The Great Twitter Debate: She Said, He Said

My co-author Andrea Howe (@andreaphowe) and I (@charleshgreen) are both on Twitter.  We have rather different ideas about it, however. We talked about our differing perspectives the other day, and decided to share our thoughts. What’s your view?

May I Have Your Attention Please

Andrea: I have a lot of mixed feelings about Twitter. In a world marked these days by a lot of distractions, Twitter is a big one—one more thing that helps shorten my attention span. This troubles me because being focused, present, paying attention—not being distracted—are the thrust of what you and I both teach and talk about.

Charlie: Well, if you’re going to tend bar, you’d better make sure your drinking problem is under control. Twitter is indeed mostly about short attention span. Then again, so are racquetball and improv comedy. Each of them is about impressions, reacting in the moment.

Twitter is where you come to scan, not to find soul mates. There is a time and a place for everything.

Andrea: You know I don’t visit bars much. I do have a soft spot for improv comedy, though. Good point.

Popularity Contest or Personal Growth?

Andrea: As much as I like to think of myself as a somewhat-enlightened grown up, I just can’t seem to avoid the negative emotional component of the Twittersphere. Twitter takes me back to junior high school popularity contests. Sometimes I feel great, like “I’m popular, wow.” Other times, it’s depressing as hell—“Why’d I lose 5 followers today? What did I do wrong?” (laughing).

Charlie: You can take the kid out of the junior high school; the important thing is to take the junior high school out of the kid. I actually see Twitter as a personal growth tool. It forces you to recognize that not every 140-second ADD burst from a stranger is an attack upon your being. It really doesn’t mean much at all.

Andrea: You know I’m a sucker for personal growth. I’m just not sure Twitter is where I want to work this stuff out.

The Downside of Early Adoption

Andrea: As long as I’m listing my complaints, let me add this one: Doing it well requires way too many steps. There’s using different client software programs, mastering Twitter etiquette, making the effort to acknowledge followers appropriately. It can take a lot of steps to create a good Tweet. So much for scanning and reacting in the moment. I’d rather let the process work itself out. Call me (Tweet me?) when the tools are better. I’m not an early adopter; I’m here purely under protest.

Charlie: On this we can agree. Twitter is still immature, and while it is changing—every month something gets easier—it’s still too cumbersome. I want more integration, more platforms, more easily available stats, and so forth.

You don’t want to be an early adopter? I don’t blame you a bit. I am an early adopter myself, but you do a pay a price for the privilege.

Authentically Pre-Scheduled

Andrea: Let’s talk about scheduling tweets. It smacks of being strategic rather than authentic; it doesn’t feel real. If this is such a conversational tool, then why pretend otherwise by pre-writing and then auto-delivering?

Charlie: I think you’re confusing “authentic” with “real-time.” Chat rooms and IRC have been around for decades. Authentic to me means real, not necessarily ‘right now.’ I have no desire to hang around for an hour watching the feed until someone looks me up and replies. I’ve got better things to do.

Also, not everybody reads when I want to write—that’s the great thing about time-shifting technologies. By spreading tweets around, I get to more people, and more people get to me.

Andrea: Hmmm. Interesting point about “authentic” versus “real-time.” I’m going to have to think about that one.

The Big Cocktail Party

Andrea: Maybe what irks me most is that the nature of Twitter tends toward  superficial interactions. While there is some substantive stuff getting exchanged out there, a lot of Twitter seems more like idle party chit chat than real connection. And I have never been a big fan of cocktail parties.

Charlie: Remember that song, “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places?” Of course Twitter is chit chat, of course it’s a big cocktail party. Why do you think they call it Twitter?

Seriously, there’s a place for shallow, and a place for deep. Twitter is shallow; blogs are deeper. Articles are deeper yet. Or books—books are real deep.

But if you want to do a surface scan on what tons of people are thinking or saying about a particular topic—hey, God bless Twitter. And compared to real cocktail parties, at least you don’t have to drink or worry about how you look.

Hello, World

Andrea: Despite all my complaints, I do tweet. And I do see one very powerful thing about Twitter: it connects people who otherwise might not be connected. It lets people share perspectives and interesting pieces of information. Link-shortening is a blessing.

Charlie: Amen to that. Twitter is the new blog comments. Twitter is the new RSS feed (though we both use Feedly and I use AllTop to source some material). It is a whole ‘nother level of content-sharing between article/blog headlines and the articles themselves—and it lets you express your own views along the way.

Twitter lets me efficiently state to the world who I am, by way of sharing what I read and my take on it. You could call that branding.

Also, contrary to all the cocktail party metaphors, I’ve met some really cool people through Twitter–and then I’ve gotten more acquainted with many of them through email, by phone, and in-person. It is a fine way to meet interesting folks relevant to one’s business.


Andrea: One last thing. I wish I didn’t have to invest the time to learn a whole new language with Twitter: “RT,” “TY,” the myriad other abbreviations, and the effort it takes to say something sensible in 140 characters. We humans can barely communicate well in our native tongue. Isn’t our time better spent trying to master our own language?

Charlie: That’s what I keep saying to the French when I visit Paris! But I haven’t been able to convince them yet to speak English.

Andrea: Tell me you did not just try to compare Twitter to Paris.

What’s your perspective? Join the conversation. Post a comment to this blog. Tweet about it. Email us. Or—gasp—give us a call.

Empty Calorie Social Networking

I’m an enthusiastic user of many social media. I welcome interaction on Twitter (@charleshgreen), for example. In many ways, online networking is sort of the first derivative of the old, face-to-face type—faster, shallower, but broader and more far-reaching, and with essentially the same objective.

Still, there are some differences. In ‘real’ (i.e. analog) life, socializing can be an end in itself. Online, sometimes the connection is dropped; the symbol no longer links to the symbolized. Numbers become their own narcissistic rationale.

Call it empty calorie social networking—lots of apparent connections, but with no socially nutritional value.

Buying Friends and Buying Lists

Which feels more personal to you: email addresses, or twitter handles? If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot more email addresses than twitter addresses. After all, the social media are opt-in—you choose who gets to be in your network.

But check this out.

You can buy a one-time email list of people who purchased homes in the State of New Jersey in the last 30 days. It will cost you $500 for about 5000 names—that’s $0.10 per name.

You can also buy 10,000 twitter followers for $97.00—that’s $0.01 per name—one tenth the cost of emails.

The email list is ten times more expensive than the twitter list. Still think opt-in networks are special?

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why those particular numbers might diverge, but one of them is this: a lot of the ‘social’ in ‘social networking’ is nothing of the kind. It isn’t just ‘lo-cal’ networking, it’s utterly ‘no-cal.’

Who’s Consuming All Those Empty-Calorie ‘Connections?’

I’m not talking about those who follow @charliesheen (1.8 million at this moment) or Justin Bieber (7.8 million). I’m talking about those who follow 20,000 people and who have 20,000 zombie-like followers themselves—and who have only ever published ten tweets.

What’s driving this is a perversion of relationships—reciprocity gone wild. You follow me, I’ll follow you, and we’ll all get—bigger numbers. But for what end?

There is more than a whiff of spam about all this, but that’s not all that’s going on. Spam is imposed against our will; following is not. Spam survives on one hit in 10,000—following gets darn near 100% returns. Like Pogo, we have found the enemy, and it is us.

Much as high-calorie junk food addiction is being linked to obesity in the physical realm, there’s an addictive quality about this empty-calorie following. Fat follower lists are not conducive to relationship help.

Out of control eating no longer has anything to do with nutrition; out of control follower-collecting no longer has anything to do with relationships.

Ask yourself: why are you following someone? If your answer is anything but “because they sound interesting,” enlighten me.

The Butterfly Effect Redux

Doug WarrenIf a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, will there be a monsoon in Hawaii?

Stewart’s Story.

About 6 years ago, I was doing a lot of networking, and met someone who needed a temporary CFO in the Boston area. One of my long-time clients and a networker in the 500+ class on Linked-In, Dallas-based attorney Peter Vogel introduced me to Steve Crane, an avid networker and then a partner at a national firm that provided just that service.

Although I never spoke with Steve directly, through Peter, he introduced me to a Boston-based partner.

I called the Boston partner, and connected him to the potential client. The story could have ended there, but it did not. The Boston partner invited me to meet others in the group in the Boston area. When we met, I shared my view that people in business should treat each other with trust, caring and respect.  One of the partners, Doug, said to me: “You sound just like my B-school classmate, Charlie. You ought to talk with him.” He offered an introduction.  I accepted.

Turns out Charlie was Charles H. Green, now CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates LLC, and co-author of the then recently published The Trusted Advisor. We talked, and did indeed sound alike. That was the start of our valuable and continuing relationship. It’s been great for each of us. All this from doing a favor for someone in Boston seeking a temporary CFO!

Charlie’s Story.

Many years ago, I went to Harvard Business School. I didn’t have long business experience, so initially felt a little outside the group. But I did quickly form bonds with a couple of really great people, including Rob Galford and Doug Warren, both of whom were in "Section H" with me.  Blessed with extroverts’ gift of gab, I found both Rob and Doug refreshing to hang around with, and a great antidote to my own shyness.

We all graduated.  I had a 20-year career in management consulting, then left to found my own business. I co-authored The Trusted Advisor with David Maister and with the aforementioned Rob Galford.

Doug and I saw each other only at reunions, until about 6 years ago when I got a call from Doug. “I want you to meet someone,” said Doug. “His name is Stewart Hirsch, and I think you two might get along.” I talked with Stewart and we did get along. In fact, I hired Stewart to be my business coach. That led to my tapping Stewart’s skills to help serve TAA clients – and now he’s heading our coaching practice

From Both.

A few weeks ago, Peter mentioned Steve (remember Peter and Steve?) in a conversation with Stewart. Stewart realized that he’d never even talked with Steve, much less thanked him. Stewart then called Steve and shared with him his role in Stewart’s story and his appreciation of for the introduction. Now, they are considering networking opportunities for each other, and starting a new set of links.

Tragically, Doug died several years ago, another too-young victim of cancer. Charlie attended Doug’s memorial service, and another service a few years later at a reunion.  Doug’s wife and children still feel connected to 75-odd members of Section H. Those are wonderful tributes to the power of our shared experiences.

But it has recently occurred to Charlie that, for him, there could be no better memory of Doug than to daily appreciate the living reminder of his introduction of Stewart to Charlie.

If a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, will there be a monsoon in Hawaii? We don’t know. What we do know is that when you help people, opportunities can appear, and when we seize those opportunities, doors open.