Thursday, April 5, 2012

#Twitter 101: Desperately Seeking Zen

Let's start off by saying I'm no Twitter Expert. If you want advice from a Twitter Expert, there are tons of them out there. I can't vouch for their expertise one way or another, but they're out there.

Maybe you knew that before you came here, and came anyway. Maybe you just found out, and are now looking (understandably) for the exits. Maybe I'd better give you a reason to stick around!

Try this on for size: While I don't know much about Twitter, I do know something about Zen. And it is the essence of Zen to realize that one never completely knows the answer one seeks.

Yet Twitter Experts promise to completely unravel its mystery - some in just 24 hours!

So while my Twitter expertise falls well short of 'expert', on the Zen side of things I think I can hold my own. In fact, let's test that theory. Here's a search for the words 'Twitter' and 'Zen'. How many results pursue the true nature (Zen) of Twitter? Not many. Let's look at them.

Mashable offers Four Tips for Productive Tweeting: (1) Approach With a Beginner’s Mind, (2) Give What You Want to Receive, (3) Only Add Useful Content, and (4) See Differently. Good advice in general, and certainly a healthy (IMO) approach to what you send out there in that little box. But it does not try to parse the essence of Twitter.

Next: Ten Steps To Twitter Zen. Six more steps than the last post: (1) Be Yourself, Be Nice, (2) You Must Give In Order to Receive, (3) Follower Count Isn’t Everything, (4) Conversation Is Not One-Way, (5) Mix It Up A Little, (6) Know The Proper Way To DM (direct message), (7) A Non-Follow-Back Is Not Cause For Concern, (8) If You Want to Increase The Likelihood of a Follow Back… (9) You Can Always Unfollow, (10) Give Thanks. This comes a little closer to what we're after, but most of his advice is, again: 'Be courteous, interact, be generous'.

Let's lay our cards on the table: If you're an ass in real life, you'll be an ass on Twitter. And if you make a nuisance of yourself on Twitter, no advice of mine can possibly help you, aside from this: Get someone with the necessary social skills, creativity and wit to do your tweeting for you.

Back to the Ten Steps. Items (3) and (7-9) suggest what we're after, which is the nature of Twitter itself in terms of its design intent and function. We must also account, as Twitter must, for the behavior of the folks using it. As someone who once constructed messages for marketing and political campaigns, this is an area where I can claim some insight.

Next up: Free Course: A Zen Peacekeeper Guide to Twitter. This seems to be on the right track - and the price is right. In fact, it's too on-the-nose. We're immediately shown images of Buddha and a woman meditating. Not to mention links to yoga - and what's up with peacekeeping? Maybe it's just me, but I'm starting to feel a little squishy here.

Pressing on into the seldom-seen second page of Google's results, there's something called Achieving Twitter Zen. It's a list of possibly-useful software enhancements for using Twitter. Again, not what we're after.

Another post called Twitter Zen tells us: The social media microblogging site Twitter has a Zen quality. The premise of Twitter? Answer the question “what are you doing”? Each post, called a tweet is like a haiku – a fluid expression of a moment in time... unburdened by verbosity (there is a 140 character limit on Twitter posts) as our human travails and observations are expressed. Little life moments. Experienced and shared. Happening.

Another Twitter Zen post, this one by Stephen Foskett, offers a no-nonsense series of four concise lessons designed to cover the basics for the newbie. At a glance, it looks pretty thorough in that regard. Here it lays out what Twitter is, and isn't:

The most important concept to grasp is the fundamental nature of Twitter: It is an ongoing, global, democratic conversation. It is not a blog, USENET, Facebook or MySpace, or an instant message platform, though it does have certain elements of all of those.

That helps, though if you're a Twitter newbie you might also not know what a blog, USENET, Facebook or MySpace are, either. But it's a start, and this writer goes on to offer some good observations. It's worth reading.

Ask yourself: Is becoming a 'Twitter expert' your goal? Or is Twitter only a means to an end? I'm in the latter camp, and I suspect you are too. (Otherwise, you'd have left by now!)

With that in mind, I'll stick with the basic practices and tools in the posts ahead. I'll review what I'm doing and why, and what I believe the Zen of the thing is. The first practical lesson has already begun: The headline of this piece starts with a hash tag (#), which in the Twitterverse is shorthand for a searchable topic. This post appears not only on this blog, but as a Tweet that opens with a popular search term. I'll show how that works in a future installment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Foskett's piece looks like a solid Twitter primer, with some good 'Zen' points to expand on later.

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