Can We Save Twitter From Ourselves?

Canyon ItaimbézinhoTwitter is not a communication channel, it is a platform that allows each of us to create and evolve our own custom communication channel.

If Twitter is not working for communication, it is not a problem with Twitter. As a platform, Twitter is developing and our behavior reflects its infancy, with the full spectrum of human behavior on display.

The societal norms for Twitter have yet to be established. The fact there are so many posts on Twitter etiquette is proof. A Google blog search for “Twitter Etiquette” returns 32,000 results, to just 11,000 for “Dinner Etiquette”.

If Twitter is no longer an effective channel, like Kary Delaria postulated in Three Reasons Twitter is Beginning to Suck, the problem stems from how people are building and evolving their own communication channels on Twitter.

With the introduction of Triberr, the communication channels created on Twitter are becoming more complex, with multiple channels woven firmly together.

Looking forward, this is the key question I see for Twitter, and any developing platform that allows you to build your own communication channel (such as Google+).

What Will Normal Be?

As self-serving promotional behavior pervades Twitter (and yes, I am guilty of some of this myself), what will the new normal behavior be? What will the broadly accepted “Twitter Etiquette” become?

Although each of us create our own channel, we cannot completely avoid the influence of the platform norm. As the norm shifts towards self-promotional and away from conversational, it impacts the communication channels each of us have built on Twitter.

Like in politics, it is easy to identify the extreme right and left, but the silent majority is critical. As each of us builds our channel on Twitter, the middle is key. Building your communication channel without reaching into this middle majority is not feasible for most people.

Your Turn

Is the normal behavior on Twitter shifting, towards self-promotional and away from conversational? Can you compensate for this by adjusting the channel you have built on Twitter, or are these changes pervasive?

Discuss your view below or with me on Twitter.

About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my Digital B2B Marketing blog.

19 Responses to Can We Save Twitter From Ourselves?

  1. I agree that we need to better manage our engagement on Twitter. Ultimately though I see Twitter failing as a platform for engagement and becoming the plumbing for status/notifications (like the iOS integration) or content thats presented in another app (such as Flipboard). But to try to fight back, why not follow the original genius of Twitter: limitations. The 140 character limit makes Twitter work, so why not place a limit on the number of folks you follow? Call it #Follow50 and work to get the list of people you follow down to a number you can trust and actually engage with. There is an idea that the human brain can only manage 150 relationships, keeping two thirds of them IRL and one third online sounds like a healthy balance. 50 people will give you enough exposure to fresh or challenging thinking, and make it easy to weed out anyone not respecting the engagement/sharing/promo balance you are looking for.

    • Interesting idea, Colin. But I already count calories…don’t think I have the discipline to impose any other limits 😉 Another consideration is that there’s usually overlap between online relationships and IRL relationships. I’m sure there are more than 50 people who I engage with both online and offline. In fact, many of those people I met online and have now met in person. Once you get to a certain number, though, I agree that there are limits to the depth of relationship and frequency of interaction you can maintain. I’m just not sure what that number is, no matter what Dunbar says.

    • @Colin, I really like the idea of #Follow50. I haven’t focused on it quite this clearly and it would certainly help shape Twitter for both conversation and diverse perspectives. Thanks for the comment and idea!

      @Carmen, I’m with you on not tying to a specific number, but I still love Colin’s idea. I think the challenge is staying true to our litmus test, that there is the opportunity for real engagement. The number and even the type of people in that number likely make a difference.

  2. Emma says:

    Maybe it’s naive of me to postulate so, but I kinda suspect that the agents of social media creation always had self-promotional interests at heart. For themselves, of course, but also for the millions who now utilize their inventions on a daily basis. I think the point may have been to capitalize on the exhibitionist tendencies of humanity, with the conversational aspect only chiming in as a secondary benefit.

    Just a theory, and admittedly, I have a semi-nihilistic worldview. But self-promotion isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you’ve got the goods worthy of promotion.

  3. I definitely agree that it’s the people not the platform. And I’ve been thinking and strategizing for when the same thing hits G+.

    I also agree with Colin: I’ve never followed more than 70 on twitter and have never used a list besides Tops on tweetdeck. That’s all I can really handle from a relationship standpoint.

    Also – as I’ve mostly taken a break from twitter over the last month (and blogging) – when I dip back in to the tweetstream, it all sounds a lot like blather. And then you have to really sift for the valuable nuggets. That’s way too much work for me.

    It’s great learning, though, and is really sharpening my skills for G+.

    The only way I’d take back up with twitter is if they’d give me an option to completely mute any auto reposts – as I can do (and did!) to opt out of mentions in the dailies.

    Great column, Eric!

    • Thanks Maureen! Yes, lot’s of blather, I agree. I liked Jeff Ogden’s comment on G+: “The single biggest problem in content marketing is lack of differentiation. It’s mainly boring drivel.”

      I think it will be really interesting to see what happens with G+. Will it follow the same trend?

      Interestingly, Facebook addressed this with EdgeRank. It is a platform, but you don’t build your own channel completely, FB takes the liberty of modifying it for you based on your interaction with posts and sources (as well as the interactions of your connections). You do not have full control of your feed, but the system removes some of the drivel (and it is easy to click / hide the games….).

      Thanks for the kind comment, I appreciate it!

  4. Eric,

    I very much agree that it is the “silent majority” (a vast sea of uses really) that will in the end help determine the norm. For me the question is: Will the silent majority remain an invested, thinking majority that consciously chooses the Twitter they want, or will marketing and tool trends, will Klout reachers more set the tone?

    thanks for the discussion on Twitter.



  5. interesting “A Google blog search for “Twitter Etiquette” returns 32,000 results, to just 11,000 for “Dinner Etiquette”.”
    that is disturbing. I call BS on all the people trying to tell you what to do online. I have a cute friend that has #SMmanners but it is not what you think like that way.
    Anyways off track. There is only one way to do Twitter thats your way! so with over 200 million people on the platform I guess there is 200 million different kinds of etiquette, eh?
    hope you are having a great week. Kept meaning to leave you a note here. love your writing!

    • Jessica, I’m pretty sure that 30,000 of those 32,000 hits are inane top 10 lists of common sense stuff for newbies, in the advice sort of way. The kind of stuff nobody reads or listens to.

    • Jessica, I will say, you have found your way. Most people, compared to you, are new to social media and not in their comfort zone. Unfortunately, without a referenced standard, it seems everyone has done some sort of post on social media etiquette.

      Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it!

  6. Marcus Schaller says:

    Doesn’t the search for a common denominator lead to blandness at some point?

    Think of radio: It sucked, and then someone came along and broke all the established rules and suddenly it was fresh and interesting again (or offensive, depending on your point of view). Now it sucks again, because that approach became the new standard, which of course was heavily copied, and is no longer as interesting or fresh.

    Rather than try to lock down a single standard, wouldn’t it be more fun to instead push the limits and reap the rewards or deal with the failures of those experiments? If a company can think of nothing more interesting to do than push self-serving promotional messages through Twitter, then they will be ignored, or not, based on their appeal to a specific audience. It’s a self-correcting system.

    Great post Eric.

    • Thanks Marcus. The idea of a self-correcting system is interesting. If it is self-correcting, what point does it self-correct too, and does that point change over time?

      I like your radio analogy. It was fresh again, OR OFFENSIVE. Offensive is a content style. In the case of Twitter, what some say is happening isn’t a content style but a change in the medium to promotional, broadcast messaging from a more conversational and relationship-building one. When the new normal becomes offensive (ie no room for dialogue and forming new relationships remains) then to those that valued it for relationships and conversation, it has lost its value, no?

      I don’t mean to propose a single standard though, so as always, your comments are making me stop and consider my views. I appreciate the feedback and giving me more to think about, thank you!

      • Marcus Schaller says:

        It is so true about Twitter becoming a one-way broadcast medium (at least that’s what it appears like to me…some days it looks like Craigslist). I have to admit that I was a late adopter of Twitter and missed out on the early glory days, so my perspective is relatively limited.

        My personal approach to using it is simple: I love the fact that I could connect with people like you and continue that relationship across the border (oh boy are you going to hate me in the winter when I’m bragging about bicycling on the beach!). On the other hand, the echo chamber effect has taken its toll on my enthusiasm for Twitter.

        Basically, I focus my attention on the handful of people I find most interesting, engage as much as possible with that group, and share stuff I write and find. 20 minutes a day, tops. If Twitter went bye-bye tomorrow, I would simply move the conversation with you over to Google + etc.

        Thanks for continuing to stir up the pot Eric! I always look forward to reading your posts and sharing my thoughts with you. Viva WordPress!

  7. I’m humbled that this discussion continues. And, I absolutely agree — once one has established a sizable network, it’s easy (maybe even necessary) to slip into maintenance mode…tweet a link to my stuff here and there and hope people will retweet it.

    What I really appreciate about your thoughts here is the idea that “we” did this. Which is so true. “We” made it what it is (or isn’t); “we” self promote; “we” RT others self-promotion; and “we” forget to listen and engage and remember why we started to love this channel of communication in the first place.

    • I love this “once one has established a sizable network, it’s easy (maybe even necessary) to slip into maintenance mode…” or even the expansion mode, how to just growing the network through tools and/or connections. But what is most interesting to me is learning (and reminding oneself) to think about how to catalyze one’s network. This is how I saw the difference a few weeks ago: . We already have the relationships we need, at least most of us do. How about learning to make the most, to make more of what we already have? I’m not saying that growth isn’t important, but this tendency towards maintenance and habit somehow misses the very best of what social media brings.

    • Hi Kary, you and Kevin are two key sources of inspiration for this post, thank you for starting this discussion (at least for me) and then taking the time to comment! Although maintenance is required, hopefully we can avoid moving to full maintenance mode across our social media channels. If we can’t, maybe we shouldn’t call it social media. Suggestions for a new name? 🙂

  8. Yep! 🙂
    It’s all about the Lists. and honestly, I wish I could invest more time in doing a better job of building out my lists. But the platform is what it is, it is up to us, the users, to find the content that works for us. the case holds true across the board on the social web.
    Love the way you put it. Thank you.

    • Thanks Lisa! Yes, it definitely starts with lists. Also use filters if you are not already. I’m looking for current information, content and conversation, filters have made an enormous difference in my Twitter experience.

      Thank you for the kind words and taking the time to comment!

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