In emails and on twitter I'm starting to see a common theme emerge. People are getting sick and tired of the nonsense on twitter and how "high school" it is. They're tired of the snark. They're questioning its effectiveness. Some are even suggesting that we give up on the platform, perhaps relegating it to Google+ status: have a twitter account, post links to your stuff, otherwise ignore it.
I have a slightly different perspective.
I was introduced to twitter towards the end of the 2008 campaign season by my brother, Caleb. Like many others, I didn't really get it. I knew that I was supposed to use it to post status updates but I'd very rarely remember to log in and say anything. I had no phone app for it and most people I knew were updating via their text messenger which I thought would drive me nuts.
For all of 2009, twitter was yet another site that I'd simply signed up for but didn't use. Then I went to CPAC in 2010 and the most common part of talking to or meeting people had become "follow me on twitter!" Following that experience I became a regular user, interacting with others that I'd met in real life but I'd also created a new, nasty habit. I would "troll" the liberal hashtag #p2, looking for fights to get into. This was an easily achievable goal.
Even though I was using twitter a great deal more, I still didn't "get it." I was using it for little more than a way to vent and fight. All together a very negative twitter feed and my following reflected that with barely 100 people keeping up with my tweets.
Then in September of 2010, I created a political video and my brother posted it to the front page of RedState. It was called "The Last Best Hope" and it took off immediately. At the end of the video I had added a message to follow me on twitter, and 100s of people took up the offer. My email was blowing up all day and I was amazed at the response. Eventually the video scored over 180k views and effectively launched my video making career.
I launched several more videos over the following months and past the election, and as I did so my following kept growing, my interactions kept increasing, and I kept following back every person that followed me.
As the political fever died down and everyone began settling in to the post-election season, twitter started to become miserable for me. It wasn't that I couldn't keep up with the tweets from the people I followed, it was, quite frankly, that I didn't want to. It was just too much. I knew barely a 10th of the people I was following and watching the tail end of 100s of conversations was becoming tedious. Every time I added a new person simply because they followed me, my twitter account became less and less personal.
It was then that I made the decision to have 3 requirements for following someone: 1) I know them in real life, 2) they were interactive on twitter (as in, actually speaking to me rather than just expecting me to follow them because they followed me), or 3) they are someone who interests me regardless of interaction.
Twitter changed completely after this. My interactions were more meaningful and my ability to network increased ten-fold.
The result was the successful launch of my business making political & policy videos. Every single contact I developed was first established through interacting with people on twitter.
17,000 followers later, I can't imagine my business or my networking without twitter.
If you missed where the transition was from miserable to indispensable, it is quite simple: I cleaned up my twitter feed so I could be interactive instead of simply taking. I talked to people and had meaningful conversations rather than just tweeting links and reacting to people. Essentially, I stopped acting as though people were lucky to be following me and started acting like a normal person would in real life interactions: conversational, funny, snarky, and hopefully interesting.
But this doesn't address the primary concern I've seen in other writings and in private emails and chats with friends. There's a lot of concern about the sniping and the fighting. I said just recently that I wondered if we were all spending too much time together. I might have continued down that path if I hadn't seen so many people use an all to common phrase: "It's so high school."
I've always been annoyed when people say this. In the first place it is their attempt to pretend they are "above the drama." As though they, in their reasonableness and maturity, have grown weary of the children playing silly games in front of them and wish that more adult conversation was possible.
This is baloney. Arguments, jealousy, cliques, enemies, friendships, offense, all of these features aren't "high school." They are simply how social interaction works when there are enough people involved. High school is microcosm of community, not the other way around. The same is true at any job, church, organization or club. Get enough people together and all of these "high school" antics will appear.
Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty as anyone of being snarky or poking the easily offended. Sometimes I treat the sensitive with contempt. But there's a reason that I usually don't get offended in return. Just like in real life, I can ignore someone I believe is contemptible. In fact, I can block them from being visible to me, a feature that in real life would be immensely useful.
Leaving or shutting down your twitter isn't taking the adult route. It's being childish. The online equivalent of taking your ball and going home. If you use your twitter feed for the sole purpose of pitching your wares and ignoring most other interactions, that isn't professional, it's rude and anti-social.
Treat twitter interactions with the same attitude you treat real life interactions, and it is an indispensable business tool with the added bonus of being an enjoyable experience. Treat it like the comment section of a blog wherein you are only reacting to or moderating, and you'll probably be viewed by most people as a snob.
Twitter doesn't owe the user a thing. It is a social networking platform which affords people the opportunity to socialize & network, often with people you may otherwise never have met without it. It is invaluable in this way. But remember, you get out of it what you put into it. It is only as social as you are.
If you're a snarky, sarcastic, moderately intelligent person with a lot to say but are capable of interacting like a normal human being, twitter will be a pretty fun place. If you're an anti-social, whiny, self-absorbed gadfly, your twitter experience will reflect that fact.