Blocking out the noise


Being on twitter during the day is sometimes like having a megaphone in your office, sending messages to you at random times. Sometimes, it’s useful because the megaphone broadcasts stuff you want to hear or the timing is right. Other times, it’s just white noise. It’s still better noise than what I hear milling around the office, but the disconnect makes me wish my friends were closer and yearn for connections that aren’t here.

I’m going to attempt this week to confine my daytime tweeting — minus any posts I schedule ahead of time — to 31 minutes of a lunch period and to after 4pm. I realize things happen all of the time, but being so plugged in sometimes has thrown me off in ways I’m not sure it’s cool to admit.

For me, social media provides a link to the world in ways it always has. I’ve always lived far from friends and family, so the social web has brought them closer.

I’ve just found myself with a lot to say, lots of things on the stove and an ability to make all the things at once. All of the apps you can install in your browser to stop you from checking those things just annoy me, but since I use different machines at work than at home, it might not be a bad idea to go back to using them.

We’ll see how the week goes.

On paying to speak at conferences & processing audience evaluations

The past two years, I’ve done more conferences than I ever before. I’ve already topped my previous year’s output in half a year — 5 — and there’s still half a year to go. Did I also mention I’m doing my own conference this year?!

The catalyst for this post came from a talk a few weeks ago, but this idea has been swirling in my head for a while. I began sharing my insights and speaking at higher ed web conferences because I like talking and think I have unique insights that can help others. I’ve been speaking a long time, I’m pretty good at it but there are a lot of constraints to my speaking style that can get me into trouble if I’m not care.

For starters, I adlib heavily. I stopped writing prepared speeches in high school, because short of being like a Congressman I once worked for and printing my remarks in HUGE font on lots of pieces of paper like cue cards, I just speak too fast to keep up with the thoughts. Plus, I can usually read a crowd when it’s small and if I’m losing the audience during a talk, I want to figure out why before waiting for the evaluations. I once had a talk where I adapted the talk in mid-presentation because after asking a few cursory questions it was clear the audience wasn’t going to be prepared for what I had to deliver.

Now that I’m curating my own conference, I’m learning how the other half lives. You bring people who you know, folks you’ve seen speak before and like to come to events when you’re on a shoestring and trying to make sure you can pull an event off. When you’re an emergent speaker in your industry working up the ranks to “respected leader in your field,” it feels really nice for people to recognize you. Accepted topics to conferences are a good feeling, but too much of a good thing means people start asking for you to come to more events than you can handle and you have to choose.

If there are constraints that prevent you from doing all the things, this might turn out to be easier. For people (like me) without those inherent barriers besides the obvious time & money things, it’s tempting to want to go everywhere. I resolved I’d stop doing that this year, but I came up with another reason to stop after receiving feedback from an event I spoke at recently.

I went into it being a bit skittish and not being entirely sure that what I had to say would work for the audience. But I assumed it would be a multiple track event, so people would just show up if they were interested. Instead, it was a single track situation and that meant there would be people in the room to listen to a talk that simply wasn’t written for them.

Like an actor who doesn’t want to read the reviews, I tend to enjoy the negative feedback because it helps me prepare better, even if there are no surprises. In the aforementioned situation, I knew precisely what was wrong with the talk and I was just hoping to get out of it alive. The fact that the overwhelming majority of folks liked it, just made me happy, but I didn’t walk away believing my own hype.

I think when writing evaluations, remember that you want to give the most helpful advice you can if you’re going to give advice at all. I think I tend to be harder on speakers being paid than those are volunteering their time, but planning my own event has helped me get a better sense of how difficult — even when you have a lot of speakers — to get the right balance to match your event content with what people are hoping to get from it.

From my own experience, I will be a lot more discerning in the future about where I speak and why. I have a preference in terms of the types of crowds I speak to, what topics I like to talk about and where I think I offer the most value to people who’ll benefit from what I’m sharing.

So you wanna be a twitter superstar?

So from time to time, someone I know in real life who isn’t big into social media will join Twitter. This usually means they’ll ask me where they should start getting into Twitter. I could link them to some random social media huckster giving practical advice about to get into Twitter, but I’ve never found anything that’s as good for casual users.

I can’t imagine starting Twitter from scratch these days. I think a lot though about being a relatively early adopter that felt late to the game when it comes to most social platforms, because I generally take on the role of “bemused skeptic” when a new social tool or platform gets released. I had three twitter accounts before settling on the one I have now, so despite being all-in on twitter these days, I didn’t start there.

I’ve decided to write my own “Beginners introduction to twitter for people who have real jobs and can’t actually afford to spend all day on the internet tweeting & facebooking

Spoiler alert. This won’t be a very long list. So again, WELCOME TO TWITTER. You’re probably wondering where to start right? Maybe you should just start sending replies to people or tweeting at them? Well, you could. But chances are, you want to lie low. Here are some pointers for getting your feet wet on twitter:

1. Start slow. Think of twitter as showing up to a party where you were invited and maybe you know a friend of a friend who is gonna be there. Chances are, once you arrive you’re gonna find other people who you know, but you need to start off small. Follow a few publications, brands & personalities you know already. Maybe you have a good friend on twitter too? Don’t follow them at first, unless you all like the same stuff. If they’re anything like me, their noise will make your feed unbearable and you might think to yourself, “I can see this on Facebook already,” but this depends on the kinds of friends you have.

2. Decide how you want to use it. Everyone has different aims. If you’d like to find other people who watch Scandal on Thursday nights, Twitter is a good bet.

If you’re seeking out folks who are in your industry and want to communicate with them, it’s also a good place to see out those people. There are service industry chats centered around a particular topic. Far too numerous to mention here, but one example is #strategycar, which was conceived by some web strategists who wanted to talk once a week. There’s a Q&A. Chances are, your industry, field or interest has conversations like that happening too.

Maybe you just want to use Twitter to follow and read what people are talking about — like the newspaper of social — and not engage much. That’ a legitimate purpose too.

It’s your Twitter feed, so it’s up to you. Plus you can change your mind at any point.

3. Public or private? Twitter gives you the option to make your feed private. Which basically means you can do all of the normal stuff you’d do on twitter, except only people you approve can follow your tweets. This is totally up to you. The only real downside to a private feed is people can’t just happen upon you, find your tweets and start following you because your tweets won’t show up on any public timelines. This is fine if you know you’re just using twitter as a place to follow or have specific sensitivity reasons for not wanting your feed out there, but I’d strongly recommend starting off public unless you have a good reason not to.

4. Watch & Learn. Other people are out there and the best way to learn is to watch they engage. There’s no real “wrong way” to use twitter, just good ways and better ways. Ok, there are some bad ways. In general, having a feed full of replies that you send to major brands who’ll probably never respond makes you look silly. But save for that, there are so many different ways you can use your twitter account.

Say you had a problem with an airline and you’re delayed or something is happening and you’re not getting answers? In the old days, you’d just grump about it and maybe the dude at the television station — remember those old customer advocates? — would raise hell on your behalf. Now? That’s twitter and the brands are listening.

Not just for bad stuff. My friend Joel has purchased ten pairs of glasses from online eyeglasses store Warby Parker. After he bought his tenth pair, they sent him a personal video saying thanks.
Does Lenscrafters do that?

You have quite a bit of power with your spiffy new Twitter account. Use it wisely!

5. How often should I tweet? Will people stop following me? How do I get followers?

Ok, one at a time sport. On frequency, it’s up to you. Initially, if you don’t have many people to tweet with or to, you won’t tweet much. If you connect another social media tool, like Instagram (which is another story) to your twitter feed, people can follow those updates, but I wouldn’t advise it at first. Just save twitter for sharing those things you want people to see or stuff that might connect.

People follow & unfollow for reasons that cannot be explained. In general, you follow people are interesting. But I have a friend who had a dog whose twitter profile (yes, she had one for him) had more followers than both & I combined. She found a community of similarly minded people and they’ve grown closer as a result. If this is your bag, you’ll find it by seeking these folks out.

Use twitter search & Topsy to find out what folks are tweeting about. It’s not a race, though. Enjoy yourself and it won’t matter how many followers you have.

Ok, that’s great. I NEED MORE HELP!

A year ago or so, Ma’ayan Plaut got together a bunch of us and we did something called Twit Bootcamp, for people who were new to twitter. The site is still up, so you should check out the lessons as it’s really a great way to get into using twitter if you’re a newcomer.