Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to REALLY be on Twitter

Everyone from Oprah to Ashton Kutcher is convinced that you need to be on Twitter. And if you look, you can find a zillion social media experts telling you to be there, and how to make money there (good luck with that, btw). Mashable has just published a great all-Twitter all-the-time guide so you can plan your every move.

And yet, I still keep hearing about people staring at blank screens, wondering what all the fuss is about. People who join Twitter, all excited, then leave after a month. People who haven't the foggiest idea of what to do, how to really live here. This column's for you.

I am revising and refining this as I go along, but here's what I know so far. When I first joined Twitter (@michebel), I followed people like crazy. Mostly tech people and podcasters that I knew about, cause that's who was talking to me. I followed and followed and followed, and pretty soon I had amassed 3000+ people that I was following. Not long after that, Twitter put these stopgaps in place (rather than getting fail whales all the time), which only allowed people to add up to 2000 people. Period.

So, I was stuck with the need/desire to add lots of people, and had a doorstop put in front of me. I did what many did to get around this: I opened another account. Pretty soon, that too, had 2000 (different) people that I was following. Now, I don't recommend that you have unlimited accounts that fill up to 2000. Even two is probably not a good idea.

The deal with Twitter is that once the same number follows you, you can start adding more. So, for example, if I was following 2000 and 3000 were following me, I could add another 1000 more. Your followers can be unlimited, but the amount you can follow is capped.

Most folks don't know all that. Many learn the hard way, like I did.

Let's just say I wanna start all over again, like I'm a Twitter newbie. How would I do it now? What have I learned about adding people to my stream?

Start with the basics. If you only follow ten people, for example, say your close friends, you are going to see posts from all of those ten friends. And that's it. Some of them may post like mad, and some of them not at all. So, no matter how much you love those ten friends, you may see a whole lotta hogwash from one friend and nothing from the other nine. Or even lots of posts by a couple people, prompting the often heard refrain: Twitter is stupid!

Well, all due respect, but that's because you're not doing it right.

Think of it like this. Twitter is like a constantly running stock ticker. Words are constantly coming out, and I do mean constantly. To get the most value out of it, you have to add the most value in. I mean that in several ways.

If I were starting over, I would cherry pick those I add to my stream. I would seek out each person's profile, read some of their Tweets and see if even one thing on the page makes me go: Hmm! or Wow! or Interesting! And if several things do, they are a definite add.

When you are looking at other people's profiles: look for this especially: the following-follower ratio. It should be about even. The best Tweeters are good about following people back. (If I wasn't constrained by the 2000 limit, I'd be following everyone.)

Since I didn't take a lot of time when I originally added them, I'm taking that time now. I have a running list of those I want to add, and I fine tune my list every single day. Those who target ads at me, or use words like #moonfruit to win a MacBook are removed, and I add new folks from my list. And every single day, my Twitter stream gets better and better.

I suppose it varies what people want out of their Twitter stream, but I look at it like this: a constant flow of information I want/need. Some, for example, are happy having friends who just spew links at them. I find this to be tiresome. In fact, there is only one guy on my list who only spews links. (But his links are really good, so I keep him.)

But I find a mix of people who spew links, people who quote some wisdom or poetry, people who just write funny or interesting things and people who might inform me about something I want to know about (a concert, a movie premiere, a TV show starting), is really what I'm looking for. And that is, by and large, what I spew back.

I also listen to music on Blip, and post the songs I'm listening to there. If you do more than a few, you'll lose a few followers, but for me it's worth it.

It's a give and take stream of consciousness. You put stuff in, you take stuff out. It's constantly going back and forth. My roommate (who still doesn't "get" Twitter) said recently: "Do you read every single thing in there?" Yes, by and large I do. And I look at the pictures that people send, and watch the videos and follow their links, and repost interesting stuff back to my Facebook page, or add things of my own. That's REALLY what it's about.

People who don't get it yet (including mainstream media, MSM) can see Twitter as a waste of time. Lots of people saw chat rooms as a waste of time too. I made some of my best friends through hanging out in chat rooms, so I respectfully disagree. But since the early days of CompuServe and AOL, I've learned the importance of developing community online. And Twitter now, really does (as we've seen by all the correspondence with Iran in recent times) plug you into the whole world.

That is pretty overwhelming indeed.

So break it down. Down to your own personal little chunks. Not everyone is going to have gold nuggets every single time. But have people on your stream who amuse you or make you laugh or make you think or just make you feel better. That is really the reason to be on Twitter. We are the World, Twitter is us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Conundrum of Wes, Or When Did The Bachelor Become Fake?

I admit it. I'm a girl, and I'm addicted to The Bachelor/Bachelorette.

It was one of the reality shows that hooked me from the very beginning, with its attempts at classy romance. Lush locales, pretty clothes, elegant people. I loved it.

I've watched nearly all the seasons of both shows (all episodes). Didn't care for the Navy guy (who chose no one in the end) or the blond guy (I think second season.) Other than that, I was pretty much there. I've seen their twists and turns, but by and large, it was predictable. And we LIKED THAT.

It's fairly simple, really. Classy women wanna see a classy woman (or man) choose another classy man (or woman), and take them on elegant dates. Simple formula. It works. Don't mess with it.

That is one thing that reality shows should have learned from the first season of Survivor, and we know from Twitter. Leave people to themselves, and they'll surprise the heck out of you. Just thinking of that speech of Sue's from the final Tribal Council gives me chills now.

The Bachelor series has been fairly free from controversy. Other than the guy picking the girl, then dumping her last season, and re-picking the previous girl, in front of a national audience, there wasn't a whole lotta drama. (Don't worry about the dumped Melissa. She went from tears on The Bachelor, to finalist in Dancing with the Stars, to a cushy gig with ABC News.)

People thought that whole thing was fake. To me, it seemed very very real.

This season, though... We have a wonderful new Bachelorette, another dumpee from last season's Bachelor. By and large, she seems pretty straightforward and smart. Except for this whole nonsense with Wes. The Twitterverse is also starting to talk about how this was a producer manipulation, and not real. "Cause how could she be that stupid?"

For those of you not hanging by your TV every week, here is the basic gist. Wes is a musician. With a band. His deal for going on the show is to promote his music. He doesn't give a crap about the girl. In fact, he has a girlfriend back at home in Austin, TX.

Now, what's really fishy about this right from the start is that you know the producers vette the crap out of every contestant. Checking and rechecking and rechecking again so that no craziness shows up when they least expect it.

Either the producers are really losing their touch this season, or they planned all this. My roommate even thinks that Wes isn't a "guy," that he's actually an actor. Because what we we're seeing is Wes, trash talking the girl (Jillian) to his buddies in the guys' house, then being all nice to her and telling her there was no problem. It's brought up MORE THAN ONCE, the reveal actually spans three episodes.

And, bizarrely, she KEEPS him for two of those three episodes, finally getting rid of him this week.

When he's trash talking her, he says stuff like he's only there for his music, he doesn't care about the girl. He just wants publicity for his band. When he takes Jillian on a hometown date, there's Wes' band. SURPRISE!

Now, I will say this: to the producers' credit, they showed as little of his music as possible. Didn't even really show his band (thankfully). They made the camera shots ALL about Jillian. Still. Wes was there.

It felt very much like Wes was manipulating Jillian, but it felt just as much that the producers were manipulating us. And it's really never felt that way before. Not since "Johnny Fairplay" lied about his grandmother on Survivor has an audience (and show) been so manipulated and used.

Wes is in the limo, boasting about how he got to fourth place, while having a girlfriend. That's something to boast about? That you AND YOUR FAMILY lied on national TV? That's gonna sell records for you? And sell out your upcoming tour? Really? You think so?

I dunno. Maybe I live a sheltered life, but the people I see and interact with in social media are all about transparency and truth-telling. That's the currency we trade on these days. So while everyone is steaming about what a colossal jerk Wes is, I think I'm a bit more mad about this season's producers, who added all kinds of hokeyness this season: from the Amazing Race-style treasure hunt to the weird foot fetish guy to this guitar-playing Wes.

Just give us our Bachelor, straight up. No muss, no fuss, and especially no Wes. Thanks.