This is the third of three 2007-8 posts about social media I am republishing in connection with my address today to the Arizona Newspapers Association, which refers to the middle post. I have not updated, except to remove or update outdated links. The earlier posts included my first post about social media and my first post about Twitter. I think this one holds up better over time than the first two.
Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about social networking: Connection grows from activity.
When I reached out to connect with people on Facebook, we connected. When I twittered a lot, people connected with me. When I joined Wired Journalists and formed some groups and started some discussions, other journalists joined the groups and started discussing journalism with me. When I started recommending friends on LinkedIn, they started recommending me. When I created a MySpace page and left it there without reaching out, only one friend and one jailbait spammer found me.
The thing I can say most certainly after a few months of serious social networking is that I know enough about it to know that I really don’t know much. The cliché of political campaigns (especially for the early losers) is that a campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve run hard enough to recognize that social networking is a marathon where you sprint. And the finish line sprints faster, always staying well out of sight.
I’ll write separately about Facebook and LinkedIn shortly (I’m trying to learn to write shorter, more frequent posts). But my different experiences on MySpace and twitter will illustrate how activity leads to connectivity.
I joined both in late December, about a month after I had written about my initial forays into LinkedIn, Delicious, Flickr and Facebook. I decided to start passively in both, seeing if anyone would find me. My initial entries both places pretty much said I was waiting to be found.
MySpace tried to tell me right away that I had a friend named Tom. I’m not sure whether Tom was an avatar or a MySpace staffer whose job it is to make sure that no one feels lonely. But he wasn’t really my friend, just a guy offering to help if I needed it. It took me a while to figure out how to delete him, but I did.
I’d been on MySpace a couple weeks when I got my first invitation to be a friend. The photo was of a teen-age girl in her underwear. A real friend who’s smarter that I am said it was probably a cop. Either way, I gave the right response, branding her as spam.
After a few discussions and emails with a friend and former colleague who’s 20 years younger than me, he invited me to be friends (he was already a Facebook friend and LinkedIn connection and, more important, a genuine flesh-and-blood friend). I added him as a MySpace friend, but I haven’t checked out his page very thoroughly (it’s much more fully developed than mine). I’m still essentially a non-presence on MySpace. A passive approach doesn’t work in social networking.
I was barely more active on twitter for the first three weeks. My first three entries – Dec. 28, Dec. 31 and Jan. 16 – basically said “Still waiting for someone to find me on Twitter.” (That was the Jan. 16 entry.)
I didn’t “get” twitter, a microblogging site where people say what they are doing right now in 140 characters or less. (Here’s how much I didn’t get it: When I blogged about taking it more seriously, I said the limit was 240 characters. My editors would not be surprised that I overshot by that much.) I’m still not sure I get it, but after hearing a discussion led by Howard Owens Jan. 23 during the Storytelling Innovations seminar at API, I understood enough that I knew I needed to twitter more and get a better feel for it. So I vowed in this blog Jan. 25 that I’d be more active for the next week.
I had written that post on the airplane on a flight to Minneapolis, where I was doing a presentation on Newspaper Next for the Minnesota Newspaper Association as well as a workshop on writing leads. I posted 22 entries that day, writing about figuring out how to twitter from my phone, about the weather (it was cold), about my son’s promotion, about Tom Curley’s address at the MNA luncheon, about meeting an old friend at the convention. After I gave people an exercise to do in the lead-writing workshop, I twittered that they were doing the exercise. I told them twitter would help them write better leads (not many 30-word leads you can do in 140 characters).
I was having a little fun and starting to understand the possibilities. And it didn’t take much of my time (but writing something of this length does). That weekend I joined Wired Journalists, a new social network I’ll write about shortly. I formed a few groups there – Newspaper Next Journalists, Storytelling Innovators and Wired Journalism Ethics. I also joined a couple groups. On New to Social Networks, I found and joined a great discussion, “Using Twitter for journalism,” now up to 35 replies. (Update: It’s no longer available.)
Having read that discussion, I must confess that I am not close to understanding the full range of possibilities for twitter or similar microblogging efforts for journalism. But I understand enough to know that it has great potential. Reporters, editors and online producers need to dig in and explore that potential.
As I twittered (some twitterers use tweet or tweeted as the verb), people started following me. I’m not sure how they found me, but I eventually had 15 followers (one has dropped off) and I was following 10. Some were less active than me. A few were more active. One was downright aggressive, connecting with me on Facebook, too. He was like an evangelist for journalistic uses of Facebook and twitter, and wanted me to reflect his level of enthusiasm. I think my approach of feeling my way disappointed him.
The next Monday, I led a discussion on ethics for API’s Leading the 24/7 Newsroom seminar. In all, I had 14 entries that day, from prepping for the seminar to another tweet while the editors were working on an exercise to flying to Erie, Pa., that evening for another ethics seminar the next two days.
The seminar at the Erie Times-News was my most prolific burst of twittering. I led half of the discussions (and didn’t use exercises that allowed me to twitter during them) and Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute led the other half. I twittered during Kelly’s sessions, as though I were covering a news event as it unfolded. It was fun and actually gave a pretty good flavor of her sessions. I posted more than 60 entries Jan. 29 alone. I could see how a beat reporter or a reporter covering breaking news could use that sort of microblogging effectively.
That was certainly my most efficient use of twitter so far. I needed to stay engaged in Kelly’s sessions and couldn’t really work on something else, so it didn’t take time away from other work. I think I managed to do it without distracting others who were participating in the seminar.
Some days I was pretty good at doing quick entries that might have had some interest to anyone following me. Other days I went for hours or a whole day at a time with out twittering. When I did, sometimes it felt like more of an interruption than banging out 140 characters should be. When you only have 140 characters to fill, writer’s block can be quite humbling (I just twittered that line). But when a great line hits you, or even a good one, twittering it feels good.
I don’t know what my twitter future is. I haven’t done nearly as much this week as I did last week. But I plan to keep it up. It helps me feel as though I’m at least jogging in this sprinting marathon of social networking.
2008 Update: About 12 hours after I posted this blog, the politicians — or someone using their names — started finding me on twitter. I’m now being followed by DennisKucinich4, MikeHuckabee47 and TommyThompson43, each of whom signed on within a space of nine minutes. Each of them is following about 2,000 others. But I won’t be following them. 2012 update: The Kucinich and Huckabee accounts (both probably fakes) have been suspended and the Thompson one hasn’t tweeted since 2008.