Twitter is for conversation (especially in the workplace)

Julia Angwin writes a Wall Street Journal piece about how to Twitter. The article has good tips for beginners – find interesting people to follow, tweet yourself, share links – but gets one big thing wrong. Angwin writes that twitter is about self-promotion not conversation. Well, it depends.

Even though Twitter cofounder Biz Stone told Julia Angwin that “Twitter is fundamentally a broadcast system”, it’s not really up to Twitter. Early phone companies that thought the telephone would be used for business – for ordering catering and opera tickets. People use tools the way they want, and some people use Twitter for conversation. On the public web, tools like Tweetdeck, which integrate reply search into the user interface, and BackTweet make it easier to discover and participate in conversation.

My personal experience is that people in a variety of of my communities (Boston friends, Austin friends, Bay Area geeks, local netroots, etc) hang out on Twitter. We have intermittent conversations about topics little and big. One of my favorite things about Twitter is sharing everyday trivia with friends who aren’t nearby. It’s part of my social life with people I know in 3d.

So, how to have conversations on Twitter? Follow people you find interesting – people who’s work you like online, people you know from work or life. Don’t just follow big celebrities who won’t be listening to you. Follow people who are interesting and not so famous, who will have attention for conversations. Listen to what they say, and reply when they say something interesting. People can see your replies and answer you back. Voila, a conversation.

Inside organizations, the “social messaging” aspect of the Twitter format is even more pronounced. Mike Gotta maintains that microblogging isn’t a good term for the use of Twitter-like tools in organizations, where it is primarily about conversation. At Socialtext, we’re seeing that Social Signals is being used for questions and answers, link sharing, and work-related status. The format lends itself well to non-interruptive work-related conversation. The privacy of social messaging at work contributes to the conversational nature – people share more in protected spaces.

Broadcast is one use of Twitter, and there are plenty of celebrities and mass media figures who broadcast their thoughts and don’t follow anybody. There are also plenty of people using Twitter conversation as part of their personal and business social fabric – and the mode is about to become more common as Twitter finds its way in the workplace.

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