On many occasions, I have heard people debating whether social media in general, and Twitter specifically, is a passing trend, or is here to stay. Can you guess which side of the debate I am on? I do not kid myself, I do not think it will always be as popular as it is now, but even Myspace, which is not exactly the most popular social network anymore, has 185 million users and 45 billion page views per month, not too shabby. I do not think Facebook is going anywhere so soon, and I definitely do not think Twitter is going to be replaced by any other form of communication any time in the near future.
In general, I think social media fills a gap and satisfies a need that no other tool can. It brings down boundaries between people that society automatically puts up. On Twitter, for example, there is no stopping you from contacting your favorite actor or athlete and in most cases, you can pretty much count on the fact that they see your message. It is true that they will generally not reply, but that is simply because they do get a lot of messages a day, and cannot reply to all of them.
Athletes and actors are nice, but who cares? OK, I agree, that is just one example, but as time goes on and Twitter continues to grow in popularity, more and more companies are beginning to “get it”. They are creating a Web presence and monitoring what people are saying about them and their organizations on the interwebs. The possibilities for customer support are endless. No more waiting on the phone to speak to a representative, just tweet your thoughts or feedback, and wait for them to call you. OK, we are not there yet, but we are very much on the way. You want specific stories/examples? Tweet me here, and I will tell you some pretty crazy things that have happened to me or my friends as a result of one tweet.
There is another reason that, in my opinion, Twitter is not going to disappear on us, and that is that, in reality, Twitter, if used “properly” (the quotation marks because there really is no one way to use Twitter, as people have pointed out to me), can teach you some very valuable lessons about yourself, other people, and life. I know it is just a social network, but I think the culture that has developed on Twitter can really provide some valuable lessons.
Here are some examples of lessons Twitter has taught me:
- People are Inherently Good: Call me naive, but Twitter has showed me that even though the news we watch likes to portray our world as a sick place with sick people, people are generally good, unless of course, they have a reason not to be. People that have not used Twitter cannot understand why when someone asks a question on Twitter, they generally receive more than enough answers.
What incentive do these people have to answer questions? It did not take me very long to realize that everyone on Twitter (well almost everyone) is just nice. They like to help and expect the same respect back when they need your help. Twitter is all about sharing; sharing info, sharing helpful resources, and sharing knowledge. People apparently like to share, who knew?
I know Nothing: This is not false modesty. The more I use Twitter and witness the abundance of information out there, the more I realize I know nothing. I am not exaggerating when I say that in a 24 hour period on Twitter, I come across 100 items or pieces of information I did not know and should have. That is when I retweet.
I can literally spend an entire day not tweeting anything original, but just retweeting other people’s thoughts, articles, or insights. Not only would I not find this boring, but my followers would also thank me. I follow some very interesting people on Twitter from all over the globe and I come across some seriously amazing facts on a daily basis. Twitter teaches me how little I know, which leads me to my next point.
Modesty: I have learned numerous times “on my own skin” (skin here symbolizing my follower count) how important modesty is. Many people like to talk and show off their own accomplishments or more often, their follower count. A good way to lose followers is to talk about how many followers you have. A little modesty never hurt anyone. Additionally, like I said, I follow some pretty amazing folks on Twitter, people that are considered celebrities both on the Web and off. One thing that most of them have in common is that they are much more down to earth than you would think. Reading Shaq’s tweets for example, you would never know he was Shaq. The guy is funny, relaxed, and totally down to earth.
The same goes for most other “important” people on Twitter. I do not say this only about celebrities, it is true about experts that have a Twitter presence as well. Many people who are international experts in their field tweet, and they tweet like any other person, including taking the time to respond to the average joe. Modesty is another valuable lesson Twitter has taught me.
Tolerance: Now you are probably thinking “OK, now he’s getting carried away, how the heck does Twitter teach tolerance”? I will tell you that I am not nuts, it has taught me to be more tolerant of people different than myself. Over my time on Twitter, I picked up a pretty large number of people that I follow. I have had the pleasure of meeting some, and am sure I will meet many more in the future. The relationships we develop on Twitter are in my opinion like no other type of relationship.
You can communicate with a person for months every day, read their articles, share their content with your followers, and engage in conversation and even debate, while never having met them. You grow to respect others irrelevant of their political, religious, or any other belief. It is all irrelevant on Twitter. Like I said, it is all about sharing, and to share useful and interesting information with someone or from someone, does not have any connection to who or what the person is in their day to day life. I have come across some people I would never have met in “real” life, and if for some reason I would have encountered them, I probably would never engage in conversation with them. Twitter teaches acceptance, it teaches you to take what you like from the person and embrace it, while putting your differences aside. Wow that sounded kinda profound and a little corny, and for that I apologize, but it happens to be true.
Reciprocity: Twitter has taught me to not be a taker. More accurately, it has taught me that if I take, I should not forget to give back. Take RTs for example, I have a good friend on Twitter (only on Twitter can you call someone you have, and probably will never meet, a good friend) who has quite a nice following (follow him here). The guy probably gets 100 requests a day to RT tweets. I do not know how he is with other people, but he consistently RTs my content. I want to believe it is because my tweets are interesting, but I think it is because this is the kind of guy he is. Now, I do not have 30,000 followers so my RTs of his content meets 4,000 people’s eyes, does he really need me for that? Is that really giving back? What I try to do it is recommend him to my followers. I try to mention his name on FollowFriday, so other people who might not have known him now know to follow him. Let me emphasize that he does not “need” this either, and that followers is not what Twitter is all about, but it is the least (and most) I can do for someone who constantly helps me get my content out. I can also mention him in a blog post…:)
The point is, Twitter teaches you not to be selfish. There is nothing wrong with taking, whether it be from a person or the world, but it is important to give back. This is true for two reasons, one is, if you keep taking and never giving, there will eventually be nothing left to take. People will stop offering. The second and most important reason to give back, is because it makes you a better person for yourself and others.
People are Not As Dumb As You Might Think: Twitter has taught me to give people more credit than I might think to give. Once again, this is something I learned the hard way. I used to assume that posting an article once on Twitter was not enough because people might not “get it” the first time around. First of all, let me clarify, I am not saying it is the worst thing in the world to tweet the same thing twice. There are different time zones and if you want more people to see a specific tweet, you will need to tweet it more than once.
However, it is safe to assume that the people that did see your original tweet understood it and got the point. No need to share it again. In fact, anyone who has used Twitter knows how annoying it is when there are people that tweet the same thing over and over. For me, that is an automatic unfollow. Tweet it once, twice, or three times over a 24 hour span, assume people got it, and move on.
People Have More Common Ground than Differences: Twitter is a global community. It is the best proof in my opinion of Globalization. Having said that, and given the fact that I communicate with people on a daily basis that are located all over the place, my conclusion is that we are all pretty much the same. We all appreciate a nice picture, a funny video, or an interesting article. Yes, what one might think is an interesting article about politics, another might think is absolute falsehoods. What one might think is an article about religion worth sharing, another might think is Blasphemy.
It’s true that there are differences, there is no denying it, but all in all, we have more in common than not. This might be my naivety speaking, but I have been surprised time and time again how I have so many topics of conversation with someone who comes from an opposite background of mine. I know there are certain topics we should not talk about since it is bound to lead to animosity (that is just my opinion, some will say the best thing to do is to talk about those exact topics), but there has never been a shortage of common interest with my “friends” on Twitter, irrelevant of our opinion on certain topics. This is of course connected to the tolerance bullet above, but it is also different. I do not feel like I am being tolerant most of the time, I just feel like I am talking to someone like myself, because in reality, most people are the same in their essence.
I think I will stop here even though I can think of many other things Twitter has taught me personally. What I have illustrated through the above points is that their is hope for us. The only question that remains, is how best to project the Twitter reality on the rest of the world? Any suggestions?