things to think about

today i am thinking about: the trouble with twitter
November 23, 2009, 11:11 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am on the road right now, which means that I am spending my days in the car or on site for art — building shit, sorting shit, making shit, or driving through the tiny winding backroads of the southern midwest. It is an amazing change of pace from my day-to-day life in NYC, where I am a fundraising professional(tm) and I spend my days crafting emails just so and worrying about attribute fields in the database and I have to cram all my artmaking, socializing, personal care time, and “other” into my aterwork hours, which are always (it feels) under fire from the mountain of work I am handed at all times.

In the land of non-profit fundraising during a recession economy (sorry, economists, I’m not buying it), there is an enormous amount of energy put into trying to figure out exactly what we need to be doing. Do we need to be using Facebook? How? Will it monetize? How many eblasts are too many eblasts? How long should your subject line be? How do you get people to open? How does direct mail play into your online strategy? And (the subject of this): do we need to be Twittering?

Just before this trip, I went to a conference about fundraising and fundraising systems. Twitter was on FIRE at that conference — just click here to see what I mean — by the end I was joking I needed Twitter detox. I also went to sessions about Twitter, and how to do it “right”: conversate don’t shout; use short funny links; talk to other people on Twitter and link to them; use twitter metrics to figure out what other people are saying and how to join them in the conversation. These are how you “succeed” at Twitter, which no one actually really defined beyond “get more followers,” as if more followers is a good thing in and of itself.

So I love Twitter. I love Twitter because I like the challenge of being pithy in only 140 characters. But as I am on the road and able to check it only sporadically — when I am not working actively, when my hands are clean, when I am in a city large enough to connect on my phone or when I am staying somewhere with wireless internet and nothing better to do — I have to say, I am getting my detox. I go back now and I skim through and the signal to noise ratio is just astounding. I like the people that I tweet with, and I have some interesting exchanges, but I find myself sitting here wondering exactly what it is, aside from some loose connections with folks, that makes Twitter worthwhile. Would I go out to dinner with some of my Tweeple? I can ask them questions, which is useful, but that seems to only work if I have enough people to ask, and I do not want to just go around adding people for the sake of adding them. How does Twitter work in my life — professionally, personally, artistically?

See, back in NYC my life is completely unmanageable. I have a lot of confusion about what and how to spend my time, and I never have enough time to do the things I want. I just read this article about time management, and the thesis was basically “do only the things that get you where you want to go, relentlessly say no to everything else, and you will make miracles.” It is a seductive pose right now, especially as I am on the road and getting to be monofocal about the single thing I love the most. I want to go back home and clean out the clutter so I can do my job well, finish my job, and go to my other work. This feels challenging, especially since — as mentioned — the fundraising world is cluttered with a lot of noise as we all try to figure out how on earth we can do the work of bringing resources to the movements and concerns we care about. And then, of course, there is the other question: will Twitter and Facebook bring me better audiences for my art? For the other things I do?

I notice a trend between how often I post on FB, or how often I tweet, and how often people reply to me. Those rules hold true: people like conversers more than they like shouters, and frequency of participation means I am more likely to be seen in the endless and overwhelming stream. But what is this getting me? Is it really getting me more social connections — maybe. But I wonder: if the answer is no, it is because I am not using my best practices, or thanking the people who RT (that’s retweet) me — or is it because it just isn’t the place to make real connections? My real social connections allow for the fact that maybe I can’t get back to you immediately, or I might need you to repeat something. Are Twitter relationships so fragile that they need this much tending?

I am skeptical of a set of best practices that require spending all my time on Twitter. I am skeptical of how to make these things people recommend for Twitter etiquette workable in my life, a life that frankly does not need any more time at a computer doing work that is not the work I want to do.

So, artists: how do you use twitter? So, everyone: what are the material benefits you have gotten from twitter? Tell me about how you cultivate your twitter audience and how you feel it benefits and supports your life.

Now, excuse me: I have to tweet this.

1 Comment so far
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i am wondering, did you read the article about twitter in BITCH this month? some of your Qs are there.

Comment by jess

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