Before setting off on our journey, I had never touched HTML, I had no idea what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) meant and my writing consisted mainly of reports to management on how to operate legally and efficiently in countries like Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan.
How things have changed in the last couple of years. I can now code basic HTML, I’m painfully aware of the relevance of SEO and I now write pieces that have nothing to do with operating legally in Farflungistan.
Are We Normal?
After reconnecting with friends and family in America, I realize our world of online immersion is not the norm. I use the word “Twitter” in everyday conversation, yet I often get blank stares in return.
As I attempt to explain social media to those unfamiliar, I hear myself speak about virtual connections and conversations with people I’ve never met. And sometimes I wonder whether I’ve lost it.
But I don’t think I have. Let me explain.
How We Use Twitter
The beauty of Twitter is its brevity. 140 characters is all you have to get your message – a “tweet” in Twitter parlance – out to the world.
We developed a community by “following” people who seemed to share similar interests (e.g., travel, food, technology, public diplomacy) and others whose activities interested us (e.g., authors, technologists, other bloggers). Once we follow someone, their updates appear in our Twitter stream (think of a continuous newsreel of 140-character stories). If the person you follow has an interest in you, he/she will follow you in return, thereby establishing the connection.
Although we are connected to a few personal friends, most of our contacts on Twitter are people we’ve never met in person. They come from everywhere – geographically and professionally.
As we pass Twitter 101 with our basic use of it, many of our contacts could be comparatively described as Twitter PhDs. Twitter is a social media tool, and like any tool, it’s how you use it that determines its benefits.
- Status updates: When we’re on the road and faced with limited internet access, we use Twitter to provide quick updates on where we are and what we’re doing. We’ve noticed that in some countries with strict internet controls, Twitter may be the only communication tool that has remains unblocked. Twitter status updates keep family, friends and readers (as well as our Twitter community) apprised of our location…and relative safety.
- Sharing articles and links: We use Twitter to promote our latest blog posts and share other interesting articles we happen to be reading. Everyone else is doing the same, so in about five minutes of scanning updates from Twitter contacts, we can get an overview of the latest articles and happenings in the world of politics, travel, public diplomacy, human rights, technology, social media, etc. A nice feature, but it can be overwhelming at times – so much to read, so little time!
- Conversations and networking: Sometimes we reply to a person’s update and that person responds to our reply. A virtual conversation ensues. Because of the informal nature of Twitter, you can start conversations with people and organizations you might otherwise not have direct access to. In this way, Twitter makes for an impressive – and discontinuous – networking tool.
- Gathering advice: The nature of Twitter has prompted practitioners from every field to use the platform to further establish their expertise. As a result, Twitter’s conversational threads hold a growing store of knowledge. Ask a question on Twitter – regarding just about anything – and depending on your network, you’ll have a slew of answers streaming your way within minutes.
Like any of today’s “social networking” tools, Twitter can be a distraction, and trying to keep apace with it absorbs precious time. There’s just so much going on – conversations, new links to articles, breaking news. And it doesn’t stop, unless you turn away.
Of course, many of the updates and discussions can be irrelevant and it often takes time to sift through it for the gems.
The challenge of separating the wheat from the chaff is nothing new, however.
Turning Virtual into Face-to-Face
My favorite aspect of using social media tools: to convert virtual connections into traditional face-to-face meetings. For example, when I tweeted about being in Brooklyn in last November, Julie (aka, @collazoprojects) saw it and contacted me. We met a few days later.
I have also been chatting more with Leigh (@thefutureisred) and I hope we have an opportunity to meet in person in Argentina this year.
Although much of our lives is online these days, I understand – and appreciate more than ever – that nothing replaces meeting someone in person. As we continue to Twitter along this journey, I look forward to more of these face-to-face conversions.