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Twitter: insight, engagement, affinity and stepping outside the echo chamber

I’ve been using Twitter for what feels like forever, but is probably closer to 18 months (internet years are the new dog years), and as time has passed and more people have joined the value of the service to me, projects I’m involved in & my clients has increased exponentially. It’s an odd little tool that can easily overwhelm at first, or seem like a waste of time – really who needs to know “what you are doing” at any given moment? But when used and integrated into your digital social participation has tremendous value, personally and professionally.

Tons of ink (pixels) have been written about how to use twitter, brands who are on twitter, word of mouth potential, etc. etc. and I’m of course now adding to that with this post. What I want to explore is how Twitter provides a breadth of insight into the online mix, adds another layer of engagement and can actually help build affinity – but truly only if you step outside of your comfort zone, or echo chamber, for the marketing & PR focused amongst us.

One of the beautiful things about Twitter is the connections you can make outside of your standard social circle. It’s easy to get wrapped up in talking to the same people all the time, in real life, and online – we naturally gravitate towards those we know, or people with similar interests. But for any online interaction to be truly meaningful, sometimes we have to step outside of our norms and expand our field of vision. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but I have tried to broaden my horizons and engage (and listen) to people outside of my ‘norm’ in the last 6 months as the community has grown.

This is important regardless of whether you are using Twitter as a brand, using it to build your network/ connections, or using it to gain awareness/ affinity for personal reasons. The one thing that remains constant throughout it all is that Twitter is not a broadcast channel. If you just use it to push out your own interests it will be immediately obvious and you won’t get any true value out of it.

Participating on a network like twitter enables you to find out a ton of information about how people view the world, what interests them, what excites them, what ticks them off, what they’re reading, who they like to talk to, how they use social tools, etc. – all “in the moment“, but all relevant and available when and how you need it. If you only “follow” people who think like you, who are in the same field, or who share your tastes in whatever, you are missing valuable insight into the bigger picture. This doesn’t mean you have to follow everyone who follows you, it doesn’t mean you have to spend hours upon hours watching the “tweet stream” update, it doesn’t mean you have to stick your tweet into every conversation, but what it does mean is that to truly get the benefits for your brand you have to do more than just monitor your keyword usage for mentions of your company or product name. Who are these people who are talking about you? Why are they talking about you? Do they care that you are listening? Do they want you to jump in and start promoting or defending your brand? Or are they just unique individuals who are sharing their experiences “in the moment” who you should listen to and take insights away from? It all depends on the context, but if you aren’t willing to find out more about them than just what they said about you *at that moment* you are missing the broader insights.

Recently I organized SustainabilityCamp in Toronto. Truth be told I had no idea who would be interested in attending an unconference that wasn’t focused on start-ups, social media tools, or technology, but had a broader (and at the same time narrower) focus on social and environmental change & collaboration. To my delight, pretty much using Twitter alone to spread the word about what I was doing, and reaching out to people involved in the eco-movement I was pointed to via Twitter and other social networks, the conference not only sold out, but had 12 complimentary and relevant speakers sign up! And most of the attendees weren’t actually ON Twitter – they had just heard about it from people who were. And they came from all walks of life and areas of interest – marketing, PR, NGO’s, academia, small business, etc. I’ll put together a summary/ case study of the day over the next month, but what truly amazed me was how diverse my social network on Twitter IS. I was talking to all these fantastic people who weren’t in marketing or PR and hadn’t even realized it because it just seemed so natural that we all would connect for one reason or another over time. That is powerful.

It’s easy to get involved with Twitter, but it does take effort to get and give value. Sometimes I tweet nonsense about hockey or movies, or what have you (I also am known to rant every once in a while about things I’m passionate about), but I also participate, listen, and learn as much as I can. I don’t follow everyone back (mainly because with over 1,000 “followers” I had to turn email notifications off and it gets hard to carve out time to update my list), but I do regularly add people to my “circle” as I go. You never know what you can learn from someone – if you are there for the right reasons.

If you want to engage with me on Twitter — blah, blah, follow me here :) But if you really want to engage with me, send me an @ message and let’s start talking.

[photo credit: nomi & malcolm via Flickr]

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Comments (10) to “Twitter: insight, engagement, affinity and stepping outside the echo chamber”

  1. “The one thing that remains constant throughout it all is that Twitter is not a broadcast channel.”

    I so <3 you for that, Tamera! And I think you are right, Twitter is a great way to go outside your comfort zone and expose yourself to new people with new interests. And it’s a much lower commitment than reading their blogs, just try out their tweets and see what you think!

    It’s nice to get outside the fishbowl/echo chamber, and Twitter lets you quickly and easily do that, thanks for the reminder!

  2. Thanks Mack – I honestly can’t preach it enough – do not treat Twitter as a banner ad or a TV spot. No matter how brilliant you are, how connected, whatever, if all you do on Twitter is push out your product/ message/ brand you are abusing the community!

  3. Because I live in both the arts and marketing/IT worlds, I have both types of communities on Twitter and so it doesn’t surprise to me hear about your response to SusCamp (which was great, BTW!)

    Think of Twitter as a cocktail party at a minimum – if all you do is talk about yourself and how great you are, sure you may engage someone for 5 minutes but they will likely throw away your business card & avoid you at future events. (Unless you are an “A-lister” in which case people seem to have patience to put up with just about anything!) :)

    Instead if you take turns listening & speaking and strike up conversations with those outside your clique, you will be surprised at the value you will get from the Twitter community.

  4. Thanks Amrita! It was great meeting you @ SusCamp :)

    I agree – it is akin to arriving at a cocktail party and mingling and meeting new people vs. standing with your “clique”. Good to keep in mind!

  5. You make me feel like an asshole because I completely forgot about Suscamp.

    Still – a great, honest post about twitter. And you didn’t even resort to the cliches of twitter posts.

    Good stuff, Tamera. Keep it up.

  6. It’s really sad that folks mistake Twitter in that broadcast way. They’d never walk into your house or a restaurant and throw around a bunch of brochures and walk out …

    The opportunities to connect and learn are getting totally overlooked.

    The beauty of the collaborative nature of social media is that we all get to learn. I’ve ended up asking questions that never would have occurred to me and meeting people in cicles I never would have crossed. Thanks for making me stop to enjoy the memories.

  7. So many things to remind me that I missed SusCamp! I’m really happy to hear that it was a success and that through Twitter you managed to attract people outside of the proverbial echo-chamber. Enlightening discovery.

    And Amrita – I love your Twitter cocktail party metaphor!

  8. Agreed on Twitter not being a broadcast medium despite how several so-called A-listers use it.

    I look at twitter as a bank account, you can make deposits or withdrawls.

    Deposit = Solid link, witty comment, insightful quip, etc.

    Withdrawl = Read my blog, grand-standing, what I am having for lunch, etc.

    Twitterati should ask ourselves periodically if our twitter accounts are in surplus or racing the DOW down the toilet.

  9. Great post, Tamera. I can attest to the power of Twitter as it led me to you and SusCamp! To reinforce your point and those of Amitra and others above about Twitter not being an effective broadcast media, to wit, I would not have learned directly from Twitter about the camp as I was not yet in your network. An Ottawa based Twitterer left a comment on a Tampa area food blog post about my company. I tracked his comment back to his blog and sent him an email. We then spoke by phone. I asked if he knew any Toronto area Twitterers involved in food and sustainability. He tweeted and one of the responses sent me to you and SusCamp. The post about my company came about through a similar labyrinth of non-linear connections, including that old fashioned activity: face-to-face meetings. Which BTW is one reason your SusCamp was a success ;-)

  10. [...] Of course that isn’t the *only* thing happening on Twitter, and not the reason I use it (I’ve explained before┬áhere and in an interview on CityNews recently why I use Twitter), but it takes a lot of time and [...]

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