Someone recently asked my advice about Twitter, since BusinessWeek magazine just named me one of their “20 to follow” for entrepreneurs. I'm not a Twitter expert and don't claim I'm one to emulate, but here are my personal thoughts on how I use Twitter:
Twitter is a P.A. system
Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and mailing lists are all a P.A. system. (Remember P.A. stands for “Public Address”.)
Speaking through them is like stepping up to a microphone, on a stage, in front of 10,000 people. What can I say that's worth saying to 10,000 people? It has to be something that most of those 10,000 unique individuals will find interesting.
I try not to let that paralyze me into thinking that everything I say has to be super-important. Occasionally I light-heartedly post something cute or funny. Nobody wants to be around someone who's too heavy and profound all the time.
Depends on the size of the room
Musicians know that you perform differently to 5 people than 5000. If there are only 5 people in the room, you can take advantage of the intimacy to be more casual.
If I'm hanging in my living room with 5 friends, it wouldn't be strange for me to say to them, “I've been tired all day. My foot hurts.” That's just regular conversation with friends. But I wouldn't say that to 10,000 people.
Reversing it: With a few of my best friends I actually do enjoy hearing the tiny details of their day. I want to know that they're feeling sick, or just had the best Chinese food, or missed a flight.
Because of this, I have two profiles on Twitter and Facebook. One public, for anyone. One private, only for 20 close friends. I highly recommend this.
These social media tools have double use, so if you're only using them super-publicly, adding tons of “friends” you don't know, you might be surprised how Twitter/Facebook feel completely different when you're only following a few real friends. Then you really can enjoy sharing and hearing about the tiny things that shape our days.
Ask interesting questions.
Ask good questions that you think people will enjoy answering creatively and succinctly. Examples:
- “Complete: I need more ___ and less ___.”
- “What comes first: thoughts or feelings?”
- “What's the opposite of music?”
I've been fascinated with the amazing responses that come back from people. Surprisingly insightful, creative, or funny.
(When I asked, “What's the opposite of music?”, 200 people answered with interesting variations on chaos, silence and nothing. But then came my favorite answer: “Business.”)
It's like songwriting. Be artistic.
Think about songwriting or poetry: You've got something you want to express, but instead of just spewing it out bluntly, you choose to do it artistically within certain limitations. Like fitting an idea into 12 syllables, where the last word needs to rhyme with “train”.
Instead of telling every detail, you use a few key words that give the gist, then leave the rest open to the listener's imagination.
Sometimes, like a songwriter, I feel like documenting or expressing something big that happened to me, but don't feel like writing an article about the whole story. So I compress it into an intriguing short post, letting imagination fill in the details.
For example, when my only one-night-stand told me a year later that she was briefly pregnant (because of me), and I was wrestling with the thoughts and emotions behind that, I felt the need to share just: “Found out I was a dad for 10 weeks.”
- “Came to NYC for a wedding. Decided to stay. Cancelled return flight. Found a place & signed a 1-year lease. Now buying clothes.”
- “Walking in NYC. Feet, sandals, and jeans covered in mud from a festival in central England where I was this morning.”
- “Rented a car at the airport. Accidently drove it off a bridge into a creek. Car totaled. I'm fine. Shoulda paid the $8/day insurance. Damn.”
Like any songwriter, I'd like to think that my mini-statements are at least entertaining and maybe even inspiring to someone. I enjoy the creative challenge of expressing myself publicly in a succinct and intriguing way.