March 5, 2010

Twitter: falling on deaf eyes?

First of all, Blog, let me say that this post is the opinion of one woman, an awesome woman I’ll grant you (j/k, my friend), but just me. And I certainly respect the viewpoints of others and would love it if you’d post in the comments. But here’s my undiluted viewpoint:

In 140 characters I can only say Twitter didn’t do anything to improve my life and I can’t quite figure out what it’s uh-oh I’m out of space

Here’s how I first got into Twitter, Blog: I started following Neil Gaiman, and was pretty engrossed by his posts. He actually could be clever in 140 characters. And, frankly, I was obsessed with him, so therefore happy to hear about his dog walks and tea times. He’s also very creative and connected to many other creative types, like a living, breathing salon. When his father died, I wanted to send condolences, so that’s why I signed up.

You know, Blog, Neil has 1,454,412 followers and he himself follows 532 people. 2,734-to-1 may seem a very lopsided ratio, but I have NO idea how anyone could keep up with the tweets of 532 people. Even if they only tweet twice a day on average, that’s over a thousand sentences, possibly with links to more text. And I find it hard to believe Neil Gaiman has time for that. Especially with all the tweeting he does.

With apologies to the friends I have followed on Twitter, and there are only a handful, Neil is the only person I’ve found to be consistently worth following in that medium. For awhile I followed the wonderfully talented, witty and humorous Eddie Izzard, only to find that his tweets were staggeringly boring. “Landing in Heathrow. England foggy today. Hope I find a cab.” Eddie, really? This from the man who brought us “Cake or Death?”

But it’s not his fault, Blog. I know from my time using Twitter that it is very hard to be entertaining or meaningful in those 140 characters. It’s hard to communicate anything in 140 characters, much less anything of value--particularly because Twitter is not the best format for give-and-take, and that’s what makes communication worth something. (The lack of visuals is also a total bummer to me. Those TinyURLs do not tempt me like a thumbnail pic does.) 

I’m not saying you can't give-and-take on Twitter, only that it’s difficult to truly converse and to wade through the content, due both to its format and its volume.  It takes too much time to monitor.  Maybe you simply have to have a different sort of brain than mine, but skimming through tweets looking for value was just such a time sink to me.

Of course there is one big appeal to Twitter and that can be summed up in the number 1,454,412. Imagine it, Blog--for absolutely free, being able to reach that big an audience! That’s like the circulation of the Sunday New York Times, which would charge you almost $30,000 for a quarter page ad. If you get a post on a page like Neil’s, think of the exposure! If you find a way to gather thousands of followers, well, you could get famous, right?

Well, Blog, I am convinced this is the main thing Twitter has going for it. Everyone hawking a product or service (and I did it too) thinks, why not go on Twitter? it’s free publicity! Everyone who wants to see if they can attract “fans” (I get that too, believe me), thinks Twitter could be the answer.

So, in an environment like this, where sheer exposure is the draw, what you inevitably get is a lot of people hoping to, in effect, outshout each other. And because everyone is trying for that, no one is listening. That’s an exaggeration and there are certainly notable exceptions, but you get the idea, Blog. Neil Gaiman is talking to 1,454,412 people, and listening to 532. Most people are [at least attempting to] talk to way more people than they are interested in listening to. Commercial entities who tweet for promotional reasons will say they want feedback, but mostly they want you to listen and buy.

Another factor that messes up Twitter horribly is that in order for the average person to be followed, s/he must follow. On Twitter, it’s just not satisfying to have 25 to 50 people (the number of people who probably actually care about most of what you’re saying) the way you do on Facebook. Till you have at least a few hundred, you’re small potatoes in Twitter World, Blog.

So you have people constantly following other people merely for the purpose of hoping they’ll be followed back. (Are you following me here? Ha! Sorry.)  I know that folks who followed me on Twitter were 20-to-1 people who had no logical reason to have an interest in me, so that’s the origin of my suspicion.

These people have no intention of reading your tweets. And because their Twitter feed is littered with tweets of people they have no interest in reading about, I suspect they are pretty much ignoring their feed.

In fact, that’s the picture I get of Twitter, Blog. I feel like the great majority of users pretty much ignore their feeds. Which means most of the activity on Twitter is falling on deaf eyes.  That’s just based on my experience, of course, but I can’t help but feel it’s the logical conclusion.

I know that sometimes this medium has truly been used for valid and important purposes. Attempted suicides and totalitarian governments have been thwarted, and the like. I think that’s marvelous.

But in my role as marketing babe, I just laugh at all the hype about Twitter. A lot of people are making money on Twitter seminars and guidebooks that take advantage of people’s passion for free publicity. The bigger Twitter gets, the more it turns into a worldwide wall of noise. Will it just keep growing, a virtual Tower of Babble? I wonder, because I have to think eventually many people will just drop out, like I did.

I still have a Twitter page, Blog--mostly because occasionally I like to peek in and see if the feed is just as lame as the last time I looked. But I realized if the only time I was tweeting was when I wanted to promote my books, a new interview, review or blog post, and I was ignoring everything being said to me by those I followed. I was doing my part to make the thing as self-absorbed and egotistical as I fear it is. Well, now I’ve stopped posting.

This is not meant as a plea to abolish Twitter.  You know I’m not that way, Blog.  It’s just that usually I can make sense out of things that don’t float my personal boat.  And it just seems to me like serious and “valid” users of Twitter have to be drowning in an ocean of what is, for all intents and purposes, spam.  140 character chunks of spam.  I don’t know how they do it.

So comment away, Twitter fans!  Let the little blue bird have his say too!


  1. Twitter, and pretty much any social networking tool--Facebook AND Blogger included--are about 10% info regurgitation and 90% self-absorption. (The Stalker part I'm including in the 90%!) The Information Age has given way to a version of what the '80s defined as the "Me Decade" which I guess I'll call the "Look at Me Decade" (you heard it hear first!) Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, etc. are all ways to put your info out there (10%)......for other people to see how great you are (90%). And the more tweets and comments you receive, the better/cooler/famous/popular/worthy-of-stalking you've become.

    There is a very small number of people that "check feeds" out of the sheer kindness of their heart. When people DO check feeds and dive into that ocean of sentences, I'm going to say that, for the majority of us, the underlying reason is because we want to keep tabs on the party. We never want to feel left out. If we drop out, just for a moment, we might miss something huge: What if my ex broke it off with his floozy?! Maybe a celebrity died! What did Neil eat for breakfast?! ...That last one only applies to famous people, of course. As you and I could (in all, waaaay deep down honesty) give a crap about what you and I ate for breakfast!

    Now I'll agree to a small exception out there in terms of social networking with good friends and family. FB, Twitter, and blogs are great ways to "keep in touch." However, the real trick is to imagine if we could go a few days, a week, even a month without saying so much as a peep (no pun intended!) about ourselves and only check in/comment on our friends and family. Would we feel unsatisfied? Would that ache slowly morph into an online scream? GAH! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! LOOK AT ME!!! LOOOOK AT MEEEE!!!!!

    I won't even go into the complete annihilation of privacy we've brought on ourselves. It's like people are all up in arms about the government being too Big Brother (Homeland Security, etc., yet here we are just slappin up as much information about ourselves that we possibly can via statuses, tweets, blog posts, and even physical maps of the exact location of our whereabouts. Boggles the mind!

  2. It's true, Katesi, that social media will naturally reflect the bad as well as the good about human nature. Everyone wants/needs validation and attention and acceptance, so the tools of the Web become another way to seek those things.

    And your last point is an excellent one: there's some national (international) hypocrisy going on there, for sure.

    I'm thinking that one reason Facebook functions better for me than Twitter is that the audience/social pool is much more made up of people that I actually know and care about. That motivates me to give as much as take. And certainly I feel that others (at least as a group) are paying as much attention to me as they are talking about themselves. And I WANT them to talk about themselves because I like them! In my experience it's not really 90% self-absorption...I get lots of support, encouragement and sympathy, just as I try to give it. Perhaps I'm just fortunate, but there's very little oblivious self-indulgence going on that I see.

    It's much harder on Twitter because I don't know whom I'm addressing and most of them don't know me. That just breeds more "talking about oneself" for lack of knowing else what to say...even if one has the best of intentions/motivations.

  3. I think this sentence sums it up:

    "But I realized if the only time I was tweeting was when I wanted to promote my books, a new interview, review or blog post, and I was ignoring everything being said to me by those I followed."

    It isn't a promotion tool, it's an interaction tool. You said you were drowning in Tweets, but I don't feel that way at all. There are a ton of Twitter tools available so you DON't drown in Tweets. And following people just to be followed in return is silly. People don't do that. They do a search on who is talking about the things they want to converse in, and follow those people.

    What I do is log on, see who contacted direct or through @ messages, search my favorites (which are on a list), view the popular # of the day, and lastly, search the topic I may have a question about (if there is one). I respond to anything I need to, RT what I like, argue with someone about what I don't. ALL OF IT takes me fives per day.

    In exchange for that, I have a wealth of resources available to me. I get interview subjects and questions answered by people who have experienced exactly the thing I need to find out about. I get more traffic to my website and blog posts by using Twitter, even without me Tweeting links all the time. Twitter is microblogging - not blogging and not Facebook. It's a completely different medium, and one where people either jump in and get the benefits or become frustrated. It's not for everyone. I actually spend much more time (wasted and not) on Facebook. I think Facebook has a higher self-absorption factor than Twitter. From a business standpoint, Twitter rocks.

  4. Well, clearly I haven't figured out how to use Twitter as a proper business tool at all, Cherie! And if I ever need to, I'll know whom to ask. It must just require the right tools for sifting through the chaff. I have no evidence that Twitter ever sent me a single referral (unlike Facebook), but then I simply may not have been using it properly.

    But I assure you there are lots of people who do follow people just to be followed in return. It's an issue I've seen addressed in the media, and in my own experience it's more common than not.

    At any rate, it's great to have someone testify here who has actually made the medium work for herself. There have to be plenty of cases like yours.

  5. GAWD, when I re-read my comment I sound so darn crabby. I should stay off the blogosphere today.

    Anywho, I believe you with the following just to be followed thing. I don't understand why people do it, tho! It's so silly. But I suppose it happens. The thing is, Twitter is just so different. It's like, not every comment is meant to be followed. And I know that sounds stupid because then why put it out there?

    The Twitter tools make it manageable. Without them - I think I'd spend too much time on the site to have it be worth my while. But look at what happened with my company today. I had no idea what was going on until I went on Twitter! I didn't know what the rumors were (which all turned out to be true) until I went on there.

    I don't use it for personal stuff really, tho. I say 'hi' to writer friends or bloggers I don't usually chat with on FB, but that's about it. I spend tons more time on FB for the exact reason that Katie said above - it's like you want people to be more self-involved because you want to hear what's going on with them. FB is more self-involved. I mean, in the last week I've written about going to lunch, Pier 1, and Hobby Lobby, and got responses and sympathy - where else would that happen?

  6. Well, I must be a dinosaur from the Ice Age of computers who really misses message boards where (gasp) conversations can be held.

    Having an ancient OS, I don't have the tools to actually get ON Facebook, let alone do anything there. When I have managed to slip past the hoards of folks who were doing Whatever They Do There, I couldn't figure out the point of the place. Ditto Twitter.

    I'm sure they have their points, but, IMNSHO, it's like being stuck in an elevator with 30 people who have their cell phones out and are discussing their most intimate and personal details for the whole world to hear. (I can't help but get the feeling that most of it is in the category of I Really Want You To Think I'm Somebody Important, even though I'm really not.)

    Sorry, not interested.

    Call me an Old Fogy, but I miss the days when people actually conversed with something to say, rather than talked to hear the sound of their voices - in person or electronically.

  7. From everyone's comments I just read, I'm more inclined to say that it's more of a gray area than what I initially commented. For honest promotion, I can definitely see the help Twitter would give you, especially if you know your way around it (the tools Cherie mentioned). MOST people I know who use it, are more about the social aspect though. Check out this strange example: I was at a bar to watch the USvCanada gold medal game. The bar was ALSO hosting this "Four Square" thing (another Twitterish tool to tell people where you are located). So I saddle up to get a drink and literally everyone around me (~50 people) even one of the bartenders and the owner, are looking down at their phones, netbook, and Macbooks. No one is looking up at the game, no one is looking at another person. Just down at their devices to try to unlock the Swarm Badge. .... So I don't's just so bizarre. And then you meet Tweeters face-to-face, and like many Online to In Real Life transitions, it can be awkward. I think it takes a certain type of person to truly get on board with the social aspect. But like I said, in order to actually receive and pass along helpful and interesting information, I can see the positive aspects of Twitter.

  8. Personally, I like Twitter but it probably appeals most to the people who like texting (which, BTW, I'm not really one of).

    It only makes sense if you have a social group to connect with. If you're just getting news from advertisers and celebrities, you're better off getting them in more content-rich ways like blogs. But Twitter lets me hear that an acquaintance is in town and going to Happy Hour, and I can let her know I'll meet her there, in an easy, real-time forum. Twitter lets me share a text message with my whole social group in one shot, instead of having to text everyone individually. And if the tweet isn't of interest to a particular person in the group, the brevity means she's only wasted a few seconds reading it.

    BTW, if I Follow someone and he posts a lot of noise, I will either stop following him or (if I want to see messages my other friends send to him) put him on a list in TweetDeck that I don't read. You really need an app like that to keep the threads organized if you follow more than a few people.

  9. All good tips, and I can see if your circle of friends were all on it, that would make a big difference. Only a couple people I know personally use Twitter. But I get how that might work.

    Katie aka Miss O, I know about FourSquare and it strikes me as another marketing gimmick. Your description of your experience at the game just made me heartsick though...that blows! I remember being at a bar watching the World Cup (or Canada Cup? now what was it?) game a few years back and everyone in the place was engrossed--it was awesome. (You shoulda come to OUR house, we were paying attention to every pass!) As you know I've been known to go on my 'Berry or netbook in a social situation, but only in a way pertinent to the people around me, like Googling something. You really have to not let technology get in the way of real social interaction.

    And to your point, Janet, if you like message boards you'd love Facebook I think. It can accomplish much the same thing in a better looking and more sophisticated interface. I do agree with you though that nothing replaces face to face interaction. I'd much rather do that with the people I talk with on Facebook, and would if I could afford the airfare and time off to go see them all in CA, NC, TX, FL, the Caymans, Canada, the UK, etc. :-) I love getting to see those who are local. This way I just get to keep in touch with them better in between real visits.

    That said, nothing is for everyone. If you're just not the kind to get into social media, there's nothing wrong with that. And besides, with your computer, there's no use pining over stuff you can't do yet. Plenty of people still love message boards, and most people love getting together in real life!

  10. Katie - I am cringing/laughing/shaking my head at all the people in the bar looking down at their phones/netbooks instead of interacting with each other or watching the game. What a world we live in now!

  11. Okay, an update from me. Tonight I confess I found something that Twitter IS good for! Our cable was on the fritz with 90 minutes until a Ben Linus-centric episode of Lost. Panic! Can't get through to Time Warner's customer service...line is busy (it's Tuesday, Idol is on too!). Call my daughter who has TWC, get voice mail. Check Journal-Sentinel online news blogs. Then I think...Twitter! I do a search on "Time Warner Cable Milwaukee" and up come tweets from people all around the area asking about or reporting on cable troubles!

    30 minutes later, my TV comes back. On Twitter, other TVs are back too. I relax, and Lost airs uninterrupted at 8:00.

    Someone tweeted "more info on the outtage on Twitter than on TWC's website." No kidding! In this case, I stand VERY corrected.