Thursday, 5 February 2009

The tweeting elite

The explosion in commentary and coverage of the Twitter phenomenon is great for the fledgling website. As technology and media commentators alike continue to debate how the website can ever make money, the increase in users is testament to its popularity as a social media tool, regardless of whether it is turning a profit or not.

But one thing I have noticed, which has coincided with Twitter's rising star, is a wiff of twitter elitism. In the spirit of Charlie Brooker's (@CharltonBrooker) recent new media dictionary, we'll call this tweetism.

Tweeitsm can be defined as a certain level of snobbery about who is joining Twitter, and most importantly, the quality of their Tweets. This could be a reaction to celebrities jumping on the band wagon (see here for a great summary of influential Welsh Twitter users). In line with this, my first inckling this was happening was when, sat at my desk 10 days ago with Twhirl pinging away in the background, Jonathan Ross (@wossy) informed his 60, 047 followers disgraced comedian and fellow BBC exile Russell Brand (@rustyrockets) would be joining Twitter. Keen to see how this would pan out (some might call it schadenfreude), I signed up to the @rustyrockets fan club. Within 10 minutes, Brand had almost 10,000 followers. He now has 21, 218.

And what were his first words into this most trendy of new media spaces? "I have come to join you please be gentle with me, I have been feeling vulnerable...yet implausibly, sexy." Typical Brand, not many surprises there. But some of the tweets in reply, on my feed at least, expressed a cyncism about what people like Brand could bring to the forum, and, I felt, an inherent assumption about what Twitter should be about. That assumption was twitter was for those 'in the know' on subjects relating to new media, and not much else.

Firstly, I agree with the notion of good Twitter etiquette. And I will freely admit the majority of the 113 people I follow are in some way linked to journalism. This is not something I should, or will, apologise for; social media forums are primarily platforms for creating groups of shared interests. But it got me thinking about what we, as journalists, are using Twitter for. Is it just a case of journalists tweeting at other journalists about all things, well, journalism? If so, this is a very closed space.

If the purpose of forums like Twitter is to network, then this should be extended beyond our own colleagues, and could provide great opportunities for communication with your audience and public. In fact, this is what Jonathon Ross is doing by "following back" and engaging with a huge proportion of the people who follow him. If Twitter continues to grow at its current rate, and you get the readers of, say, a regional paper to contact their district reporter in this manner it could build up a much more personal service. Applications such as TwitterLocal can help to facilitate this.

Typing "business card twitter" into the site's search function brings up a whole host of conversations about whether it's appropriate to give your Twitter address out to clients etc. Some are forging ahead and doing so (picture taken from here). I say yes- it's another way to connect to your community- plus it can help combat the increasingly tight time constraints journalists are under.

Of course journalists will be early adopters for this kind of technology, and I would be interested to know whether others are in fact connecting with "client" commuities for business purposes. But I look forward to a time where my network at least, isn't quite so inward looking. Tweetism is on its way out.

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