In nearly every corner of my blogging universe, someone is excited about Twitter. Other organizations & leadership bloggers, social media experts, branding experts, and even my info junkie friends are all finding something useful in the opportunity to share information in the super-condensed form of 140 characters.
We think that Twitter is a tool for sharing random stuff that’s popped into our attention, for establishing & extending our online presence, and for directing people to great posts, interesting sites, and provocative information. And it is all of that. But Twitter also offers us something more, something very personal , as I’ve only just discovered.
A few days ago, I got a sweet little tweet from a colleague I rarely see, someone I’ve known since graduate school, who is struggling to start up a new consulting business. We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a few months, with him tweeting about client meetings and business ideas and me tweeting about blog posts, provocative news, and the occasional whimsical insight. After one of of my more intellectual tweets, my colleague sent me this dm:
I’m hanging on, barely. “Following you” helps. Every tweet reminds me who you think I am, then I remember myself.
Reminding you of yourself?
Who knew that my intermittent tweets were having that kind of effect? But thinking over my own early research on identity, identity salience, courage, and advocacy within organizations, the influence of Twitter starts to make sense.
Here’s how: When we get tweeted, our attention is tapped and directed at the same time. Each tweet is not just a message, but also is a message to a certain kind of person … the insatiable intellectual who’d be captivated by this research note, the aesthete who trolls Flickr for random beauty, the early adopter who’d want to know about this site yesterday, the curmudgeon who’d snort at this graph, or the old friend who I know harbors an affection for hedgehogs (the I. Berlin kind of hedgehog ).
As the social scientist in me would explain:
Each tweet that we receive carries with it the possibility that it might “authenticate” who we think we are. That is, tweets can reinforce a certain sense of ourselves. Not only can our own tweets present us the way we’d like to be seen , but other people’s Tweets can trigger a certain part of our identity and keep that identity salient. Tweets can affirm for us how others see us, and tweets can even confirm for us (a part of) how we see ourselves. All of these are psychological processes that help to sustain our self concepts and that also help us to move towards the person we want to become.
You can use Twitter thoughtfully…
Assuming that you’ve chosen to use Twitter to follow people who inspire you, or intrigue you, or support you, or have something to teach you, or have something in common with you, chances are that several times a day, you’ll get a tweet that nudges at your sense of who you are and who you want to be.
- Do you have one of those little Twirl or TweetDeck or other Twitter apps open on your desktop, down there on the bottom of your active workspace?
- When you hear a tweet, do you glance over for a quick look?
- Do you see a friend or colleague whose work inspires you?
- Do you remember what is is about them, that makes them someone you follow?
- Then, can you remember what it is about you that makes you interested?
…. so that Twitter reminds you and inspires you to keep alive that sense of who you are.
Much of the conversation about Twitter is about sharing information with others , or establishing your personal brand, or driving traffic to your website, or even stoking your ego. Yet deep down, underneath all this 2.0 utility, Twitter has the ability to remind you to see yourself as who you are and who your interests are leading you to become.
Craft your Twitter practice.
It should go without saying, then, that you need to be picky when choosing folks to follow on Twitter. Go ahead and follow the experts in your field, the folks everyone else talks about, the people who regularly discover hidden treasures. But also, be sure to follow people that care about what you really care about, and we remind you of what defines you best.
My advice, in less that 140 characters?
Tweet yourself right. Choose to follow people whose tweets can trigger in you the person you want to be.
Have you had this experience on Twitter, or seen it in action for someone else? Let me know in the comments…