Posted by: Katie | September 16, 2009

The Twitter Phenomenon

As you can tell by the sidebar, I’m a user of Twitter. I’ve been having many discussions with people lately regarding why to use it. As of this writing I’ve got 1,374 followers, have made 12,452 tweets, and follow 266 people. I’ve been a user for about 2 1/2 years now. Twitter is not for everyone. Before you dismiss it, however, experiment with the different ways you can use it. It is possible to use it professionally, but not use it personally. I take the professional/personal mix approach, myself.

There are quite a few sets of “rules” out there on how to use Twitter. I prefer to think of them more as guidelines which can be tossed if they don’t make Twitter work for you. Because it’s a fairly free-form style of social networking, you must make Twitter work in the way that works best for you. That’s my only “rule”. Do I know how to make Twitter work for you? Nope. I only know how to make it work for myself. It took me three months before I could see how to most effectively exploit its features to my own end. My ends have evolved over the last two years, too. If you had told me two years ago I would be following over 250 people, I would have laughed in your face. At that point, following 100 people seemed insane. I didn’t follow people in the hopes they would follow me back. I followed people because I wanted to see what they had to say and be a part of their conversations. It was probably around the six month mark I began realizing the number of people I followed was getting outstripped by the number of people who followed me. While my following:follow ratio continues growing (currently 5.17), my reasons for following people or not have also evolved.

I still follow some people just to see what they have to say, which turns out mainly to be B through E-list celebrities. If I follow someone, I never expect them to follow me back, no matter who they are. I don’t have that expectation because I don’t reciprocately follow back everyone who follows me. How can I have that expectation of people I follow if I don’t do the same? Why don’t I follow back everyone who follows me? Easy. I want to avoid information overload. I am heavily involved in two related industries: libraries & publishing, specifically romance publishing. We discuss a lot in those two industries. I like being involved, and for me, being involved means refreshing myself from time to time by stepping away from the conversation. When I step away, my perspective can comfortably adjust to the new information I’ve acquired. I can then re-enter the conversation with a fresh eye. However, I do make a point of replying to almost every message directed toward me. Twitter is a place of conversations, and if you don’t respond, you are not making yourself part of the conversation.

In her August 15, 2009 article for Salon, “Addicted to Twitter”, Laurel Snyder put forward this description: “It’s the biggest cocktail party in the world, 24-7.” I know I’ve seen similar descriptions in other articles on Twitter, but to see it in an article regarding a Twitter addiction resonated with me. I don’t know if I’m addicted to Twitter or not, but like Snyder, I’m one of those girls who hates to leave the party. I’ve gone days without access to Twitter and without the urge to see what’s going on. When I’m away from my computer all day for work travel, I have very little urge to go back and read everything that’s come across my stream. I will check my “mentions” page though to make sure I haven’t missed any specific questions of me.

Like I said in the beginning, it is possible to use Twitter specifically for professional, mainly institutional, reasons even when you choose to eschew it personally. I have heard anecdotes from librarians near me who have seen an increase in media coverage of their programs. The news media who have shown stated they came because the library sent out a reminder message on Twitter about the program. The librarians all said they had sent out press releases a week or two before, but because the Twitter reminder went out that day, the assigning editor had the information right in front of them. Some libraries have also seen a slight uptick in program attendance for the same reasons. For your Twitter account to impact in this way, though, your local media and a section of your community need to be using Twitter, too. I wouldn’t expect this right out of the gate, though. As libraries are sources of information, your community, and maybe your news media, may come to you asking how to use Twitter and you need to be able to explain it. I have a part-time job where I’m a substitute at one of the local public libraries. I had a two-part question when I was working this past Saturday: “Can you explain texting to me and what is Twitter?” Luckily, the patron got me for the question 🙂 I gave him a quick overview of how both worked and why someone might want to use the services. Do I expect him to join Twitter? Nope. Do I expect him to come back to the library for an explanation on some technology he’s heard about? Yep.

To wrap up this essay (and I’m forewarning you the majority of posts here will turn into essays), I don’t expect libraries and librarians to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, but I do expect them to know about current technologies and be able to explain how they work and potential appeal factors to their patrons.

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