figure out what it is and how it works. Still, I am just following other twitters. I treated Twitter as a IM mesager and bulletin boards.