Just prior to the 2009 PASS Summit I posted about giving Twitter a try, and thought I’d report back on some thoughts after having tried it off and on for a couple months. I went into it biased, thinking it made sense for events and situations where the ability to reach a group quickly made sense, but that otherwise it wasn’t a good use of my time. So the question is, did I change my mind?
I started by reading The Twitter Book ($11 @ Amazon) to make sure I knew the basics (for which Jack Corbett made fun of me for ordering!). Worth getting if you’re starting out, though you can find most of it online for free as well, just not packaged as well. Based on that, I installed Tweetdeck (for desktop) and TwitterBerry (for BlackBerry). Both easy enough to install and use, both are free. Having a UI is key, dealing with Twitter via just SMS would be a pain.
I set up a Twitter account (@sqlandy) and added (followed) a few people just to get a feel for what was going on. I also started tracking the #sqlpass hash tag. If you’re not using Twitter, a hashtag is a way to see all conversations related to that tag rather than following the posts of individuals.
Right away I found that if I left Tweetdeck running it default configuration it was annoying, a little chirp each time anyone I was following tweeted. Turned that off, tried to look at it for 15 minutes a day in one or two chunks. It’s an interesting but noisy mix:
- SQL comments and questions
- Off topic water cooler type posts (Someone is going to the store)
- Notifications (blog posts posted, etc)
- Rants or worse!
I’ve heard a couple main reasons why everyone should use Twitter; being able to post a question to the collective, and for the water cooler conversations. I’ve got some thoughts on each.
On the technical side, there were definitely times I saw a question asked and answered, and probably far quicker than if it had been posted to a forum. The part that keeps it reasonably sane is that questions are posted by people rather than a group/list, which means if they ask questions that could have been answered with a search they will probably end up being un-followed by most. It doesn’t cost much to post a question (140 characters!) and at worst you don’t get an answer.
One of my objections to this approach has been that the answers were mostly lost compared to asking and answering in a forum, but that has changed now that Google is indexing Twitter. For most people without a solid network of SQL people following them I imagine forums remain the better option because more people will see the question. Some value there, my call is interesting, useful, but not compelling. Would I post a question there? If stuck and time sensitive, sure, but for routine questions I would probably stick with the conventional approach.
On the water cooler side it was interesting to get a view into the day of many people I know. Interesting, but not that interesting. I see the attraction for those that work remotely, because we all need some human interaction to stay sane and connected. To a lesser degree most DBA’s work solo, so it’s nice to be able to chat with peers, but to me that only makes sense if it’s about a professional topic. If it’s about sports, weather, or whatever, the person on the other side of the cube is as human as anyone!
At the 2009 PASS Summit I found Twitter to be useful as expected. I could see when people were arriving at the airport, information on session changes, even find out where groups of people were headed for dinner or after dinner entertainment. Thursday night of the Summit I posted plans to find something new for dinner and invited people to join me, wound up with an amazingly eclectic group consisting of some people I knew and some I met for the first time.
The other part of the Summit on Twitter was watching the live blogging during the keynotes (and some sessions). When the server fans kicked on during a keynote the chatter on Twitter was amusing and a way to share the experience without a thousand people turning to chat to their neighbor. Of course I was there, not sure it it would be as interesting if not present. Fun, but maybe distracting too. For the most part I was typing longer notes to post here, so the only time I turned to Twitter was during breaks (or when the speaker was just not interesting, sorry).
I find a lot of value in networking, so I’ve tried to watch how it can be done on Twitter. The best example is event based, the chance to meet and/or find people at the same event. I see people trying to build their follower list and certainly it’s interesting to be able to reach a wide audience, but given a choice I’d much rather make the deeper and more persistent connection that LinkedIn provides. If someone sees me on Twitter I want to send them to LinkedIn, not do a blog post and send them to Twitter.
Now that I’ve moved to this new blog and reworked my brand, I’m also using a new feature of Feedburner to post notifications of blog posts to Twitter. From a pure marketing perspective it’s another place to advertise as it were, and it’s interesting because in terms of behavior people are far more likely to forward (retweet) a message on Twitter than they would if popped up in their feed reader.
I also see that many of the comments posted on Twitter are much less formal than you would find on a blog. More direct, occasionally off color, sometimes worse. That didn’t matter much in the past because it didn’t come up in a basic web search – but now it does. Everyone gets to decide their own comfort level on privacy and free speech, for me I’m always aware that stuff posted lasts forever, so I have to live with the consequences, and that makes me more conservative about what I post.
Here’s my wrap up of what I think on Twitter:
- It makes sense to set up account and know how to use it, and to install tools to help
- Follow enough people that if anything comes up in your area of interest you’ll see it, but depend on hash tags to get a more focused and less noisy view over time
- Nothing wrong with posting questions, but don’t forget the more conventional places either
- Some people are more social in a water cooler way than others. If the water cooler chat interests you, Twitter may be a good fit. For me, I enjoy a long lunch or coffee chat more than water cooler. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a few minutes of back and forth fun at times, but it’s not what drives me.
- Absolutely useful at events….if there are enough people using it
- You can “be” on Twitter and not do much without much in the way of negative consequences. No doubt that if you tweet and retweet a dozen times a day you’ll grow your list of followers and earn some street cred among the tweeters – but you don’t have to, just as much as you don’t have to post in forums to find value in reading them
- Remember that posts aren’t anonymous and ARE searchable – up to you from there!
So, did I give Twitter a fair chance? Did I overcome my bias? Have to say I’m not sure. I’ll continue to look in from time to time, and maybe I just need to see someone using it in a way that either fits my style, or opens my eyes to a way that it could be more useful to me. For now it’s a lesser tool in the networking toolbox, and we’ll see if it makes a difference on the marketing side.