Connections, Ideas and Emotions

Is Twitter a real community?


Let me start by looking at two definitions of Twitter:

  1. Twitter.com defines itself as a social messaging utility for staying connected in real time.
  2. About.com expands this definition: it’s miniature blog, a social messaging and news reporting tool and is used for social media marketing.

I would also include that it’s a network building tool where people ‘like you’ can discuss anything (in 140 characters) and take an online relationship offline via conferences and tweetups.

My thought
I’ve been using Twitter daily for a few months and have seen people using it for different things: heated discussions (Twitter doesn’t lend itself very well to following these threads), asking questions, arranging meetups or conferences and up to the minute news stories (e.g. Iran election, Michael Jackson’s death). I’ve met a few people on Twitter that perhaps I would have never met in the normal course of my life – very interesting people and not those in my industry. One of those people is Daren (@DarenBBC) whose analogy of Twitter is the easiest one to understand and goes something like this:

Map in a pub

Image from Steven Carver - Flickr.com

You move into a new area and go to the local pub that’s nearby. You order your drink and sit down. You watch people and observe how they interact with each other. You finish your drink and go home. You return the following day and do exactly the same as the day before. You go through the same routine for a few days even weeks. By observing those around you, you form impressions and you know which are the people you want to avoid and which you’d like to talk to. One day, you go into the pub with the intention of starting a conversation – these people are not at this specific moment in time, your friends – but you do engage in a conversation.

So, you’ve been going to the pub regularly and the people in the pub have become your friends. These are the friends that are happy to see you as soon as you walk through the door, that will talk to you about anything that pops into their heads or who include you in the conversation they’re having with their friends. Some nights you go in and the pub isn’t full of any of your usual friends and other nights, the pub is the place to be – full of fun and banter.

Missing out
We know the obvious thing that happens when you don’t go out to the pub is that you miss the conversations your friends are taking part in. You miss the gossip, the invitations to events, etc. but you don’t worry because you know that the next time you see them, if it’s really important, they’ll fill you in. The unimportant things will be left unsaid – they only filled the gaps throughout the night any way.

For me, Daren’s analogy is perfect – someone explaining Twitter in a way that’s easily understood!

The missing bit at the introduction stage
Daren’s analogy covers people who engage with Twitter after a while but what about those who don’t. Going back to the analogy, you get some transients – those that either accidentally stumble across the pub or those whose friends have recommended it. These people may pop into the pub to have a drink and they may never come back. Can we entice them back? I guess that answer needs it’s own separate post.

Popular kids on the block
Of those new people that have moved from introduction to integration, hopefully very few, if any, will be exposed to an uncomfortable scenario. It’s the one where the ‘popular’ people won’t allow any new people into their circle (unless they’re popular too). I have noticed the cliques forming on Twitter, it may have something to do with the fact that I’m new to the area. The characteristics that I’ve found are that they have a managed to get a huge number of followers yet they only seem to engage with a few over and over again and do not reach out to anyone else. There are exceptions to this and I don’t want to say that everyone that has a huge number of natural followers behave in the same way, some are extremely inclusive.

Community leaders?
I’d like people, who have experienced the benefits of Twitter, to reach out to newbies, to try to engage with them – not all newbies feel confident enough to approach people with huge follower numbers, after all, they are new in town and observing.

How many times have we heard the following from people who aren’t active Twitter users:

“I don’t want to hear about people washing their hair or about what they’ve had for dinner.”

Yet, some will still go to the trouble of setting themselves up on Twitter. For those of us who’ve been on Twitter for a while, we can see the benefits of the site whether personally or professionally and if we want to help this site grow into a community, we have some responsibility for ensuring we engage new people and that their first experience is so fruitful that they’ll come back.

So, next time you see someone on their own – just say hi. 🙂

Author: missnrg

Working for a big multinational corporate in the UK. The opinions on this blog are solely mine and I do not represent anyone else.

3 thoughts on “Is Twitter a real community?

  1. Great analogy. I get very tired of the Jackie Ashleys of this world dismissing Twitter as a lot of mindless drivel from people telling you what they had for lunch. Yes, many Twitter posts are essentially pointless, but that’s true of any conversation in the pub too.

    These are the interactions that help us to understand people and connect with them more meaningfully in the longer term. Chit-chat is social glue.

  2. The analogies sound, accept I’ve never strike up a conversation with anyone in a pub, even after a few weeks (terminal shyness) but I’ll happily chat to anyone on Twitter. Unlike Jackie Ashley, I stuck with Twitter long enough to make sense of it. Yes you have to wade through stuff sometimes but its worth it!

  3. You have a point here.
    Tweeting to many different types of people on Twitter gives so much more than if you stick to the same bunch all the time.
    I love it when I notice I have – myself – brought people together by followfridays or by just having conversations.
    Your contacts now carry on their own conversations, which spread to others, which again spread to others… great. Means you can bring people together, but without actually ‘pushing’ them.

    It obviously depends on what you want to get out of Twitter. You make of it what you want – which is another attraction with this 140 character world. If you prefer to limit yourself to talking to just your mates, then – so be it. Personally, I feel that would be missing out on so many more new people and potentially new friends.

    I just spoke to our local ‘mobile’ fishmonger – Derek – outside today. I took a picture of him and his little van, said I was going to put it out on Twitter and let the world know about his great service. He said: “You mean that thing where you follow celebs?”
    I spent some considerable time with him, trying to explain, while he was skinning my fish. I think he is now part of the convinced. Jackie Ashley and Janet Street-Porter obviously don’t fall under that category.

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