Monday, April 25, 2011

Would like to Tweet

After having been a relative and reluctant latecomer to Twitter, I still think it’s incredibly difficult to use. I’m astonished at how it’s catching on as part of marketing and communication strategies in the public, private and voluntary sector. Is there any organisation that doesn’t have ‘follow us on Facebook and Twitter’ added to their web page nowadays?

Well, until last week there was one. I’m involved with a UK learned society called the Housing Studies Association, and at our last committee meeting we decided it was time to tweet. We ran a successful experiment during our recent conference, with several of us tweeting, getting retweeted, getting favourable comments and acquiring new followers in the process, focused on our hashtag #hsa11. Subsequently we have set up our own Twitter account and team (aided by the very useful recent piece in Inside Housing), and I am tweeting housing news in Northern Ireland. We are also on Facebook, of course.

So now there are times when I have to enjoy Twitter responsibly, because I am representing an organisation. This has brought into focus all the frustrations I experience with it.

First, it can be quite hard to find Twitter accounts on Twitter. I’ve found the easiest way is to google the name followed by ‘on twitter’. WTF.

Second, the hashtag. I never thought I would be standing up in front of a group of housing academics and saying ‘if you are tweeting, the conference hashtag is.....’ But I often forget to add one - and how do you find a hashtag if you don’t know what it is? You can guess, which seems to work quite well, or pick it up from other people’s tweets, but surely there’s a better way of grouping interests so that people can follow them. The Facebook page system works well for me, for example. You can’t subscribe to a hashtag, you have to search for it or click on a link in someone’s tweet.

Third, the @person thing. Again I forget, with the exception of when I’m replying to someone. And although direct messages are notified via e-mail, replies under @Mentions aren’t, so it can be easy to miss them if you are busy.

Fourth, the business of shortening e-mail links. As with using google to find people, if you want to make the most of your 140 characters you have to go into a separate application to do this, and paste it into your tweet. Something I’ve never been able to work out how to do on my phone. But again it’s fiddly.

Which brings me – fifth – to the 140 characters limit. Why oh why? Although there are times when the discipline is good, there are far more when it constrains expression overmuch, especially when a shortened URL, a hashtag or two, and the odd @person is included. And a photo, although I haven’t started using that application yet.

Finally, the easiest thing to do on Twitter is to retweet, which is presumably why there’s such a lot of it about. But I haven’t been able to work out how to add a comment to a retweet, so I assume I can’t. Facebook is far superior here, with the thumbs ups, comments and captions for shared items. It’s actually quite difficult to have a conversation on Twitter, as it doesn’t come up anywhere as a thread – could this be why it is so beloved of marketing people?

It’s hard to understand why Twitter is becoming so popular when it has so many flaws. It has huge potential though. It’s changing the way we communicate and think in a way that I believe is ultimately going to be very positive.

However - Twitter is only v.1 of ... well, whatever Twitter is meant to be.

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