I was recently asked by a colleague to explain how I use Twitter, whether people reply to appeals for help/contributions, what I’ve learned along the way and how the BBC should use Twitter.
I use Twitter quite a bit. I follow a couple of hundred people who I care about enough to want to know what they’re doing and thinking. Many are good friends while some are people I’m interested in getting to know better.
Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.
More people follow me on Twitter than subscribe to my blog feed (perhaps I’m more interesting when I’m less verbose?) and I mainly use it to share what I’m up to, and sometimes use it to ask for help or advice. Some examples are more serious than others. At the silly end, I once asked Twitter whether any English word rhymes with ‘Gareth’ and got a staggering number of replies, which I collated here. Slightly trivial perhaps but it pleased me no end. More recently, I asked what people thought about O2 as an ISP, because I was considering switching from PlusNet. The results were very useful to me but I was particularly impressed that someone at PlusNet was keeping an eye on people complaining about their service and asked me if I needed help. I’d never have thought to find or follow PlusNet on Twitter but they didn’t need me to; PlusNet keep an eye out for the people they most need to start conversations with directly.
Twitter is, for me, a lot like a highly conversational, lightweight and highly interconnected blog. I don’t think we need additional guidelines or rules for individual BBC employees using it, since the existing ones (here, here and here) are perfectly sufficient.
In terms of how the BBC can use Twitter to support its output, I’d say it only really works when we treat it as a properly conversational tool, not as another place to spew automated feeds. As with blogging, the effective corporate use of Twitter won’t necessarily look very dissimilar to an effective personal use of it. Big Cat Live was done quite well because the team didn’t treat Twitter as a broadcast. They paid attention to people talking back to them and engaged in conversation, answering questions.
This is the year of Twitter going properly mainstream, answering lot of big names have started using it. John Cleese, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, Robert Llewellyn and Neil Gaiman are all excellent. Even Britney is on Twitter and her team has done much to improve the transparency of their act since they started.
All of this celebrity interest comes at a cost. The press have started paying attention recently, though (as with blogging a few years ago) they still don’t quite ‘get it’ and there’s plenty of scorn. Matt Sandy and Ian Gallagher at the Mail (‘How boring: Celebrities sign up to Twitter to reveal the most mundane aspect of their lives’), Bryony Gordon at the Telegraph (‘Twittering is for twits with nothing better to do’) and Nick Curtis at the Evening Standard (‘Is Twitter the new Facebook?’) have all missed the point in quite a big way. (Paul Carr, writing at the Guardian, made an amusing and constructive response to that last one). Of course Twitter is full of trivia and inanity but when you’re following people you find interesting, sharing the trivia and small moments in their lives is anything but dull.