Tuesday, 3 January 2012

You Twit?: The How and Why of Social Networking

People have the wrong idea when it comes to social media. They assume it is about ‘connection’, when it really is about information. Inspired by political commentator Malcolm Farnsworth and his piece on how he uses Twitter I thought I would take a stab at how and why I use social media, because while his points are all valid I have a slightly different take.

My philosophy is that my Facebook and Twitter accounts are for my benefit primarily and my concern is not for those who choose to read them. Consequently, my readers will find lots of Retweets or links to other pages full of articles or tidbits that I like. My one rule for posting these is: if I were a follower of my own account, would I want to read this? If the answer is yes then I post. People who choose to follow me might find my account what some consider ‘information overload', but I don’t care. Just like watching a program on television, readers can choose to click on my link or change the channel and ignore it. Similarly 'followers' can choose to ‘unfriend’ or stop following me at any time. I don’t use social media to win friends, although I do try to influence people.

I was an early adapter on Facebook. I first signed up in August 2007, when an American friend came to visit me. At the time Facebook had just launched worldwide after becoming a raging success in American colleges. At first my objective with Facebook was to try and commandeer as many friends as possible. At my peek I had around 550 Facebook ‘friends’, mostly because I wanted to show my partisan credentials by becoming ‘friends’ with the majority of ALP politicians. I have never had many actual friends, so this was a superficial ego boost. I 'friended' many people from both my old high schools and they ‘accepted me’. They had never done that before! Then as the months went by, I began to discover why I never liked these people in the first place. My feed was either choked up with political press releases or drunken party photos along with pithy insights many of which were variations of ‘Man, I got soooooo pissed last night! Can't remember any of it but it was totally AWESOME!’.

This time last year I finally came to realise the superficiality of it all, and decided to cut my ‘friends’ list down to around 130ish. Those who survived did so based on the fact that they contributed information that I liked to read on a daily basis. However, last night I was even more brutal with my ‘friends’ list, as I cut it down list even further to the relatively minuscule 55. This second cull was based on people that I actually like in real life, because my time on Facebook was becoming unfocused and I felt rather pointless. In the Facebook world I have come full circle.

Twitter is slowly becoming my preferred online platform since I joined up in May 2009. Bluntly, it is because I can follow the opinions of respected professionals rather than people who just pretend to be. My philosophy with Twitter is similar to that of Facebook, except that I try and diversify my information as much as possible. I find personal Twitter accounts that focus upon one topic (like those in the disability sector who exclusively tweet with ‘Look at me! I am a cripple!’ disease)  exceedingly boring. so I like to post work related material (politics, my articles and blog links) with other stuff I love (movies, music, TV, and books) along with the occasional personal insight. After all I am human and not a cyborg.

The most important lesson about Twitter is not to tweet just to gain ‘followers’. Tweeting in my style does place a ceiling on the amount of followers though (I have stayed between 150 and 175 for just over a year now). While my number of ‘followers’ may not be high, the opportunities for networking are far better. Through my Twitter connection with Carly, I was able to secure a writing gig with RampUp, which then led to work with The Punch.

To simplify: apply the same rules to social networking as you would to dating. If you try and whore yourself out it may be fun at first, but it is bound to be painful in the long run. If you are selective in deciding your content the consequences will be far more rewarding in the long run.

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