Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Join the Party on Twitter

I've written some columns about Twitter, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and wanted to approach it from a different angle. Most people, if they're going to get on Twitter, probably already are; and if they aren't, they still hate it and people who talk about it just as much.

This isn't for those people. It's for the ones who have joined Twitter but are still staring at a blank screen, not knowing how this "Twitter thing" works. Not getting what all the big deal is about, not sure where or how to jump in. And sure, the new Twitter sends you helpful little "Who to Follow" prompts, but how do you know who to follow? How many are too much? Or too little? And really, most of all, what is the damn point of all this?

I've been thinking a lot about all this, and a new idea hit me. It's a party. (You can cringe if you want to.)

The single most important thing, now that you've finally broken down and signed up to this dreadful thing (as if anyone needs another social media site, harumph!), is who you know. Or, more concisely: Who You Follow. (The second most important thing is Who Follows You, but you can't control that.)

So, as I've documented elsewhere, when I first joined Twitter, I was adding people like mad (rather like I did on MySpace and Facebook). If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't do it that way.

Here's what you need to know: Twitter is about interaction. Passive watchers might as well not even join. Because everyone, even the shyest wallflower, has something to say about something.

Keeping those things in mind, try this strategy on for size.

1. DON'T, I REPEAT, DON'T go mad adding celebrities. In fact, if you're a Twitter newbie, I would suggest that you refrain from adding ANY celebrities or really famous people until you've been on Twitter at least six months and have regular people you know and chat with. Why? By and large, those with millions of followers won't be chatting back with you. Actually, those with millions probably won't even be reading you. And, if you are only going to add ten people, make those ten count. NO CELEBRITIES. Make each of those ten people who will interact with you, will Follow Friday you (the only celebrities that I've seen Follow Fridaying anyone are other celebrities), will thank you for your comments and RTs. Generally someone who values your commentary, and treats you with respect. Do I have to tell you that that ISN'T a celebrity? Nope. Not even Oprah. Seriously.

Really think about what you want to get out of Twitter. Here's what you can get: knowledge, news, sports fans who share your passions, fans of any subject who share your passions, and if you're really lucky, and choose well, people who can really help you make it through your day.

So, I'd like you to think of this as a great party that you're designing. You are the host/hostess, and you get to pick the guest list. (Again, refrain from inviting celebrities, because they will dimish YOUR sparkle.) Who else would you want attending?

When your mind comes up blank, try this instead. Go to someone whom you think would make a great party guest that you know is on Twitter. Start by examining their follower list. Or their following list. Cull from there. Keep in mind that the BEST person to add to your Twitter list is someone who's following/follower totals are roughly equal. Say, 1500 following to 1750 followers. That would be ideal. It shows someone who's engaged, who actively participates in their Twitter stream, in essence, someone who'd make a great party guest, and not monopolize the conversation.

Conversely, if someone is following NO ONE, avoid them like the plague, no matter who they are. They clearly don't get it.

2. Pick interesting people. I highly suggest that before you add someone, click on their profile first. Check out some of their comments. Look at a full page's worth. If ANY of the comments annoy you, or make you roll your eyes, go to the next person. Life's too short. Also, if what you are looking at is either: all RTs, no original commentary; or all links, move on. You want someone, ideally, who mixes it up. Who RTs people, but also comments. Who posts interesting links, but also engages with you. (I also do this in reverse. If I see someone's comments in my feed now that annoy me, I'll go back to their profile before I unfollow them, just to be sure. They may just be having a bad day.)

3. Find subjects that interest you. You want people who stimulate your mind. Find people who share your interests. For example, I like music, and subscribe to the service, which posts songs I'm listening to to my Twitter feed. Some people really hate that. Other music lovers have RTed the songs I've picked. People who like the same music I do tend to stick around. Whatever it is you are interested in, there are people who like that same thing and talk about it. Try searching for that subject, and adding people that you find that are interesting.

4. Find people who inspire you. There are plenty of them on Twitter, I assure you. Some people like those who post inspirational sayings. Others get bored silly by such stuff. Whatever your own spiritual touchstone is, make sure you add some people who reflect that. Who make your heart swoon at their comments. You should have a good chunk of these kind of people in your Twitter stream.

5. Find worldwide folks. I like Twitter for its coverage of news. But to find this, I didn't start adding TV or radio news folks (although you could do that, too). I made sure I had people on my Twitter stream from different countries, some speaking different languages. I don't want to just know what's going on in America (though maybe you do). But having a diverse spectrum across the world will also ensure that whatever time you are on Twitter, there is going to be something coming across your screen. I assure you. My Facebook often dies, once the people in my geographic area go to sleep. This is never true of Twitter. It's 24/7.

6. Job searching? Add headhunters. I have heard about more jobs on Twitter than any other social media service, which is enough reason to sign up for it, if you're not already on it, IMHO. But to do that, I had to add people in various fields that I work in who might be responsible for adding jobs. If you're an actor, there are plenty of casting agents on it. There are all kinds of headhunters, and job services as well. Search for them. Add them.

7. Drop in some romantic sparkle. What would a good party be without some sexy members of whatever sex you're attracted to? Make sure that you add some sexiness, to whatever level you feel comfortable with. I personally have three Twitter accounts, to varying levels of sexiness. The last thing I want when I'm in a business situation is to have someone sending over pics of their naked body at me. So I don't have that at all on my business Twitter. But on my personal one? heh That a whole other story.

8. Minimize or avoid the companies that advertise at you. Yes, I know, many companies out there will cringe at that one. They see Twitter as the next new gold rush area, and are just looking for a way in. My personal rule with all that is that anyone that markets at me is Unfollowed. Period. I don't have anyone (of the 2000 people I'm following) that is a company or a marketer. My life is blissful. Plus, Twitter isn't FOR that. It's for people to talk to each other. To interact, as I said earlier. Advertising/marketing people still haven't figured that out.

Again, think of it like a party. If you were at a great party, deep in the middle of a fascinating conversation, would you want someone spewing about their latest product at you? No. It would spoil the vibe, wouldn't it? Twitter should be, and is, like that, too.

9. DO talk about politics and religion. Everywhere else, these items are avoided like the plague. But on Twitter, I have found the most educated, enlightened, actively seeking minds I've found anywhere. I feel blessed to have them in my Twitter stream. Mind you, I only have the folks who espouse the same things I believe in. One woman started getting on my case about my sexuality, espousing her "Christian" values at me, and I can't tell you how quickly I blocked her. The block button is bliss. Use it often.

The other great advantage about this is that you'll hear when things happen. I heard about the strife in various Mideast countries on Twitter WAY before mainstream media even covered it. So maybe it's a party with giant screens all around the room with current news flashes suddenly on the Jumbotron. If there's an earthquake, you'll hear about it on Twitter (as everyone on the East Coast now knows).

10. Don't be bored. If, once you've added your successful party guest roster, you find you are still bored with people's comments, add more people. Maybe, at this point, add a celeb or two (judiciously). For me, there isn't a day that I'm on Twitter that I don't get a new piece of information, a new way to look at things, and some uplifting inspiration from my Twitter stream. That's how yours should be, too.

Have at least 100 people that you are following. A good conversation is the sign of a really good party.

Add me: @michebella on Twitter.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Lounging with the High-Tech Hoboes

Like most people, living through this recession has been a challenge. Finding yourself in places and circumstances you never expected because the cash flow you had counted on suddenly stops (for whatever reason).

For me, my life on the streets (or as close as I want to get to it) began a few months ago (and has, oh so thankfully ended--at least for now, anyway. Who knows what tomorrow holds?).

I'm a tech baby. My hands have been attached to a keyboard for decades now. The cell phone/smart phone got added somewhere in there, and eyes are often glued to some cable program or another. That's how I lived. I couldn't imagine life without these creature comforts.

Living without them helped me to realize just how much I need them, and why.

So walk with me, for a minute, won't you? Down into my path of hell?

Mind you, I know there are many who have it worse, much worse. People who, for whatever reason (and yes, their numbers do seem to be increasing of late) find it completely ok to sleep right there on the street. In church doorways, or near highway overpasses. Whereever there is a quiet place to lie their head.

It's a strange sight, seeing someone in a doorway, with a cardboard box covering their heads. Guess it's to keep the morning light out. Still not sure about that one.

But these guys (not too many homeless women, I've noted), at least not lying in doorways, anyway... these guys people have been aware of for decades, since a few recessions ago, at least.

What I've noticed on my new journey into poverty is the step up from that, the high-tech hobo.

So let me take you back a bit in my life (a few months ago). As I said, in my normal life, I am constantly online. I write, I blog, I have a podcast, I'm a regular (as in daily) Twitter poster. Online is pretty much where I live. So, to me, to be suddenly without online access was as close as I want to get to being homeless.

But, I still had my laptop and my phone, and I knew there was wifi to be had. I just had to find it. War-driving, isn't it? I was gonna go out and find some.

First, the easy ones. All these coffee shops and cafes offering "Free Wi-Fi." One close to my house. Thought I was home free. Sadly, these places don't much take to someone camping out and using said Free Wifi for hours at a time and only purchasing a coffee. Or at least the one near me didn't. After a few weeks of regular use, they cut me off. Couldn't access the Net anymore at all. Sad.

So, I sought out other avenues. Libraries! They have wifi. Sadly, they also have very minimal hours. In the time that I was doing this, they were closed on both Sunday and Monday! Two whole days with NO access? My God, how inhuman.

Plus, I'm very much a night person. I get most of my best work done in the wee hours of the morning. Libraries were just closing shop when I was getting going (the latest one open until 8 pm). So, they were kind of out, too.

But there are some places that are open 24 hours and have wifi. I won't tell you the places I found, to protect the innocent, but there are places to be had. And this is what you'll see there. If you go to 24-hour places all around the city of Los Angeles, you'll find men with laptops. At first (like around 9 pm), they are indeed, pounding keys, and looking like they are doing something.

By midnight and onward, you will find them asleep at their laptops all over town. I call them the high-tech hoboes. Don't know for sure that they're homeless, but they definitely have no Internet access.

I started frequenting one particular place. I am thankful that it was available to me during my times of difficulty. In theory, I should've been paying for the priviledge. I am grateful to the kind-hearted staff who let these people just be overnight. But I, like the ten or so others who frequented it (and I mean every night), were just surfing the wifi because it was there. Some folks brought snacks. Some folks watched videos or movies. Some actually worked.

One who particularly intrigued me was a preacher. He was always attired in suit and tie, like he had somewhere important to go. Guess in LA, it's all about what you're wearing.

Early in the evening (between 9 pm and midnight), he would busy himself with religious videos. Someone preaching this or that. Round about 2 or 3 am, when he thought no one was listening, the porn videos would come out. Cracked me up.

The funniest thing about the preacher was that he would often chat up other black folks who happened in there. His theory was that the white folks are planning to "round up the blacks and put them in concentration camps." That he was going to hightail it to South Africa before that happened. Meanwhile, of course, he's spending his nights in this same place, watching his videos. Very strange.

I didn't mention to him, hey, this is a largely white establishment here, and they are kind enough to let you sleep in here, you should really be grateful to them, not dissing them like that. But I didn't. Just let him babble on. Once he got to the part about the aliens, I sorta checked out.

Some parts of me wished I had turned to him, white girl that I am, and said, Hey brotha, it's not about white-black anymore, not even white-Hispanics. It's all about RICH and poor. Haven't you noticed that? It's the rich who are oppressing us. And better to stay here and fight than run away, don't you think? But I kept my silence.

Lotsa people who came in there, and there would often be new ones, acted like they owned the place. Guess entitlement runs hard in LA.

It was a very strange thing to me, hanging out in this place.  But I did come to realize that anywhere you go at 3 am in this town, if it has wifi, you're going to find at least one person there with a laptop, and asleep. This is our new reality.