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I’ve been direct messaging a lot recently with Theresa Antell as she makes her initial exploration of Twitter and the peculiarities of trying to create engagement. She was nice enough to provide some advice and a bit of a “pep tweet” for me the other day when I was bemoaning a frustrated acquaintance who’d emailed me complaining about a blog post.

In the midst of our DM discussion, Theresa mentioned she’d put together some thoughts on what it’s like for new Twitter users. As she described her experience, I assured her that even experienced users get frustrated by the absence of listening, engagement, and real dialogue on Twitter. Theresa’s insights on engagement are a great reminder for all of us…on Twitter, or in real life as well:

As a relatively new member of the Twitter family, I tread lightly with my opinion as so not offend the Twitter Veterans.

But I must say that I think my Twitter doesn’t fit.

I don’t know what I expected, really. So I can’t say what part of it doesn’t feel like it fits. I did all the things I was “supposed” to do as a new Twitter-er.

I searched my interests, I followed, I read, I learned, I helped, I retweeted, I recommended, I replied, I shared…all the standard pleasantries one would, and should, expect a new Twitter user to do.

But the ENGAGEMENT part of Twitter is, for me, less than stellar. When someone asks for help with something – whether it be a simple retweet, an answer to a question, a sample of something they can’t find online, a recommendation of a local hotel, etc. I help. It’s just what I feel is the right thing to do.

But when I asked for help. <Cue the crickets>

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

I experimented a few times with asking for help from some designers I follow about how THEY project manage. No replies.

I asked some others about how I can get the “buy in” from the more “seasoned” employees at work with regard to using Social Media. Nothing.

I asked anyone to explain what Twitter Chat was. Nada.

I asked some Excel “experts” for help with a spreadsheet I was working with. Crickets.

I have since deleted most of my requests for assistance since it was (in a weird way) embarrassing to have them “out there” as unanswered lonely “tweets to nowhere.”

Twitter is great if you like being talked TO. But if you (like I mistakenly did) expect to talk WITH someone or have any kind of engagement, then it isn’t the right forum perhaps. (Of course there are some exceptions – like you, Mike. And another user – Nate, that I follow.)

Like I said, I don’t know what I really expected from it, or if my expectations were even reasonable, but I guess I thought of Twitter more as a forum to discuss and share: “A Community of Experts” if you will – all willing to discuss ideas and keep the information flowing.

And while there is some really great information launched at you (well, me) I find it impossible to engage in a discussion or Q&A with anyone about it.

It’s sad for me, because I really liked that part about Social Media.

You know… the SOCIAL part of it.

So, while I think my Twitter doesn’t fit the way I thought it was intended to, just like my favorite pair of jeans from college – I guess I’ll keep it around for the heck of it and try it on for size every now and again. Theresa Antell

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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21 Responses to “Twitter Engagement? And Where’s that Happening?”

  1. Jed Langdon says:

    Hi Theresa. Thanks for sharing your views, even as a big Twitter fan I would say that I agree with a lot of what are saying. It can be a difficult medium to build deeper engagement on, mostly because of being restricted to 140 characters, but also because of the noise. Having said that there are loads and loads of helpful and friendly people on there, its just a case of finding them! Like with any other platform that becomes popular there are a lot of people there who don’t have any intention of engaging, but please persevere and don’t let that put you off talking to the rest of us!

    Twitter chats are the other great way to find deeper levels of engagement. Tweet me at @jedlangdon if you still want to know more about these, if there is anything I can help you with, or if you just want to say hi!

    Thanks,
    Jed

  2. Jerry_Albright says:

    Hi Theresa. Most “thinking” people recognize the very same frustration(s) you have with Twitter.

    Here’s the one tip I can offer. Lower your expectations of Twitter to zero. The sooner you do that the sooner you’ll be able to simply enjoy it for what it is – a nonstop string of semi-random thoughts from people you barely know….

    Enjoy!

  3. Eric Melin says:

    Theresa-
    I find the same thing a lot of the times, but its due mainly to the here-and-gone design of Twitter, I think. Usually I end up coming to the posts on this blog because I subscribe to Mike’s newsletter. Sure, I’ll see a tweet coming through my 20 or 30 custom Twitter columns on TweetDeck every now and then, but its not very often unless the timing is just right. On the other hand, I saw this post because a friend forwarded a tweet about it to me, so it goes both ways.

    As far as asking for help, I find the same thing. I’ll put out a question I know some of my tweeps can answer, and will get nothing back. Now, if I put that question out every hour on the hour, perhaps someone might see it and respond, but that’s annoying. If you @ specific people, chances are way better you’ll get an answer. Did you try that?

    @SceneStealrEric
    @Spiral16

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the idea of using @ requests is really key Eric.

      None of us would walk into a crowded room and ask a question in a conversational tone of voice to no one in general and expect an answer.

      Throwing out an undirected question in Twitter is pretty much like that. It helps to ask it of a specific person (an @NAME question) or to shout it at the top of our lungs (using a Twitter hashtag) to improve the chances of being heard and getting an answer.

  4. Cheri Allbritton says:

    Hi Teresa. There are some people out in Twitterverse that will answer questions or engage in a discussion or help. I do. And I can name a few much brighter than I am that do as well. [Few being the operative word.] Maybe people don’t respond to random questions not because they don’t wish to be helpful, but rather because of fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of contradiction or fear of REJECTION. Now wouldn’t that be awful if I tried to help and heard those ~crickets~? Anyway, I followed you. I might not be able to answer most of your questions, but I am pretty good at math.

  5. Average Jane says:

    I find that engagement increases steadily with the number of followers you have/people you follow. Then again, once you’re following 1,000+ people, you’re dealing with a fire hose of information and it’s easy to overlook tweets to which you might have responded if you’d only seen them.

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s definitely value in a bigger AND more active network. What you mention Celeste about missing tweets comes down to using an application with smartly created searches so you can effectively “slow down” the pace of Twitter.

  6. Yes, I have had similar experiences. I find asking questions on twitter is a bit hit and miss. It took me > 6 months before anyone answered anything. I welcome your post, ‘cos now I know it’s not just me! A few weeks ago, I needed a training room with 25 PCs at short notice and I had a fantastic place booked within an hour, thanks to twitter. I didn’t even know the place existed and the screen was like a giant iPad – bliss. @Jerry_Albright suggests lowering your twitter expetations to zero – sound advice methinks. Twitter can be great – but it’s not magic and I think you have to play a long game on the engagement front. Stick with it – I’m following you now, so if I see a question I can answer….

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure if it’s about lowering your expectations to zero, but unless you have a pretty tight Twitter network you’re reaching out to, you can’t depend on Twitter for quick, great answers whenever you need them.

  7. Tantell1 says:

    Thank you for the comments and positive feedback. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my thinking that the massive amounts of information flowing AT me, makes it difficult to connect.

    Ill be using the advice many of you have so kindly offered (hashtags, lists, time and of course, patience).

    I’m hopeful some great relationships can be made on Twitter. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. I have a new sense of Twitter faith ~ Thank you.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Theresa for sharing your guest post. I knew you would hit a very familiar issue for lots of people. We all hear crickets on Twitter when we really need someone to respond!

  8. I have to say I’ve come to the same conclusion. I have my twitter posts send to Facebook where my friends are always more than welcome to chime in so at least it isn’t completely falling upon deaf ears.

    The few times you do manage to get a response it typically comes from seems to be from someone trying to sell a service. So really you need to choose who you follow wisely because what you’re really doing is subscribing to ideas and articles you normally wouldn’t be exposed to, which is a good thing.

    As for getting responses, typically unless you’ve posted enough useful information or just caught on a hot topic to become well followed on twitter most people won’t reply to each other via Tweet. That’s ok though because like I said, it’s a subscription service and the interaction you receive from that is all depending on who you network with and who networks with you.

    Of course you must also remember that if you are following an expert, they aren’t always following you and if you sent them a question, imagine how many hundred other people are doing the same…you could just be getting lost.

  9. Karen says:

    I know what Theresa’s saying, I’ve had the same thing happen to me on Twitter and Facebook. I’m stubborn though, and so I keep trying. 🙂

  10. Anonymous says:

    Theresa:

    I know I am late to the party responding to your blog post. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get response to questions in Twitter. As a newbie, it can get lonely finding your community in Twitter. I found that when I had 200 or 300 followers, unless I was already engaging with them in conversations, my questions feel on deaf twears. (humor) When my follower size increased, it was easier to ask questions and get help.

    I also found that using a hashtag to direct my question to a specific communiting, like #eventprofs for meeting, event and hospitality professionals, got me quicker responses. Have a question about education or learning, try #educhat or #lrnchat. Have tourism questions, try #tourism.

    Thank of Twitter as microblogging, a way to share information and resources. And if you search questions yourself to help answer them, watch those same people respond to your questions too.

    It would be interesting to try your experiment again when you reach 500 followers, 1K followers etc. Just saying…

  11. Hi Theresa –

    Engagement comes from building relationships. Reading this article and drawing conclusions from it only based on what you’ve said here, you’re not building relationships – you’re talking about quid pro quo.

    I follow 4600 people. I might ask a question generally and get a few dozen answers. I’m sorry to say that I don’t always remember everyone who did answer a random question. But I remember people with whom I speak regularly. I follow them and talk *with* (not *at*) them. I can’t say I even notice when people on Twitter ask a question – unless I’m on at that moment, and reading that person’s tweet.

    You’re following 482 people and of those maybe not all of them follow you back. Some of the people you follow might follow thousands of people, or more, and no see your name rising to the surface on a regular enough basis for it to stand out.

    My advice is to lose the idea that Twitter is quid pro quo and just, talk with people because you want to. Engagement isn’t one hand washing the other, it’s a conversation that happens in realtime. Converse in realtime and gain what you can from that. After you’ve spent time building up those relationships…then and only then, will you gain engagement.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks for your opinion Erica!
      In the year since this post was originally published, I’ve definitely found it to be more than I gave it credit for. I’ve met some amazing people, learned something new every single time I’ve logged on and developed not only friendships but some business relationships too.
      Still, some accounts that I follow simply use twitter to spout out news, updates & headlines without any intention of engaging. And that’s ok. I’ve learned that those accounts may be good for information but are not necessarily being monitored for interaction.

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