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Archives: August 2009

You're Doing It Right

Several months ago, I was chatting with a very intelligent friend about Twitter, and she was telling me that she didn’t get it, and wondered why. Stupidly and unfortunately, I suggested to her that I didn’t think she would ever get it because, quote, “You’re not the right kind of person.”

It was a ridiculous thing to say, and I regretted it immediately. (Alcohol was involved, but that’s never a legitimate excuse for behaviour.) We ended up falling out for a little while. Rightly so, given my attitude, but a separate negative was that she then wrote Twitter off entirely.

We’ve since patched things up. Recently, she contacted me privately on Facebook, saying that was attempting to give Twitter another go. She mentioned she’d been reading my various tutorials and articles on Twittercism (which left me feeling both humble and guilty), but that she couldn’t find an ‘in’. She feared that she simply didn’t fit, and because of this didn’t have any idea as to how to make it work. Without any malice or tone, she concluded by saying that it turns out that I was right after all.

The only problem is I was completely wrong.

There is no right way to use Twitter. The tricky part about that is I think that there are some obvious wrong ways, but ultimately if what you’re doing is working then it’s right for you. That’s all that really matters. Are you enjoying Twitter? Is it something you look forward to? Is it part of your day, and something you value? These are the only things that count.

It’s largely irrelevant if you use Twitter exclusively to chat with friends, arrange business deals, share the latest news and insights or to offer a real-time support solution to your customer base – if your time on Twitter is productive then it’s time well spent.

Productivity, of course, is entirely relative. That’s the key part. I think the only ‘right’ thing you should be doing with Twitter is making a habit of it. What you do after that is completely up to you. Don’t let people tell you that you’re doing it wrong, because you’re not. (And that includes me, because as we’ve seen I can be a real ass sometimes.)

As long as you’re doing it the way you want, as long as it’s fun, and as long as it leaves you hungry for more (and isn’t screwing anybody else), it’s all good. Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re doing it right.

"I Don't Have Time To Do That."

Recently I was approached by a client who had a peculiar problem – their Twitter network simply refused to grow beyond a certain point.

Each time they hit this level, users would begin to unfollow them, and they’d drop back fairly quickly, losing as many as 10 per cent of their followers over a couple of days. The process would then repeat itself.

It didn’t make a lot of sense. So, I had a look at their stream, and spotted the problem almost immediately.

There was almost zero engagement.

While they were making updates and replying when approached (which was rare), they weren’t initiating any conversations themselves. Nor were they retweeting the content of others. I realised pretty quickly that it was fairly obvious they weren’t actually reading this content, either.

So, I spent a little time writing an analysis that explained why all of these things were vital, and listed a series of bullet points that showed how the client could easily turn this around and hurdle that follower ceiling.

The response? “Thanks, but I don’t have time to do that.”

The key word in social networking is social. Without it, the entire ‘networking’ part is redundant. You cannot do the latter without the former. Unless you’re actively reading the updates of others, retweeting where warranted, replying and offering assistance, and doing the little things that let them know you’re paying attention, why would you expect them to do these things for you?

It takes a little work, sure, but it’s not a 24/7 job. You can do all of this in less than 30 minutes per day. Make a habit of Twitter. Let it be the first port you call when you have news to share or want to find out what’s happening in the world. And while you’re there, put a finger on the pulse of your network. What’s happening? What can you do to help?

I’m busy, you’re busy, everybody is busy. You don’t have the time? Find it. Because otherwise you’re sunk.

The Silent Majority

I share a lot of different content on my Twitter feed, and every once in a while somebody will write back to me and say, “Hey! I didn’t like that.”

Occasionally, several users will object. Often this will be about subjects where people have strong belief systems – for example, religion or politics. In all of these cases, I make the effort to communicate with the person and explain my reasons for sharing this information.

If enough people complain at you, and the reaction is strong enough, it can make you think seriously about what you are doing and the best way to move forward. You might wonder if you need to change your ways.

In and of itself, this is a mistake. Why? Because you’re not looking at all the data.

Let’s say there are a hundred people in my network. I submit a tweet, and five people write back to me and complain. I open a discourse with all of these individuals and we have a little bit of a back and forth. Ultimately, two of them decide to unfollow me.

But when I look at my network, the number now reads 86. What happened?

People typically vote with their feet. If you get bad service or food at a restaurant, chances are you won’t write a letter. You’ll just never go back. On Twitter, the unfollow function is the most powerful feature on the entire network. Most of the time, nobody knows you have done it. You’re just gone, like magic.

In the example above, while five people felt strongly enough to approach me directly about my stream, as many as twelve other users decided they were better off without me. And nary a word was said.

Of course, this works both ways. What if after the incident my network had climbed up to 110? Let’s say five people retweeted my link, their friends had seen and enjoyed it and several decided to follow me. Despite the complaints, my net gain from this content was +12.

So, does this mean all of my content from this point forward should follow the same line? No, because it’s an isolated incident. You should never change who you are or the things you do because of one bad (or very good) reaction, or even a few. What matters is how your network responds to you over time. Polarising opinion can have great value, but if all your press is negative, something is definitely wrong.

Your Twitter network ebbs and flows like a living organism. It pays to monitor it because most of the time, most people won’t contact you with praise or criticism. They’ll simply make their vote count by operating silently in the background, perhaps by recommending you to a friend, or by clicking on the unfollow button.

You can’t do much to control what goes on behind the scenes, but by paying attention to the data – in all of its forms – you can spot positive trends or implement damage control before it’s too late.

Twitter, Please, I’m Begging You… Give Us A Way To Backup Our Data

Yes, Twitter was just down. Like me, I’m sure that every time the network freezes or disappears completely you fear the absolute worst.

The thing is, one day, inevitably, something awful will happen. Servers will crash, hackers will run riot, and data will be lost. Your data.

I’m reminded once again why a facility to both backup and (critically) restore your tweets is nothing short of essential. Nobody likes the idea of having to start over. Particularly if it’s not your fault.

A New Look At Untweeps

UnTweeps is a Twitter ‘stale’-user filtering website that I first reviewed (and praised) back in May.

While I love the service and have used it many times, I suggested in my article that it was radically in need of a redesign (describing it as “somewhat of a monstrosity on the eyes”) and I’m pleased to report that my constructive criticism didn’t fall on deaf ears, as UnTweeps has unveiled a rather spiffy new look.

A New Look At Untweeps

Doesn’t that look great? The site operates essentially the same as before although they now offer a pro model, which allows you to use the service multiple times per month and search for stale Twitter accounts over any period of time you like (the free version has a minimum setting of 15 days, and three uses per month). This is charged at $5/month, or $1.37 for a three-day subscription.

They’ve also now completed adopted Twitter’s OAuth login system which means your password details are never shared.

The reasons why you should regularly clean out inactive accounts from your Twitter network remain quite valid. And there’s no easier and more efficient way to do this than with UnTweeps.

Has Social Networking Peaked? Twitter Growth Just +1.25% For July, Facebook +0.10%, Friendfeed -9.74%

Has social networking passed its tipping point? It’s too early to say, but if the July numbers are anything to go by things are not looking particularly rosy.

Twitter, which saw a huge jump in unique visits in June after a flat May, gained just 1.25 per cent for the month of July, to 23,284,395 uniques, says Compete.

Has Social Networking Peaked? Twitter Growth Just +1.25% For July, Facebook +0.10%, Friendfeed -9.74%

(click to enlarge)

Facebook fared even worse, gaining a miniscule 0.10 per cent in the last month, to a still heady 122,676,814 visitors. This is the slowest month Facebook has seen since September 2008.

Has Social Networking Peaked? Twitter Growth Just +1.25% For July, Facebook +0.10%, Friendfeed -9.74%

Myspace dropped 2.23 per cent.

Meanwhile, Friendfeed, which has just been acquired by Facebook, fell almost 10 per cent. While there’s some premature celebration about the purchase, I can’t shake the feeling that Facebook will simply pluck out a few of Friendfeed’s better features and likely shut the rest of it down. It seems like a talent purchase, and nothing more. Facebook’s 250 million users don’t want something as complex as Friendfeed. Friendfeed users didn’t want something as complex as Friendfeed.

Plurk also continues to decline, losing another 5.85 per cent to just 239,460 visitors in July.

The stand-out performer in July was LinkedIn, which climbed 5.77 per cent to 13,163,696 uniques.

Who Works At Twitter? An Update!

In May I wrote a fairly popular article entitled, “47 People Who Work At Twitter (And What They Do)“.

Who works at Twitter?

Today I’ve updated this list and Twitter’s employee team has now grown to 67 individuals, many of whom have been added to the support staff, as well as operations and media.

Check out the staff roster here.

Twittercism: Now On Facebook

You can now subscribe to Twittercism on Facebook. If, like 250 million other people, you use the popular social network, it’s a great way to keep up-to-date with the latest posts and updates.

Twittercism: Now On Facebook

Just visit this page, and click on the button. I’ll see you there! :)

You’re Doing It Wrong, @FrankieBoyle

Frankie Boyle is one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the world. He’s always the highlight of Mock The Week and each and every time he’s on television I make the effort to tune in. Why? Because he’s guaranteed to say something both hilarious and outrageous.

Frankie Boyle is also on Twitter. Sort of.

  1. His Twitter account is a simple feed, and one that is clearly updated by somebody else
  2. Whoever updates the account writes in the Facebook ‘is’ style, i.e., “is in Basingstoke on Tuesday.” Great.

Yes, the account is real. Boyle has been on Twitter since November, 2008, and has a total of 18 tweets, and just seven in 2009. He hasn’t submitted anything since May, 20.

@frankieboyleEvery way you look at this, it’s a disaster.

Here’s what has happened. Frankie – or more likely his management – has decided that because Twitter is so trendy and cool and all the other celebrities are doing it, Frankie should be doing it too. Except he’s not. He’s not even making half an effort.

He’s doing it wrong.

To be fair, he may not even know he’s on Twitter. But that’s a problem too. Boyle is so funny off the cuff that a medium like Twitter would be perfect for him to try out new quips and one-liners. The interplay between himself and the audience is already there. There are many other comedians who do this fantastically well on the network – Dara O’Briain, Russell Brand, Bill Bailey and Jimmy Carr.

Actually, Carr is a great example of somebody who used to do it wrong, too. Carr’s Twitter feed was once managed by his team, and it pumped out Frankie Boyle-esque messages 24/7. Jimmy Carr is in London. Jimmy Carr is at The Apollo. Jimmy Carr is also on Facebook.

Nobody cared. Carr wisened up – likely thanks to an intervention from Jonathan Ross – and now when you subscribe to his timeline you’re getting the real deal. It’s funny. You want it to be funny. Comedians are meant to be funny. That’s the point, surely?

David Mitchell uses Twitter, too. Mitchell also uses his Twitter feed to tell us where he is and where he’s going to be. But he does himself. And he does it in a way that’s self-deprecating and humble, but it makes you laugh. He engages with his followers. He’s almost apologetic about it all, and freely admits that he doesn’t get it. The irony is: he does. Better than most.

Frankie, here’s a tip for the next time your management team decides to update, whenever that may be. Stop them. Tell them you’ll take care of it yourself. And then dip a toe into the water. It’s fine to tell us what you’re doing and where you’re going to be performing next on your tour. You’re running a business. We expect that. What doesn’t work is using Twitter in a really casual way just to give the impression that you’re in the loop. You’d be far better off not being on Twitter, and being all aloof and mysterious, even dismissive, than doing this.

Because when we subscribe to your tweets, it isn’t you we’re getting. It’s somebody else. And nobody wants that.

A Word About (Bad) Customer Service

In case you hadn’t noticed, Twittercism has been down the last few days.

A lot.

It’s been up some of the time, too, but that was only through sheer perseverance on my part. You see, the problem was caused entirely by my web host, 1&1 Internet UK.

On Tuesday, this site suddenly went dead, with no obvious reason. The blog couldn’t connect to the database that powers it, and when I checked my control panel, I was informed that this was because the database had been closed.

So, I called 1&1. 1&1 are notorious for their bad technical support, but in case you’re not familiar with the process, I’ll lay it out for you here.

There are three tiers of customer support found in most technical organisations. The first level deals with the high-frequency but basic queries that can be solved fairly easily. If level one can’t handle the problem, they bump it up to level two.

Level two represents a smaller but more technically-proficient team than can provide more in-depth support.

Level three is the technical support cream of the crop; there might only be a handful of these guys, but they know everything.

At least, on paper. That’s the system. It’s flawed and ugly but it works for most of the people most of the time, simply because something like 70-80 per cent of all technical problems are solved by the team in level one. Why? Because they are predominately dealing with queries such as, “Does Google have a website?”

It gets awkward when you have a level three problem. It gets really awkward when you know it’s a level three problem, but you still have to start with the people in level one. Here’s what happens:

  1. You spend 20 minutes on the phone with level one, explaining your problem
  2. They can’t handle it, so they transfer you to level two
  3. You spend 20 minutes on the phone with level two, explaining your problem
  4. They can’t handle it, so they transfer you to level three
  5. You spend 20 minutes on the phone with level three, explaining your problem
  6. They (hopefully) fix it

All this on a premium line. But what if they can’t fix it? What if they won’t, because they were the ones who caused the problem?

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