December 3, 2010
My 30-Day Twitter Experiment (Pt 2)
Discovering the difference between “Look at me!” and “Listen to me!”
In Part 1 I shared my reasons for embarking on a one month Twitter experiment, as well as the parameters I set up for myself to help my stay on my goal of “tweeting for the sake of others.” In response to my first post, as well as critique of my original piece “Why I Don’t Tweet…Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It,” I had a number of folks argue that Twitter is really no different than blogging. Therefore, why am I so critical of Twitter and not blogs?
Fair question. So let’s begin there.
In the primitive ages of social media (circa 2003), sites like Blogger were incredibly popular. But a blog is a medium that says “Listen to me!” and it assumes that the blogger has something to say (at least something more substantive than 140 characters). But what happens when you really don’t have that much to say? In truth many early bloggers were attracted to the medium not because they wanted an outlet for their ideas, but because they were looking for social connection or just raw attention. This is the brilliance behind “micro-blogging” (aka Facebook and Twitter). Twitter and Facebook are not designed to say “Listen to me!” but rather “Look at me!” And as I shared in “Why I Don’t Tweet,” I think the desire to be noticed is rooted in our deep human insecurity and search for significance.
Are blogs also about being noticed? Sure, to a degree. But the better blogs are hopefully attracting attention because of their thoughtful content and helpful ideas. Good blogs serve their readers and not simply their writers. That’s the difference between “Listen to me!” and “Look at me!” The question I wanted to answer with the 30-Day Twitter Experiment was could I tweet in a way that served others? Could it be more than a “Look at me!” medium?
My answer after a month of tweeting is, yes. Twitter can be used well, it can serve others, and it can be a helpful tool. Here are a few forms of tweeting I found beneficial:
My Twitter experiment began with my trip to Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. It was a once-in-a-generation gathering of global Christian leaders from over 200 countries. I tweeted from the event so those not attending might have a sense of what was happening. I shared quotes from speakers and stories from the gathering. I knew many people interested in this event who could not attend, and I tried to serve them by being their eyes and ears on the ground. (Had wifi been more reliable at the convention center, this would have been much more effective.) But to avoid “ego-tweeting” that would not serve my readers, I avoided sharing about my personal /private interactions at the event that would have simply been “Look at me!” tweets.
I’m currently working on a new book. From time to time I used Twitter to briefly share an idea I was considering and asked my readers for feedback. For example, I was thinking about the relationship between fear and religion. I tweeted “All religions are systems of control rooted in fear. Do you agree?” Responses were helpful in reframing that idea, predicting objections, and clarifying my writing. Twitter became a fast way to take the temperature on a new idea—very helpful for a communicator.
I read a lot online almost every day. Some of that content is really, really good and you want to share it with others. Twitter is perfect for passing along reader recommendations.
Distributing Your Creations
Jim Belcher (@JimBelcher) asked me “is there a role for using twitter as a marketing tool?” Jim and I are both authors and know the challenge of marketing books in an age when most publishers leave that to the authors. I do think it's okay to tell others about content you have created if that content is intended to be helpful and a blessing to others.
Here’s the deal … anytime we create anything (a book, a song, a sermon, a painting, a poem) there is a piece of us in that creation. So there is no way to entirely avoid the “Look at me” aspect of it. But ultimately we are to use our gifts to serve, help, and edify others, and making people aware of what we’ve created is part of that. I used Twitter to alert my readers to new blog posts I wrote over the last month. (That’s probably how some of you found this one). If something isn’t worth sharing, then it probably wasn’t worth writing.
Sharing Important News
Since last November, Matt Chandler (@MattChandler74) has been using Twitter to keep us updated on his battle with cancer and to point us to his blog where he’s posted videos and entries. His example shows why many of us value the immediacy of Twitter. But there is a danger here as well. Matt shared with me that news of his seizure and hospitalization on Thanksgiving Day 2009 spread via Twitter before he and his wife had time to share the news with many of their family members and church leaders. I’m not sure a tweet is how most of us would like to discover such news about a loved one. Still, if you want to spread important news, Twitter doesn’t just let the cat out of the bag … it launches the feline with a catapult.
So, what’s my final verdict about Twitter? Will I keep tweeting? I think so, but not a lot. It has its uses, but it’s not my preferred use of time or energy. While I stand by my original critiques of Twitter, I’ve come to realize it can be used well if used thoughtfully. And I’m looking to “follow” people on Twitter who model such care.
Is Twitter evil? Of course not. But it does tempt many of us to an unhealthy and ungodly form of social digital narcissism. But that’s not really Twitter’s problem … it’s our problem that Twitter merely uncovers. I’m reminded of that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker sees a mysterious cave strong with the Dark Side of the Force. “What’s in there?” he asks. Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.” So it is with Twitter.