PR COG'S GEAR GRINDINGS

August 6, 2009

A response (an @, not a ‘d’)

A day and a half ago I’m sitting at my work PC, working on some client nonsense or such when I received a direct message which read, “OMFG we are being so rude according to shankman – we @ reply each other WAY too much.” [This was during Tuesday’s HARO call with @skydiver and@chrisbrogan — BTW, if you’re not following them, follow them – what’s wrong w/ you? They give great info and are certainly worth the follow].
Anyone who follows me knows this is at least partially true — I tweet (and @ reply) a lot. Tons — I’ve been on twitter for about a year and as of this writing have 14K tweets. My last thousand tweets averaged out to nearly 150 tweets per day (not bragging, just making sure everyone saw the unit of time). I tweet about everything – client/journalist pet peeves; what I’m listening to; reading; blogs I’m commenting on; and yes even occasionally what I’m eating.

Of course my initial response was, “You and I got called out specifically on a HARO call?” I was a bit impressed. Of course this wasn’t the case. Before commenting I waited to get the mp3 and listened…it wasn’t as inflammatory as I had originally thought, the full conversation (which followed a discussion of follower loyalty vs. number of followers) was this (Peter speaking in this quote):

[some sentence fragments removed for readability]

“…they [someone commenting on twitter I believe] disagree, it’s about answering, talking and answering your followers and having conversations on twitter. And Chris you might argue with me on this. I don’t believe that you should respond to every single person who responds to you in the public using an @ reply. I tend to direct message anyone who sends me an @ reply unless it’s something of value to the bigger audience. In my opinion, if you send me a question and I reply to you and it’s a personal question or it’s not of interest to everyone I’m being rude to 50,000 of my followers who might not care so I’m very very big on the dm not so big on the @ reply in a public forum. There are other people who disagree with that, there are companies who will @ reply every single person with the most trivial facts, if that works for them great – I just don’t believe once you hit a critical mass on twitter that that’s worth it…Chris what do you think about that?” [Chris’s Skype connection conked out. When he returned he agreed with Peter and the conversation tangented to a quick discussion of multiple accounts.]

I’m one of those who disagree.

First, a few notes:

a) I appreciate that Peter notes it might work for some people,
b) I’m not Peter and don’t have anywhere (and likely never will have anywhere) near his following.
c) I certainly don’t know what the critical mass is, but it’s presumably somewhere between my 1,800 followers and his 49,000.

Here’s what I do know:
a) off ALL of my off topic, sometimes nonsensical, double entendre laden tweets never have I been told I’m tweeting too much. Have I been unfollowed — sure. Do I know why — of course not.
b) some of the best conversations I’ve had with people would not have happened if I wasn’t tweeting nearly everything publicly.

More re: b) — when you do follow a decent number of people, individual tweets become blurred. If you only tweet once about a subject it’s very likely to get caught in the larger stream of those watching and very potentially never seen. If you’re having a good, interactive conversation you’ve got a better chance of being heard and others joining the conversation.

IMHO this leads back to the greatest question of the twitter-age — Why are you using twitter? I, personally use it as my own water cooler not soap box. A place to have conversations with others on the topics of the day and our lives.

When asked about twitter by Luddites I compare it to a cocktail party — you walk in, may know a few people there and can join or initiate any conversation without it being rude or intrusive. At the same time you can pull someone to the side and have a private conversation with them. But if we begin conversations and immediately pull the person we’re speaking with aside and talk only to them about it we’re losing the possibility that someone else in the group may have something of value to contribute to the conversation.

Simply put, IMHO (and compared to these two giants in the industry it is my own humble opinion) — until you ask, or allow for the possibility, there is no way to know what will and what won’t interest any number of your followers and to block that from happening by moving to directs immediately isn’t what twitter’s about (for me at least).

Of course asking everyone about their interests, keeping a record of it, and then somehow involving them in certain conversations is impractical if not impossible (remember, no multi-directs) on twitter. That leaves allowing for it to happen naturally — i.e responding publicly, the way the question was asked and see who pipes up. You never know what hidden gems you’ve got in your following until you let them know what you’re talking about and who else may be able to participate.

Proof of this came to me a few weeks back at Masquertweet, and I fully expect it to happen again at #MNH

I had a few, personally great moments at the event. The first of course being able to help 12for12K raise money for their July charity Eye Care for Kids.

The other joy, mostly unnoticed by others thanks to my mask, was seeing people I had been talking to for months and had introduced to each other online finally meet each other in person, and have real conversations about work, play and everything in between — without me doing any sort of weird twitter-matchmaker handholding. Some of them even making individual plans to get together and continue their conversations following the event. These were connections that may not have happened but for my introduction and I have no doubt that I was able to make those introductions because I chat up everyone publicly and allow the possibility that my followers will find each other interesting separate and apart from me.

This even took place NOT at an event — by leaving the door open for the possibility of a natural friendship to develop between two agencies I knew individually and had introduced to each other a new, hopefully life-long bond, has been forged. A connection (among many others) which fills me with joy each time I see any of them @, RT or #FF the other.

I’m not a big believer in #Followfriday, but each time I’m included in a #FF grouping and every other name I see is one I know, and I recognize introductions I’ve made, I glow a little bit. If these two (or more) random people have connected and like each other enough to now pay attention to each other (and become friends), and I was in some small way a part of that process it’s makes my Friday and my twitter life just that bit better.
Just my own $0.02.

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12 Comments

  1. Since Twitter changed the way "@"s appear in your followers' streams, I've found that I feel free to "@" instead of feeling obligated to "D." Case in point: I had no idea that you were "@"ing people as much as you do, Cog — and it's because the tweets are to people I'm not following. You're not hurting anyone by publicly replying to folks, nor am I. :)

    Comment by Lindsay M. Allen — August 6, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  2. Hey Lindsay —

    I'd respond on twitter, but it's acting up a bit. I really should have addressed the @ reply system in place by twitter at the moment. As it turns out, whenever I remember to, I actually cancel the 'in response to' option before sending an update (also blogged on the topic here – http://prcog.blogspot.com/2009/05/dear-twitteryour-new-settings-suck.html .

    My own logic being everyone already following the thread of a conversation from both of us will (theoretically) have seen the original post. By limiting my response I'm preventing those in my own network (that may not be in yours) from seeing what we're talking about and limiting the new people we could add to the conversation and our own circle of people.

    Comment by PR Cog — August 6, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  3. While I do certainly understand Peter's point, I agree with you about Twitter being a watercooler (I tend to use it that way, too). While I'm not an active participant in anything like #prbreakfastclub, I enjoy lurking and watching it. If you were all just DMing each other, I wouldn't get to!

    I think people follow you (or me) on Twitter for a reason — they enjoy what you have to say, and how you say it. Soapbox use vs. watercooler use may attract different audiences, but they are audiences regardless. If they didn't like it, they'd unfollow.

    Nice post!
    @Lex_D

    Comment by Alexis — August 6, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  4. I waver back and forth on @ versus DM but more often than not, am happy to observe public exchanges between people I follow. I learn something from almost every exchange. When I stop being educated, inspired or entertained by someone, I stop following them. Simple as that. That said, if I'm being honest, I think there's sometimes just a touch of self-interest in keeping certain conversations public that *could* be private. Let's face it, there is badge value in having certain people @ you — smack me, but it's true. Depending on who it is, it can boost one's personal credibility. That's how I've found many of the folks I currently follow — I started out watching who my favorite uber-users were interacting with, and followed them, too.

    Comment by Stephanie Smirnov — August 6, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  5. I only use DMs for super secret mutterings. If I "D"-ed instead of "@"-ed all the time, then I would run the risk of cutting people out of the conversation. I've had people jump in to a "@" exchange and answer a question or resolve an argument, no problem. I don't think it's rude; I think it's inclusive.

    Comment by TJ — August 6, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  6. Well…I had a nice comment but it was somehow deleted because I wasn't logged into wordpress. Here's a summary:

    Twitter is what you make of it. Brogan and Shankman use it for self-branding and they make money off of it and other social media portals. We (I) use Twitter differently. I use it to meet new people, engage in conversation, and to learn. I've met great people on Twitter, and thanks to Masquertweet I've now met them in real life. If everything was private, @CTMichaels wouldn't have seen me @reply @prdude one December morning (when we were the only PR people on Earth who were working). That initial introduction began what is now a great group of people. And now that I've been fortunate to meet most of them, and have gotten to know them, we do have some private conversations. But the fun is in sharing…even when sharing way too much like our recent #prbreakfastclub conversations.

    Bottom line is that we use Twitter for whatever way is best for us. I'm not branding myself or selling my services. I'm meeting great people and am having fun every day. (sorry…longer than the summary I thought I'd write)

    Comment by patrickdixon — August 6, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  7. I actually had this exact conversation over beers with @Skydiver at SxSw, and his main point was that for HIM, he felt @ replies wasted his followers time. In his case that's likely true.

    I agree Cog, it depends a lot on how many followers you have.

    It also comes down to WHY people follow you. People follow @Skydiver for sm info, queries and knowledge. Which is fantastic. However, there are many people that I follow personally for other reasons: they're funny, amusing, entertaining, sarcastic or a great person to kill a little online time with. In these cases I don't mind seeing all their @ replies, because they are often worth reading in their own right. The chatter is part of why I follow them.

    It's the context. The rules that govern someone like @Skydiver or @GuyKawasaki aren't neccesarily the same ones that are effective for Twitter mortals out for a joyride or a little enjoyable distraction at work.

    All that rambling being said, Twitter is still vey new and people should use it how they see fit. No one is an expert on Twitter yet. Even the 'experts'. So write your own rulebook.

    Comment by @EvilPRGuy — August 6, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

  8. Nice Post, Peter!

    Well, there's ALOT to consider when you agree or disagree with @chrisbrogan and/or @skydiver – not necessarily b/c of who they are, but really because of the fact that there's gotta be an answer that goes something like this > "It depends…"

    IMHO, it depends on a variety of things
    * context
    * who you're tweeting with
    – PR person who's all business vs a DJ who
    wants to talk about movies
    * tone

    Now, I do *very much* agree with you wiht the idea that some of the better conversation happen on Twitter when you're keeping it a bit more free-flowing and have folks chime in from time-to-time. Like a dinner party, some great 'side conversations' happen, along with 'new folks' coming in to join the fun. One of the GREAT things about diner parties and Twitter.

    However, when you strike a nerve and/or have someone that may be going through a tough time, those kinds of things call for a DM and/or a conversation offline – it's more personable and intimate…quite naturally b/c you're moving away from the dinner party atmosphere and having some one-on-one time.

    So I think both answers can work (depending on the situation…even though it all begins at a dinner party – mostly because it's not a black-and-white kinda thing.

    And speaking of 'both sides being right' kinda thing, your point about why people use Twitter…I think people can use it as BOTH their own water cooler and a soap box (although sparingly…certainly don't want to be a bullhorn, hamfisting your pitch al the time).

    So….that's my feelin on it all anyway.

    Narciso Tovar, Big Noise Communications
    @Narciso17

    http://methodandmoxie.wordpress.com/

    Comment by methodandmoxie — August 6, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

  9. great post @prcog. I tend to agree although I have an arbitrary amount of times (3 for me) of @'s and then I will move the conversation to a differnet channel.

    Also, really like your description of Twitter as a cocktail party or water cooler. I love hearing what people think is interesting especially if it's something I might never run across. I also love to be able to drop in conversations like you can when people are @'ing back and forth.

    Maybe I am crazy or I don't have the massive amounts of followers that other people do, but IMHO it's important to have dialogue back and forth that everyone can see. I don't like the idea of primarily broadcasting. Perhaps I have this opinion because I think (does anyone really know?) I have three distinct audiences following me – fellow coworkers, pr people and techy folks that are into the research work i tweet about. SO, I am potentially tweeting about lots of things that lots of people don't really care about. Regardless, I think that you should do what works for you. There are an awful lot of people on Twitter and everyone uses it in different ways. The people that are interested in how you use it will stick with you or move on. That's the beauty of it.

    @saradelekta

    Comment by @saradelekta — August 6, 2009 @ 9:47 pm

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