Social media no image

Published on March 30th, 2009 | by Rahel Bailie


Why social media seems easy but is (evidently) harder than it looks

Recently, I stopped following the CBC Vancouver on Twitter because I felt they didn’t really get what Twitter was about or how to use it. Don’t get me wrong; within the CBC, there are some Twitter feeds that are interesting and useful. But the feed that I stopped following was using their channel as a sales, rather than as a marketing, tool. In 140 characters, they would tell me about a show and include the imperative phrase “watch tonight” or something similar. Their pitches are very similarly worded to the television teasers designed to make TV viewers tune into the news. A recent tweet: “Jaeny discovers a unique way to have a picnic on the water…find out if she gets wet doing it today on #CBC’s Living Vancouver. #vancouver”

Therein lies the problem. The teasers don’t entice me on television and don’t entice me here. You can tell me to watch Living Vancouver or Hockey Night in Canada till the cows come home, but that’s not going to make me like hockey or appreciate the local entertainment scene. It’s a cheap trick, and by now, we all know how to read the cues.

Compare that with how The Hour uses Twitter. They don’t really implore me to listen to their show. Instead, they tell me about interesting items: “Big news this past weekend – “GhostNet” Chinese Virus Busted by Canadian Hackers – Way to go CDN hax0rs!”. They have established themselves as the bringers of news, the custodians of cool. If I’m inclined to watch, it’s because they proved that they were interesting and drew me in.

Twitter can seem like a no-brainer. It’s like a cocktail party, and cocktail party manners – well, manners at civilized cocktail parties – apply. You can wander through Twitter and eavesdrop on groups of people talking; you choose become part of whichever conversation in which the topics seem interesting. A recent article humorously encapsulates the fourteen personality types you can find at the Twitter party, and you know how you gauge your reaction to each of them. You may find yourself backing away from the person who is way too earnest, or too crude, or who tries to sell you life insurance immediately after you exchange contact information. Those you follow are likely to be those you find have interesting things to say on a consistent basis.

There is no right way to Twitter, because everyone participates for a different reason. The question becomes whether you achieve your goals. If you’re not on the mark, you can ask yourself how you’re coming across to your audience, and how you can change your approach to make yourself more approachable by those you want to follow you.

Having gone on this little Twitter rant, I feel compelled to divulge why I spend time on Twitter, and I had to ask myself that same question, as I am not part of the Twitterati whose goal is to have the most followers ever, or who has an obvious, specific agenda. Aside from “this is part of my business and if I don’t particpate, I can’t understand it”, I concluded that I love being helpful, and Twitter became the forum where I connect with my friends and contacts and (more often, now) strangers, and can pass along information and connect people. In fact, I often pass along information I find on Twitter to my non-Twitter friends and colleagues when I think it might interest them. It’s also the way I get my information. My own network is spread out across the globe, and it’s hard to keep up with them. It’s also hard to keep up with technologies and trends, so by following a number of people who are passionate about technology, it’s easier to keep up with things I may want to know to enrich my personal knowledge. Have I met my personal goal? I think so – when I’ve polled my followers about whethe r I bring value to their day, the answers I get back are a definite yes.

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

2 Responses to Why social media seems easy but is (evidently) harder than it looks

  1. I still can’t decide on a single or multiple twitter identities. I have several. I’ve thought about the arguments on both sides, but can’t resolve it.

    Any thoughts?

    Walter Adamson

  2. rahelab says:

    The short answer is “it depends. What are your reasons for using Twitter? In my case, I have one account because I don’t have multiple identities in real life where Twitter would be useful. Someone just told me that she followed me for two days and all I talked about was business stuff, so she unfollowed me. What would have interested her was the more personal stuff (she used the example of “doing laundry”), which are things I do on Facebook. So she’s obviously not my Twitter audience. My audience is my peers, clients, and professional communities, so they are interested in networking, ad hoc professional development, sharing resources, and “getting to know me” (and likewise, I get to know them). When I do my workshops, I end up giving slightly different suggestions to each person, based on their set of circumstances. There’s not a cookie-cutter solution, so you have to think through your goals and act accordingly.

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