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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm

It Ain’t About the Technology

By Jeff Sexton
January 15th, 2009

That’s my standard response when asked about Social Media.  That’s not to say technology is unimportant, but that technology never really changes how people behave, think, and feel.  Human nature drives that; technology only changes the constraints previously placed on human preferences.

If you’ve ever shared office space with colleagues you really liked and respected, you’ve already twittered.  You’ve already gotten a “feed” of interesting thoughts, updates, recommendations, etc.

Twitter simply allows you to do that with people in other offices/cities/countries.  Think about what you would and wouldn’t share with your office-mate before sending it out on twitter:

  • Participating in a group conversation?  Yes, but try to make sure the conversation has value to the rest of the people on your feed and/or make the conversation private.  If I’m your office-mate, I don’t want to listen to your full volume phone conversation with someone else – unless of course the conversation is really that relevant or interesting.
  • Occasionally letting people know about cool stuff you’ve created?  Yes, but don’t make it all about you all the time.  No one wants to hear a constant stream of chest thumping at the office.
  • Sharing cool websites, blog posts, online articles, etc?  Sure, but don’t flood my twitter feeds with them.  Do the winnowing for me so that I know a link from you will really kick butt.  This doesn’t mean shy away from tweeting offbeat links you think are really cool (let you’re freak flag fly high, baby), just refrain from forwarding on links that you don’t consider must-reads.
  • Posting cool or motivating or thought provoking quotes?  Meh.  Every now and then, isn’t too bad, if the quotes are striking, rather than just “inspiring,” but don’t get either too “successories” nor too on us.  No one wants to share an office with either a relentlessly upbeat Pollyanna or a “life sucks and then you die” cynic.
  • Sharing passing thoughts?  An interesting thought a few times a day is welcomed.  A thought an hour clogs my feed – unless of course your thought has some real substance behind it, which brings me to…
  • Sharing insightful comments that (sort of) cohere into a big idea?  Hell, yeah!  If you’re not already following her, Kathy Sierra does this, and it’s her twitters that I look forward to reading most.  Imagine sharing an office with a consistently prescient or incisive thinker who generously shares her perspective.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, when the whole twitter-sphere is your water cooler, you can do more than just impact the conversations that pop up within you “office” – you can seek out people who routinely tweet on the topics that most hold your imagination captive, and, with a bit of tact, introduce yourself and join their twitter conversations.  Here’s one way to do it:

Step 1: Go to a tool like and search on frequent topics of conversation for you (or you can use the built in search in an application like TweetDeck)

Step 2: Scroll through the results till you find an insightful comment.  Then check out there twitter page, see if the keyword represents a common topic for them, and introduce yourself and add meaningfully to the thought or conversation.

  • While it goes without saying, for clarity’s sake, let me emphasize that you should never, ever promote yourself or your business when doing this.  If you can’t join the conversation for the sake of the conversation and NOT simply as a front for self-promotion, then forget about Twitter altogether.

Step 3: If a good dialogue develops, you can add them to your twitter feed, subscribe to their blog etc.

Step 4: You have now expanded your grapevine network while enjoying interesting and intelligent tweets.  Just like the offline world, great conversations rarely happen by accident – it’s up to you to seek out and surround yourself with intelligent people of shared interests.

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Comments (23)

  1. Thanks for this, I hadn’t considered using the network until you mentioned it. Looks great!

  2. At first I hated Twitter, and now I’m not so opposed to it. I’ve created like 5 accounts just to reserve my name and wife, and a couple others.

  3. I tend to play very close attention to the signal-to-noise ratio of the people I follow. They may post something good every now and then but if it’s interspersed between 10 posts about their dog then it’s just not worth it to follow them. Likewise I’ve tried to be more conscious lately of providing as much value as I can through my stream.

    Incidentally, @jonbischke if you’d like to follow! :)

  4. It is def. important to always add something educated and useful to a group conversation otherwise you could get shunned by the group.

  5. Speaking of technology and twitter, I’ve seen just about every possible twitter API usage you can think of. There are two websites devoted purely to just listing the other sites that use their API.

  6. Jon,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. By the way, is there a way to block someone’s tweets without having them know their tweets are being blocked (i.e., without offending them)?

    - Jeff

  7. agreed, great parsing Jon. i do worry that too much time is spent in the industry understanding people’s relationships with technology, and too little time aiming to understand people themselves.

  8. Jeff, why follow a person if you don’t want to read their tweets? I remember reading about something that can do this — but I can’t for the life of me find it.

  9. Thanks to @joannayoung, try

  10. The technologies that thrive are the ones that serve our human side. It’s about people, not technology. Wish I had a dime for every time I’ve had to remind my clients and students about that one. Thanks, Jeff.

  11. Meryl,

    Thank you so very much for the tool – that’s awesome. To answer your question, I wanted to follow this person based on a small sampling of comments, which were good, but I had no idea how prolific he/she was and how many of those tweets would be more noise than signal. That said, I don’t want to offend the person because I think relatively highly of them. I just don’t want to listen to all the chatter.

    Hope that explains it. And thanks again for the tool. Thank Joanna, too

    - Jeff

  12. That makes sense, Jeff. People don’t really notice you unfollowing them (unless they have fewer than 100 followers). @redcrew also mentioned as another option.

  13. JS … Isn’t TWIT the root word of TWITTER?

  14. Jeff – maybe you should talk to Twitter and have them remove the voyeur tag line “What are you doing”. A friend’s favorite line that he tries to put in conversation when possible is “tell me something I don’t know (that I might be interested in)”. But Twitter using that line might lose them 90% of their business, eh wot?

  15. That’s a great point, John. I agree that the “What are you doing” prompt leads people in the wrong direction. You friends line is great, but I think it relies too heavily on the “that I might be interested in” part to turn the first phrase into an honest invitation rather than a snarky comment. Something similar to that phrase or its general spirit would definitely be an improvement over what Twitter is currently using.

  16. Granted, I’m a Twitter newbie, but Jeff, your metaphor doesn’t hold up. One cannot choose ones’ cube neighbors (and thus the conversations one overhears), but following me or not following me on Twitter is entirely your choice. I don’t feel obligated to tailor my tweets to your taste. Frankly, they’re about me and what I’m doing. If what I’m working on doesn’t interest you, then don’t follow me. :) I have 16 followers at the moment, and I only know two of them personally. How the others found me an decided I was fascinating enough to follow, I have no idea. And even if I wanted to tailor my tweets to these strangers, how would I go about it?

  17. Kathleen,

    The analogy isn’t perfect, but it is useful in showing the kinds of tweets that most people would appreciate – they are roughly the same kind things that your officemates would like tossed out as an observation, comment, “check this out” heads-up, etc.

    And knowing that is essential to understanding the difference between one’s tweets being “about me” and being about “what I’m doing.” Frankly, most of us don’t have a cult of personality. So unless your twitter followers are limited to only your close personal friends, tweets about you are probably more clutter than anything.

    But taken at a higher perspective than the prosaic and literal, tweets about what you’re doing ARE interesting to a large number of people. I may not care to receive a tweet saying that you’re frustrated, or that you’re working on a PR piece for a client, but I might find a comment about a recurrent client communication frustration that you have fascinating.

    Chances are that the 12 non-acquaintances who follow you are doing so because they are interested in your thoughts and insights. By picturing them working at a cubicle next to you, you can get a better idea about what would be worth tweeting to them and what may be viewed as distracting “noise.” What your twitter followers learn “about you” should primarily be learned by hearing a particular “voice” and point of view behind your thoughts – not from receiving half-hourly updates on your life.

    More directly, while you don’t have to tailor your tweets to a specific audience, it does help to realize that you are broadcasting these things out to an audience, and I find my cubicle analogy helps me picture that and to keep in mind that, “it’s not about me.” I just wanted to pass the technique along to my readers.

    - Jeff

  18. Very true! Social networking is a great way to communicate.

  19. [...] Sexton explains this well in his article – stating there is no need to ‘understand’ the rules of social media; we merely need to [...]

  20. I can’t seem to bring myself to jump on the twitter bandwagon. Anybody remember the days before cell phones when everybody didn’t know everybody else’s business realtime?

  21. thanks !!! [Toy & Games]

  22. I agree that the “What are you doing” prompt leads people in the wrong direction. You friends line is great, but I think it relies too heavily on the “that I might be interested in” part to turn the first phrase into an honest invitation rather than a snarky comment.

  23. I like the office and water cooler analogies of the original post. Just like coworkers who socialize too much at work, there will always be users who are more concerned about using social media to accomplish the easy, low-level tasks. The challenge, in my opinion, is to sift through all the nonsense and still find some useful information. Then you are picking your own colleagues for a water cooler chat.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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