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.
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 search.twitter.com 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.