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Day 13: Community on Twitter? Really?

Building community over Twitter is hard. I have been tweeting now for almost half a month (yeah, well when you’re my age, that’s like dog years) and I am still having a hard time seeing community--oh, I've read people who say it's there--but I haven't seen it. In fact, I feel more like an outsider looking into other people’s fun lives. For instance, a couple of tweeters got engaged the other day and announced it on Twitter. It was really cute and as the congratulations came scrolling in (I almost sent one myself) I had to remind myself--I don’t know these people—at all! I am just a lonely follower who found their names on my Twitter recommended list and thought their picture or their screen name looked nice. As lovely as that is, is it community?  Is it the basis for community? Is it a small glimmer of community shining through a glass darkly?

According to David Hansen, blogger and frequent tweeter, Twitter is made up of “a group of stranger-friends” where we “offer one another mutual support and prayer. We mourn together, seek advice together, and rejoice together. I consider this community.” As much as I yearn for that, I simply don’t see it flourishing in my experiences, each made up of 140 characters.  According to Elizabeth Drescher, author of Tweet if you heart Jesus (and also a twitter “friend”), the power of social media is in the social aspect—not the broadcast aspect. It is when we share with others about our days or our thinking that we build the stepping stones of relationship. While that sounds SO compelling, the closest thing to an “interpersonal conversation” I have had is when someone told me I simply didn’t understand how to use Twitter. Those 140 characters cut me like a virtual knife--but at least he talked to me.

David Hansen asks an interesting question: “is being ‘face-to-face’ really the most important common denominator for community?”  After spending countless Sunday mornings talking to people who I know as well as my formless twitter friends, I would have to say "no", relationship-building is clearly the most important part of building community. When you don’t spend time interacting with one another, whether online or face to face, community won’t work. But, my bottom-line problem is that I haven’t figured out how Twitter works as “interaction”. It seems more hopelessly one-way and broadcast-based than Facebook.

So here I am.  Frustrated and skeptical of those who preach the gospel of ministry and love through Twitter. I want to believe. I really do.  I want to be a Twitter cheerleader, an agent of change, a virtual lover of all things new, but after “following” every person I know in real life and trying to “talk” with my new formless Twitter friends who don’t have a clue who I am, I am tired.  So if you happen to read this and DO feel community on Twitter, please talk to me. Tell me what it takes. Tell me what to do before I become a Twitter drop out.


Day 8: Holding my breath & jumping into a Live Chat

Tuesday night I engaged in my first real time social media event—well the first event I didn’t cower in the corner, hoping I wouldn’t hit the wrong button or have someone yell at me for being stupid. No, this was different.  I am determined to experiment and make mistakes during this 30-day challenge so at 9:00EST on Tuesday I joined the discussion of social media in the church with the #chsom group.

The moderator began with a request for introductions. She seemed nice, so I said “hello”—well, not just hello, but “hello” in a spunky, yet sophisticated way.  Before I could start breathing again, 3 different people welcomed me! I must have done that first part right!

The discussion began and, even though I had a hard time keeping up with some of the conversation and didn’t quite understand some of the abbreviations (IRL took me a few minutes), I started learning things.  I learned how to talk fast in 140 characters.  I learned how to retweet. I learned how use # and @.  Sure, I learned a little about social media and lent, but mostly I became more fluent and confident in the language of the Twitter man. Experimenting can pay off.

I think the best part of hopping into a real-time Tweet chat is that I feel like I know some people.  I got to see some personalities and I am feeling more like I am part of the #chsom club. The weird thing is, that as I lay in bed that night, I thought in tweets. My dreams were filled with conversations—all in 140 characters or less. I woke up with ideas for at least 2 or 3 good tweets to put out there.  As I got out of bed, I couldn’t wait to check my tweetdeck to see what my new friends were doing. 

If you are reading these blogs, I would challenge you to go for it.  Hop in and see what it’s like.  No matter what, you will be smarter than when you started.


Day 7: One Word: TweetDeck


I thought I was in love with Mr. Hashtag. But I have moved on. Sorry #.  My new very best friend is now TweetDeck. Let me share my story.

I have been adding people to follow on Twitter like a crazy woman. I’ve got inspirational preachers who can massage 140 characters like Michelangelo with a tweet brush. I have Ashton Kutcher who shares lovely photos of his life that I love looking at, feeling like I am his close, personal friend. I have social media experts who share blogs and articles of things I tell myself “oh, shoot, I should have written that”. I even have real life friends who I tweet stupid messages to, even though they work in the office 2 doors down.

I’ll be honest. I’m going a little nuts--oh, nuts in a good way. I’m getting kind of hooked on the tweet.  But the problem is I have all these random tweets popping up and it was getting increasingly hard to keep track. Hello TweetDeck.  TweetDeck is “a personal browser for staying in touch”.  More than that, it organizes my tweets.  For instance, I have set up columns for each type of tweet (professional, friends, inspirational)—(FYI, Ashton K. is under “friends”). TweetDeck also helps me track when anyone mentions me or retweets me (I can’t believe I just said that). And the best thing of all, I have it set so that it actually “tweets” like a bird whenever a new tweet comes in.  Today, I listened to chirps all afternoon—best day EVER!!!!!! 

 Clearly, my next challenge is to figure out how to get things done (like my job)  in between tweets. But until I figure that out, I will enjoy my lovely twitterparadise. Thank you TweetDeck. Thank you TweetDeck bird chirps. And thank you Ashton Kutcher.


Day 5: What is my Twitter purpose?

As I begin to try and get twitter organized in this 30-day challenge, I am confronted with a nagging question….what, exactly, is the purpose of Twitter?  The question has arisen as I develop a list of people I want to follow.  My hashtag success pointed me toward social media experts like Social Media Insider. However, my students point me toward celebrities like Ashton Kutcher. The “most popular” list pointed me toward inspirational speakers like Rick Warren & Joyce Meyers. And my writing turns me toward people I know in real life in an effort to build community. The problem is, when I begin following all of these people, I am overwhelmed with tweets and more than a little confused by where I should go or what I should be doing in Tweetland. I had hoped to avoid the bigger questions of purpose and strategy until after I was more skilled at the tools. However, it is becoming clear that the tools won’t work unless you figure out why you want to use them.

Apparently, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is trying to finesse the same question.  In a conference in Munich this weekend (as reported by blogger Chris Crum and tweeted by Social Media Insider) Dorsey claimed Twitter is NOT about social connectivity.  Rather it can be characterized in 3 words: “public, real-time and simplicity”.  Apparently Twitter’s greatest success is in real time news-gathering. (And, might I say, Mr. Doresey, Twitter is the least “simple” thing I have done in a LONG time.)

If news gathering was Twitter’s highest calling, then I would have to say, there must be easier ways to accomplish that goal.  I think there is more. According to Twitter user TJ Therrien, the greatest benefit of Twitter is professional networking.  I have to agree with him.  Although the #, @ and links still overwhelm me, I am becoming increasingly educated on current trends and linked with the change leaders in my field (leaders I never knew existed).

However, if professional networking was the sole purpose for tweeting, then what about ministry?  Is it worthwhile for pastors, or any kind of person desiring to share the love of Christ, to use Twitter?  According to blogger Houston_proud, Twitter is more than links to blogs and a bunch of friends sharing what they had for breakfast.  It is about “presence”.  Sharing life’s tidbits helps us to feel like we are present with our friends.  When people need help, Twitter is a real-time way to listen and “be there”.  According to blogger Brian Humek, active use of Twitter has helped him encourage people, help friends with job leads, talk people down from suicide, and "make new friends along the way".  I don't think that getting to this level of Tweeting is easy, and at this point in my journey, I'm not sure it is worthwhile. 

So why worry about purpose?  It shapes how you use Twitter and what you expect from Twitter.  If you expect theological discussions and strong community, you may be disappointed and quit before you find a purpose that actually suits the tool. I think that figuring out how to use Twitter is wrapped up in where you are on the journey and what you want out of this social medium. I’ll end this blog with a chart on Twitter acceptance that I totally resonate with. I'm not sure if I will ever move beyond stage 3.But, of course, this is just day 5--who knows what I will think at the end of the month.


Day 3: Who is Mr. Hashtag and why is he my new very best friend?

Yesterday I tweeted. Thank you. Life is full of little victories and I celebrate mine.  What was even better than the excitement of hitting the tweet button was the introduction to my new very best friend. Mr. Hashtag (or # as I like to call him).  After days of reading through scrolls of tweets with this annoying little # interrupting anything that communicated with a flow, I decided to figure out why Tweeters were out to make reading sentences so difficult. So who is Mr. #? Why is he standing between me and Twitter competency? Well, let me tell you my discovery. # is magic. Pure magic.

I first found my favorite hashtag buried in an article I was reading.  Instead of skipping over the annoying #, I decided that, since I was on a social media journey, I would click on the link. I learned about the hashtag #chsocm.  It is like this happy little community who sit around chatting about social media and the church. Well, I like chatting about social media and the church, and I like being part of a special club, so I decided it was time to suck it up and try something new.  After all, this 30-day challenge is all about diving in and making mistakes. So I made a tweet and stuck a #chsom at the end.

Oh, I can't tell you the excitement I've had in the last 2 days. Because of that little #, people found me.  They retweeted me.  They liked me. I have new "followers", for Pete's sake!  The added benefit is that as I try and sort through which tweeters to follow and which tweeters are too boring or too complicated to follow, my new little very best friend has helped me find and organize the things I'm interested in.

In case you haven't been introduced to my new very best friend, let me formally get you acquainted.  Mr # is officially defined as a symbol "used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages."  I have seen people at conferences use Mr. # to organize everyone's tweets about the conference.  At the time, of course, that was way beyond my twitter expertise.  But now I get it!  I think the most helpful article was this one in the New Yorker.  Susan Orlean talks about the creative way people use hashtags to be sarcastic or as a "muttered-into-a-handkerchief" style-tool. She talks about how to blend them into sentences or how to make them serve as commentary.  Well, I thought to myself, I can be sarcastic. I can have commentary. So, even if I mess up Mr. #, I can just say I was being a creative writer.

Well, my relationship with Mr. # just keeps getting better.  According to the experts, you don't want to put more than 3 in a tweet--that's just showing off.  I found some of the most commonly used hashtags at  So, when I put in #socialmedia and #chsom in one of my tweets, anyone who searches for those keywords, or is one of my new homies at the #chsom club, will find me.

Thank you Mr. #.  You are truly a very good best friend.


Day 2: Tweet time. Must I?

Today is my Twitter day. I'll be honest...Twitter scares the socks off me. I sent my first twitter message 2 years ago. It was something like "hey, how do you use this thing?"  No one answered. That was my last tweet. Oh, I've gone back a few times.  One time a figured out how to follow people, so I signed up to follow about 40 tweeters. Kind of a mistake.  I was overwhelmed with messages from strangers--most of which I couldn't understand. That's the other problem--no one uses complete sentences.  I see symbols like # and @ and links that ... into nowhere.  And how can people say anything of value in 140 characters--other than "I just had a cup of coffee #help @blahblahblah http://linktonowhere...."

So why worry about Twitter? Why clutter my day? Why learn to speak Twitter instead of Italian (which is a lot sexier)? Unfortunately for me, Twitter is a new way of communicating that probably isn't going away. According to the Huffington Post, Twitter now has 105,779,710 registered users and new users are signing up at the rate of 300,000 per day. But just because everyone else is sharing about the coffee they just drank or the lame thought they just had, doesn't mean I should.  According to Social Media Today, however, "It’s not just about what you are doing and what others are doing. It’s about the world around you and it’s about the community you create within Twitter." That has clear implications for ministry. This is the kind of social media that happens in real-time and in real space.  When people experience an emotion, have a question, need a friend, seek a deeper connection, they probably aren't going to wait around until Sunday morning. They go to the friends they keep in their pocket.  And the thing is, those pocket friends can minister in new and creative ways.  For instance Rick Warren has over 432,000 followers and Joyce Meyer has over 435,000. Somehow, their messages of hope are infiltrating the lives of almost half a million people--one tweet at a time. Well, I don't have that kind of following, but why can't I send a little hope out there too?  I'm not sure what it will take to build a community on Twitter, or what that even looks like, but I guess it is time to figure it out.

So into Twitter I go. First step--what do I say? I think about what I am doing that I can share with the world. I just ate breakfast. No. No one cares. It is cold outside. No. No one cares. The dog just woke up. No.... This is harder than I thought.  I know, I will start with a quote from Pope Benedict XVI.  It is hard to really bomb if I quote the pope. It took me another 20 minutes to get the post whittled down to 140 characters. I hit the "Tweet" button and off it goes.  It wasn't the best thing I've ever done, but I tweeted. Yes, I have overcome my first tweet fear. Twitter, this is your warning...I will conquer you!!!