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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

Introduction
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.

Integration
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. 🙂

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