I had a great time at the CREATE South conference. I'm a little late in posting about it, but I have a bunch of thoughts that have been rattling around, and I think they're worth sharing.
First of all, the conference was truly excellent. There were two very intelligent keynote speakers, and an amazingly wide variety of session speakers. I thoroughly enjoyed going from a presentation on Twitter to a presentation on Stencil Art using carbon paper, and scraps of wood. It truly made me think about creativity, and how it applies in the online and offline world. The food was fantastic as well.
I was invited to participate in a panel titled "From the web, to real life, and back again". This is a topic I find fascinating, and the audience participation was excellent. We talked about creating online communities that mirror offline ones, and the difficulties in doing that. We talked about the sense of connection you get from meeting a person in "Real Life" that still cannot be duplicated online. We even had Raymond from News2 there to talk about how they have used Social Media to interact with the local community both to disseminate and gather news. Paul Reynolds made some excellent points about the parallels between what he does on Twitter and what his father did selling windows.
All of this talk, along with some of the other presentations I attended helped me solidify some thoughts I've been having for a while, and helped me articulate some of my problems with "Social Media Experts" these days. For a while now I've been bothered by people who talk about the "right" and "wrong" ways to use sites like Twitter. From what I remember, when I signed up for Twitter, there was no list of rules or requirements for using the site. Just a text field which I could type up to 140 characters into, and a simple mechanism for me to follow other people's updates.
It is an incredibly simple tool, and because of that simplicity, there are a thousand ways to use it. Yet, I constantly hear the "rules of Twitter" being espoused. Here are a few you might have run across:
- You must follow everyone who follows you
- Don't mass follow thousands of people right away
- Don't constantly promote your blog or products
- Give people insight into who you are
- Don't auto-DM people who follow you
All of these "rules" make a lot of assumptions that you and the people you interact with on Twitter might not fit. I think we do people a disservice by making blanket statements, and not educating them. Twitter is just a new communication tool, it is not some whole new paradigm, and we make it seem scary and mysterious by giving it all these "rules". Instead, help people correlate it to things they already understand, and then they can make their own decisions. Here are the above "rules" rewritten:
- Mass following thousands of people generates lots of email, and can come across as SPAM
- An auto-DM is kind of like sending someone a form letter, not very personal
- Constantly promoting your products can make you seem like an infomercial spokesperson
- If you want people to feel like they're connecting with you personally, you should probably follow them back and share some personal details about yourself.
Who is to say what will work for everyone? Oxi-clean seems to be successful with their infomercials, even though that shouting guy drives me crazy. Oprah and Ashton (who were discussed a lot at CREATE South), exist in a totally different world than the rest of us, and trying to connect personally with their followers probably isn't feasible. Form letters aren't terribly personal, but they can be informative if done properly, and some might say they are better than nothing (others disagree).
We are past the point where the Twitter community is homogeneous enough that we can make rules. We can only educate, and if that doesn't work, unfollow.