Do You EVER Sleep?

Every day, someone asks me: 'do you ever sleep?'  Much of my time on Twitter at the moment is spent on DM-ing the answer, so I thought I'd write a post to explain.

Being Human-Shaped on Twitter

The 'rules' of Twitter pass via osmosis to newbies.  They are a hodge-podge of theories by various 'social media gurus' and celebrities.  My most favouritest sleb of all - Stephen Fry - described it thusly:

It is important for all of us to understand its [Twitter’s] nature. It is human shaped, not business shaped. (Telegraph)

I agreed with Mr Fry to the tips of my toes, having found it very easy to embrace the human-shaped Twitter in my early months on the network.  All was well.  The Twitter bird was an amusing little chum who brought light-hearted chatter into my world.  After a while, however, I noticed something.  People were treating me in a different way.  I was becoming a channel.  

Never Broadcast

One of the Laws of Twitter is that you should never broadcast, because that indicates a lack of engagement or interest in others.  It is non-human.  There's a problem with that.  It's a fib.  It's a big old fib.  If you blogged twenty times a day and checked and replied to your comments every day or two, would people say you weren't engaging with the blogosphere?  Heck no!  Then why apply that rule to a micro-blogging platform?  

It is possible to be human in a face-to-face type way while your account is a human size (up to a few hundred), but to do so when it is much larger can be de-humanising.  Twitter is human-shaped, in that it is society-shaped.  Society is a wonderful mix of different people with different expectations and habits.  Twitter is the same.  To assume that we must all use Twitter in the same way is as arrogant as assuming we must all watch the same TV shows, drive the same cars or support the same political party.  It's daft.  

Many of the people on Twitter are shy in 'real life.'  They may start off a little more bold when they come onto social networks but, eventually, everyone becomes themselves.  That's the 'human' way.  Nobody can act 100% of the time, unless they have assumed a persona (Mrs Stephen Fry springs to mind given the context.)  

Most people are used to being entertained.  They read blogs, but they don't comment.  They watch TV, but they don't expect to submit content for the shows.  They listen to music, but they don't perform.  Why should they?  For many people, social networks are a fun place to hang out,  They are great places to find interesting news or funny videos, but providing that content - or provoking debate - is not where their focus lies.  They want to be entertained.  They want content that they can enjoy and share with others.  They don't all want to chat.  Many of them want reliable broadcasts.  

Celebrities have a level of immunity.  They already broadcast on TV, film or radio.  When they come onto Twitter, they can get away with a few 'I am having lunch now' tweets.  Early in Twitter's development, people followed the 'what are you doing?' question very literally.  Some yearn for the return of those days when the details of 'real life' were displayed for all: 

What 'human' twitter looks like (not suitable for work - 
or for those with delicate sensibilities)

Most of us can't get away with that kind of approach these days - fortunately.  People want our considered opinions.  They want to know that we care enough to make something special to share with them.  They don't want our bubble and squeak.  They want cake.  

I didn't get this.  I was busy chatting and throwing out things I thought people would enjoy and I didn't realise that I had established a precedent.  During a few spells of recession-induced insomnia, I had picked up followers from different time zones.  Now my sleep pattern approached normality they were complaining.  Why wasn't I tweeting at a convenient time for their time zone?  Who did I think I was?  

How to Please Followers and Stay Human

For a while, I attempted to get in everyone's good books by living on Twitter.  I stayed up late, hit as many time zones as was humanly possible and became crankier by the day.  There was nothing 'human-shaped' about my miserable experience.  I had become a robot.  I looked at the tweets my followers craved - the ones that were most retweeted.  They liked the goodies.  They liked the trinkets I'd picked up on the net - the quotes and videos and news.  The chatter got a mixed response, but the broadcast?  They loved it.

I had an idea.  I told my followers I planned to schedule some tweets so I could get a break.  I used the service that used to be called Tweet Later - it is now called Social Oomph - and wrote some tweets ahead of time.  The process of finding my tweets was way more fun that I had thought it would be.  It was like Christmas shopping for friends.  I had become resentful of the thousands of demanding voices.  Suddenly, I wasn't.  Instead, I was thinking of all my wonderful followers and the kinds of things that would excite or intrigue or amuse them.  Trawling the interwebs for tweetworthy treats took a bit of work, but it was fun.  

After I'd scheduled them for the next couple of days, I signed out of my Twitter account and looked.  The first update appeared, all by itself!  I went to and put in 'rebeccawoodhead' to see if anyone had replied.  They had.  The tweet had gone down well.  Over the next few hours, I checked back a few times.  Lots of retweets, LOLs, and general frivolity.  My pressies were well received.  The same people who'd chided me for needing rest were now retweeting my tweets!

That night, I could barely sleep - ironically enough - I knew I'd been given permission to take this step but I felt guilt.  I felt a level of empathy with the first woman in a street, back in the day, who surrendered her household's laundry to a machine.  How must her neighbours have regarded that fiendish and less-than-human being?  How could she turn her back on those for whom she should be providing a loving service, and surrender that work to a machine?  I imagined some kind of social networking ducking stool would be waiting upon my return.  

The next morning, I couldn't resist it.  I had to check.  I crept downstairs while my husband slept.  I switched on the netbook and looked at my replies.  All good.  Not one bad comment.  I glanced at the follower number, certain that many would have fled.  No.  Quite the opposite.  I had new followers from different time zones.  Shocked, but pleased, I closed the netbook and prepared for a day off.  It was the first day I had ignored social networks for months.  I spent it enjoying the very human company of my husband.  Every now and then, I looked up from a cup of tea or a book and said 'you know I'm tweeting at the moment right?'  He nodded.

Over the next month, my following doubled.  Your mileage may vary, as the cliche goes, but I have found Social Oomph to be a re-humanising collection of tools.  It finds me new people to follow, tells me when someone is reading a book I might like, and makes it easier for me to list the people to whom I want to give recognition.  Most important, it lets me sleep.  Now, when I am on Twitter in person, I have enough energy to enjoy my friends and I no longer feel like a robot.  For me, Twitter is human-shaped again.

You can try it out for free here

LisaMarie  – (25 May 2010 at 14:30)  

I've only recently started reading your blog and following you on twitter. I must say though I love your writing style and enjoy your tweets. Keep doing what your doing.

Rebecca Woodhead  – (25 May 2010 at 18:38)  

That's very kind of you. Thanks for the feedback. :)

Anonymous –   – (30 May 2010 at 23:12)  

Sleep is good! As is Twitter, but sleep is better. Your tweets are awesome too :)

Rebecca Woodhead  – (8 June 2010 at 14:55)  

Much appreciated Lady Pandora. Thank you. :)

Samantha  – (22 July 2010 at 04:23)  

All but two of the people I follow on twitter are in different countries. Most of my friends, both online and "real", live in America or the UK (and I have a couple scattered throughout other areas of Europe as well).

Living in Brisbane, Australia, with the bizarre timeone of GMT+10, pretty much the only place we're in sync with is Vladivostok, Russia. Over the last 10+ years of my online life I've gotten used to this. Starting in high school, I'd stay up till 3am to say hello to friends in America. Then I'd go to bed for 3-4 hours of sleep before attempting to stay alert in class. Not very productive.

Now I just accept the fact that I'll be having dinner when my friends are having breakfast, that the people I follow on twitter will do all the interesting things in their day while I'm in bed sleeping.

Sure, sometimes I miss out on interesting things (like @margaretatwood's free giveaway of her latest book using twitter as a competitive medium) but that doesn't mean I expect myself, or my followees, to change their sleeping cycle just to keep me happy.

If people in a different time zone choose to follow you then they should be aware of the fact that you have your own life to live. You're not there to please them. If they don't like the fact that you're not awake at 2am to talk to them then that's their problem. Not to be harsh but they can either accept it, or stop following you.

Don't bend yourself into pretzel-shaped sleep patterns just to please people that can't accept that the earth revolves around the sun, and not them.


Rebecca Woodhead  – (23 July 2010 at 01:17)  

Hi Samantha,

Thanks for your comment. Really interesting. I love your pretzel analogy. Unfortunately/fortunately I've noticed that things change when you get more followers on Twitter. To give me a sense of perspective, I set up some anonymous, small, accounts to keep dipping back into the twitter experience you get with a smaller account. It's much different. In some ways it's better. In some ways it's not as good. They're really different experiences.

The reason I like Social Oomph is that it makes my account handle more like a small account again. It's still more work than a small account - but not much more. If you try to use the same tactics with a large account as with a smaller account, it's horrid.

Am struggling to find a metaphor. I guess it's like what happens with a tidal wave. There can be a relatively small earthquake at sea but it gets exponentially large by the time it hits land as a tsunami. The same is true when you scale up a Twitter account. One in every, say, 50 people is a bit demanding. One in every 100 or so is really demanding. About one in every 750 is a troll/sleeper troll. When you scale that up to 10,000 followers, that's a lot of demanding, narky people. It's easier for me if I just give them what they want, rather than do battle with all the stroppy ones. I feed the odd troll, but other than that, Twitter's more fun now.

Michael  – (23 July 2010 at 11:02)  

Hi Rebecca,

Well, now it makes sense! How very well explained... now I understand the 'Social Oomph' tool which I've seen referred to under your name. I did wonder whether you were an automaton living on caffeine on drip as the quotations etc ticked away through the night!

I can only half-imagine what it's like to have that many followers that you pick up the "odd troll" and have "demanding narky people" following you but I guess there are allsorts in the world.

Keep up the good work!

Rebecca Woodhead  – (26 July 2010 at 10:35)  

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the comment. Ah... those darned trolls! It's pretty easy to predict when they'll happen, but I always forget that until afterwards. Trolls happen every time I:

a/ look in danger of winning an award or being placed in a contest,

b/ hit a major milestone (something is published, someone famous recommends me, or I'm about to hit x-number of followers).

The other trolls have very specific reasons. If you look them up (google, blogs etc), they're people who've failed at something I've succeeded at - or they want to do something I do, but they're too scared.

It's not me-specific, you can try this for any troll. The classic Stephen Fry troll, for instance (fascinated by them as they are particularly awful) comes onto Twitter just to talk to Fry. All their initial tweets are worshipful of his Fryness. Suddenly, they throw their dolly out the pram with demands that he follow them or else. When he doesn't, they start trolling him. It happens daily. He's so fed up with it now that he avoids reading his tweets or blog comments. :(

I think trolling is cure-able. I've actually made friends with some of my ex-trolls, as they had the courage to explain themselves, apologise, and move on. This is my take on trolls and why they happen:

Social Oomph protects you from trolls. If I fully automated the system I'd be tickety-boo, but I like chatting - and that's where the trolls get me. In my experience, Social Oomph actually reduces troll activity. However, it also increases your follower numbers. When your follower numbers increase, you become a bit of a troll magnet. I think it pretty much evens out. There are plenty of people with 10,000 followers who have way more trolls than me, so I'm happy. :)

I've tried various tools for various reasons, but this one I could NOT do without. The professional version is a million times better than the free one. I use income from My Likes (the black square banner in the right sidebar) to pay for it, so it doesn't cost me anything. Actually, my income from MyLikes covers the cost of Social Oomph professional version and still leaves me with a few quid spare every month.

Babbling now, so I'll leave it there. Thanks for the comment. Feel free to try out Social Oomph. If you click the banner on this blog, you can get a free trial of the professional version - some of the best features aren't included, but some of them are. It gives you an idea of what you can get if you upgrade. Trying it out doesn't tie you in to anything either, which is fab if you're just curious.


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