A friend who is a Sales Director recently asked me what I got from using Twitter. He associated it with people doing short rambles about inconsequential things (as in "I am eating a tuna sandwich.") Trying to sum up, I said something like - "I use it to keep very loosely associated with people who might be useful to me". Something, as a salesman, he immediately saw was worthwhile. Like me, before I used twitter, he'd thought about the broadcasting, rather than the receiving aspect of it.
Partly because of thinking about social media as being so much to do with the weak tie (see my previous post) I decided to do a quick bit of analysis on what comes into my twitter feed. First a word of explanation for those not familiar with Twitter. art of setting up and running a Twitter account is to choose other Twitter users to "Follow". No one can make you follow anyone - you pick people/organizations that seem likely to say something interesting, amusing or otherwise worthwhile. It is still considered polite to follow someone back if they follow you, but this is breaking down now that some twitter accounts are run for the purpose of spamming. So I think many users now do what I do - check on the content someone is producing and decide whether to follow them based on that. When you follow people, their messages ("tweets") become visible to you when you look at your Twitter account.
My Twitter network is very much work-focused. I do follow a couple of light relief items (e.g. The Onion), but mostly I'm in search of people discussing publishing, programming, project management, usability etc.
At present, I follow 162 twitter accounts. This breaks down as follows:
- 14% are people or organizations I know personally (typically I have worked with them in the past or am doing that now).
- 28% are people or organizations I haven't worked with, but would know about if it were not for Twitter
- But the majority, 57%, are people or organizations that I would have no contact with if it were not for Twitter.
I also did a quick analysis of the subject matter these accounts tweeted about (I looked at 75 tweets, all from today):
- 69% were work-related items - commonly links to reading material or other material of interest (often news items). Also included here are promotional items about people's new ventures, services or products.
- 20% were not work related, e.g. general news, humour, opinion about general matters
- 11% were "tuna sandwich" items - mundane information about the everyday things people were doing or thinking right now
So, as I suspected, what I am mostly getting is news and suggestions for background reading from people who otherwise would not be able to send me that information. This is, of course, in the end, configurable by me - I am at liberty to follow a mass of "tuna sandwich" tweeters if I wish. Moreover, the "tuna sandwiches" are not all wasted bandwidth - sometimes someone describes an interest that is useful matter for small-talk if we meet, or otherwise interesting or amusing.