Twitter: wake up and smell the coffee: Have a conversation instead

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/04/16 · 2 comments 1 views

in c micro-blogging Twitter,e marketing 101 serving a need

Social conversation is important in business and blogging and Twitter and other micro-blogging tools are supposedly helping the conversation between such as colleagues and/or customers

Nevertheless, some have argued that all this microblogging and chatter is helping us to become less effective

I just got back from a conference. It was a large corporation’s annual IT security, risk and governance conference, restricted to staff and invited experts and vendors from around the world. We all met at a nice conference center located at headquarters to exchange ideas and sell some product if possible. With some of them I had had e-mail contact beforehand, others had commented on my blog once or twice before. However, except for one, I had not met any of them in person previously.

It is nice to have a face attached to a voice, e-mail or tweet style thanks to the conference. Of course, we all know conferences can be great places to mingle and chat with people about all kinds of important things. In turn, socializing during coffee breaks helps foster collaboration, networking, and cross-fertilization.

On my way back home last night I was trying to reflect about the conference. In particular, why the conversations had been so much better than just getting e-mails and how meeting these experts in person might help improve future e-mail exchanges?

Being connected or disconnected

We all communicate using different modes for doing so. Whilst our ancestors may have used smoke signals, Alexander Graham Bell together with his assistant Watson invented the telephone that changed the way we stayed in touch with our loved ones.

In 1989, Ohio University established a relay between CompuServe and the Internet. Since then, the Internet (academics, government agencies, etc.) and proprietary networks such as CompuServe (later taken over by AOL) became linked and opened themselves up.

These days, Instant Messaging has already become a bit outdated and been replaced by microblogging using Twitter or other similar technology.

As a user of these tools, you are required to use to criteria for deciding about unplugging yourself from cyberspace by:

a) understanding that there is a life beyond Twitter and social networking (e.g., go and cook dinner for your friends for a change and than take in a movie together), AND

b) one needs to take a break from time to time to recharge one’s batteries

Jeremiah did just that:

Jeremiah jowyang Going offline for a while see you soon (April 9, 2008)

So what is a good conversation?

Therefore, whilst riding home and reflecting about e-mail and social media I began formulating the question:

– do these technologies improve the level,

– depth or accuracy

of our conversations. Put differently, do the add quality or quantity?

We can use e-mail, instant messaging, mobile phones, SMS, microblogging (e.g., Twitter) and more to communicate with each other. However, does it really improve the quality of our conversations or social relationships?

I rediscovered and you, of course, know this as well, communication is both verbal and non-verbal (gestures, emotions, face expressions, etc.). In fact, sometimes the non-verbal communication may tell you more about the person’s feelings or possible resistance toward an idea you have aired than what he or she says.
Naturally, to communicate your ideas or feelings to another person, you need to have a conversation with another human being. During a conversation, you exchange ideas, expressions and opinions or as defined by:

Merriam-Webster – conversation defined: oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas

Nevertheless, in the blogosphere, people seem to have a somewhat different understanding. For instance, 2007-05-03 – Om Baghel Define conversation!!! attempts to define the term here:

“Conversation is exchange of same vocabulary (not just words but expressions, feelings, emotions and expectations as well). So to carry out conversations means to understand each other; It is essential to carry out same vocabulary and have same system of logic otherwise there will be misconceptions more than once.”

Of course, this definition is not accurate looking at the Merriam-Webster definition as well as our points we raised just above. Often we have conversations, where somebody says yes, when in fact the person wants to reflect more about your idea, before making a decision. As well, in the multinational firm two colleagues may communicate with each other in English. Nevertheless, one person’s mother tongue may be Japanese and the other’s may be French. Hence, their English vocabularies may differ much. As well, understanding each other may not be a requirement for having a great conversation – go to a conference to find out :-)

In a scenario as described above, coffee breaks permitting for informal chats can do wonders for exchanging ideas and better understanding.

Does Twitter allow one for having a conversation?

So having defined what a conversation is, at least according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, can Twitter contribute here?

Twitter allows one to follow others and thereby being informed via tweets, what they are doing throughout the workday.

The greatest obstacle to good conversations mediated by such tools/software is the amount of time you have. For instance, being a follower of:

Michael Arrington TechCrunch

total time on taxes: 3 hours, start to finish

takes time. He may write 20 or more tweets every day. Imagine you follow another 10 people that post as much as TechCrunch. Is your employer happy about your spending time to browse through these tweets to find the gems? In addition, as a freelancer, do you have the time to look through tweets or should you spend more time playing with your kids instead after your workday is finally over?

In the context here, it is important to be clear, getting TechCrunch’s feed does not imply I have a conversation with him.

Nevertheless, I can receive tweets throughout the day with sometimes-great URLs embedded in the message. In addition, I am “learning” what he is doing throughout the business day. Sometimes TechCrunch or any Twitter user may send a personal message via Twitter starting it with an @ and the username, such as:

@garyvee just bought my copy, even though I stand by my statement that you are secretly evil

However, sending such messages back and forth does not seem the ideal instrument or tool to have conversations. Nonetheless, if one has met TechCrunch or anybody else before and had a conversation, exchanging sound bites or tweets via Twitter can contribute to one’s work and help stay in touch with these people.

Blog comments and conversations – dream on

One of the issues social media experts raise is that the number of comments written on a blog indicates how active readers are when it comes to participating in the conversation.

However, we would caution you using that metric alone. If you leave a comment on my blog, it is your response regarding one of my posts. However, unless I respond to you again, I am not sure if we have even some kind of communication going. Instead, it may just be the exchange of ideas and so on.

Furthermore, if I respond to you and you respond back again we still do not have a ‘real’ conversation in the classical sense. In fact, we may discover that switching the ‘conversation’ to another channel is better. This is what happened to Eric and me; we took it off the blog and started e-mailing.

There is another important distinction between commenting on a blog post and having a conversation. In the latter, we try to stay on topic. If we go off-topic, we may announce it and explain to the other individual(s) participating in the conversation why we are doing this. If we fail to do this, they might wonder or even ask why we are going off topic.

Daily Me – Benchmarking Arianna Huffington

In conclusion, a comment on a blog is just a reader having written down some less or more thoughtful material. Even if the blogger responds, the reader and blogger are still far off from having a conversation, as we generally understand it.

Bottom Line

Neither commenting on blog posts, using micro-blogging with Twitter or e-mailing can replace a conversation between two people. Neither tweets nor e-mails are as rich as face-to-face conversations.

However, these tools are not intended to replace conversations. Instead, we use them as one other tool as we have done with the phone since birth. The latter provides another way of staying in touch. It does not attempt to replace the need for having a conversation with that person from time-to-time to stay close or keep in touch.

I believe the crucial thing is to neither become addicted nor waste too much time with any of these tools. The main reason for going to work is not being busy on the phone or answering e-mail. Instead, it is all about getting one’s job done, such as clinching a sale or finishing writing this paper.

For me, all these tools are not even coming close in providing me with the richness of information that I get by meeting people in person and having a cup of coffee with them. In turn, I have started to do as follows during my 8-hour workday:

– limit sending of tweets to my followers to about 3-6 each day (plus reading other people’s tweets and following their links they provide) – means spending about 20 minutes each day on Twitter,

– limit answering of e-mails to early morning, mid-day and evening, about 30 minutes each day in total,

– reading newsletters and blog posts I got throughout the day via e-mail to 30 minutes each day, AND

– keeping phone calls to one hour each working day.

In addition, no, I do not use instant messaging anymore really… I once did but there is not enough time during my workday.

Following these guidelines, I still spend about 2.5 hours on communicating each workday, ignoring any meetings I might have on top of that.

Be careful, social media can really take away too much time unless you limit your intake by becoming very disciplined and discriminating. The latter means no longer following everybody that follows you, for instance. How much can you get out of following 500 people and having 300 follow you? Are you getting any work done or how about your social life? Be forewarned.


In 1992, CERN released the WWW (World Wide Web) graphics-based software that later led to such browsers as Netscape and Microsoft Explorer.

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