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.