Twitter Is A Medium For Conversation, Not Just Broadcasting

Last modified on April 27th, 2009

By no means am I a twitter expert. In fact, I’m not really even certain what that moniker means. Saying you’re an expert at Twitter is like saying you’re an expert at talking, or being able to hold a conversation. Sure, you have to understand what an @ sign does, and how to direct message someone, but other than that Twitter is just another tool in a wide arsenal of technology that allows people to establish and build relationships.

I used to only follow my friends on Twitter. Even though I replied to most @ messages directed at me, I didn’t follow everyone back, simply because I wanted to keep my list manageable. About a week ago I decided to change that, I ended up following back most people (my criteria being that they needed a profile photo and also needed to demonstrate a real interest in having conversations). If they failed either of those, I didn’t add them back.

One of the first things that happened (and that I didn’t even remotely imagine) was that I received an enormous amount of automatic email replies from those Twitter accounts, most of them of a business nature, or some lame attempt to get me to reply to that email. That people use these schemes, and actually expect them to work, seems completely foreign to me. I imagine it must work to some extent (the same way spam must work to some extent), but it’s discouraging seeing a tool with a legitimate, positive use being used in that manner. In truth, judging by the email responses I received, there are just as many businesses using Twitter as there are normal individuals. Or at least, they are the ones driving a great deal of the traffic.

If you head over to Rebecca’s blog, you’ll see that she has a running series interviewing some of the local politicians. So for yucks, I headed to Twitter tonight to see just how these politicians are using Twitter. First, let’s take a look at Gordon Campbell’s Twitter account (@g_campbell). If you browse through the first few pages, it’ll become crystal clear that Gordon Campbell (at least as evidenced by the first few pages of his Twitter stream) doesn’t seem to rank online interaction very highly. Obviously, Gordon Campbell probably has some other person running his Twitter feed, but it’s clear that the medium is being used simply as a form of broadcasting instead of one of interaction, which given the state of politics, is somewhat sad to be honest. You would think people in public office would want to, you know, engage in conversation with the public.

Here’s a small list of some BC politicians, and whether or not they are using the medium to engage people in real conversations or not (as judged by looking through a few pages of their tweets).

Engaging In Real Conversations

Not Engaging In Real Conversations

I gotta ask this quesiton — if these politicians can’t figure out Twitter, a simple service that facilitates easy interaction with the public, how on earth are they going to solve some of the larger problems, such as homelessness in the downtown eastside?

I’ve always believed that pointing out a problem without offering a solution is a wasted effort. So if any of these people want some help or guidance on how to use Twitter, by all means drop me an email — I’d love nothing more than to have everyone in that top list, and nobody in the bottom. We have some amazing 21st century technology available to engage in nearly real-time conversations with each other — isn’t it about time we stop engaging in 20th century politics?

7 responses to “Twitter Is A Medium For Conversation, Not Just Broadcasting”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I think the whole idea of using Twitter as a conversation mechanism is really important. It seems to be overlooked as the world worries about the death of blogs, but in fact Twitter, like you mentioned, is such a clever and useful internet tool and I worry too that it’s not being used to its potential.

    The other day, however, I watched a business deal happen via twitter. It was amazing watching the quick 140 character banter go back and forth between two small companies (one an independent magazine and one a magazine store) as they negotiated. The two hour Twitter conversation resulted in that publication being made available in the store for a whole new international audience. Tweets can result in meaningful connections and insightful conversation.

    Blogging has led to a decline in the concept of instant conversation, in a way, and Twitter can bring it back – all in 140 characters or less.

  2. Duane Storey says:

    That’s an interesting observation. That being said, I think Twitter has led to the decline of intelligent conversation, which is why blogging is still important and relevant. In fact, I think that Twitter and blogging compliment each other quite well.

  3. Kimm says:

    I only follow interesting people who have something to say not this “I just blew my nose” crap. I never understood why people would follow someone and then never try and chat with that person?

    I don’t follow any politicians and I plan on keeping that way, unless your running to take over the world. LOL

  4. Raul says:

    Amen to everyone. I was waiting to hear people chiming in before saying anything. Duane – I completely agree, and I am very happy that you brought the issue up, particularly because I completely agree.

    A few times I’ve written about the topic on my blog, and I very unabashedly have said “you can unfollow me at will if you think I’m too much of a conversationalist”.

    In the most recent talks I have given recently I have emphasized the importance of bi-directionality and conversation. The truth is, it seems to me that a lot of us want to bring out the message talk to people, that’s what web 2.0 is – bidirectionality but there is nobody out there listening. At least, nobody in the political realm.

    While I was writing this comment, some people mentioned that the Mayor of Toronto (@mayormiller) is actually good at talking on Twitter. I’d be curious to hear who else is.

    Excellent post, Duane.

  5. […] “I gotta ask this quesiton — if these politicians can’t figure out Twitter, a simple service that facilitates easy interaction with the public, how on earth are they going to solve some of the larger problems, such as homelessness in the downtown eastside?” Asides, duane storey, social media, twitter […]

  6. Dale Mugford says:

    Well written piece Duane. With regards to use, everything in the tech world for the most part is “what you make of it”. And with most things in our culture, a select few think beyond borders and boxes and utilize a tool beyond its conceived potential. Twitter is an excellent case for this very facet.

  7. Rebecca says:

    To credit the candidates I did interview, @HaidaLane is engaging on Twitter. I think most people jump onto the latest social networking tool without realizing how to use it or how to start conversation (or just think Obama was on Twitter so…)

    With that being said, Twitter has been around for 5 elections in Vancouver over the last 7 months so you’d think people would know how to use it by now. Especially since our town had its own Twitter drama with “fake” accounts in the fall.

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