So, Twitter is full of inane babble, right? Well, perhaps not. It can also be a source of inspiration, insight and learning if you want it to be. Here's six things I think we can learn from using Twitter:
1. Perception is Contagious. The people you surround yourself with affect your experience and perspectives. Your experience on Twitter is largely determined by the people that you follow - if you follow boring, prejudiced or self-absorbed people on Twitter, you’re probably not going to have a very enjoyable experience of it. However, if you following curious, interesting and insightful people, you’re likely to be surprised and delighted regularly.
2. It’s not all about you. Being selfish and cagey is a sure way to be ignored. The more interested you are in others, the more interested they’re likely to be in you. The most popular people on Twitter engage and respond to others, share the ideas of others, acknowledge others, and add value with their own ideas too.
3. Sharing is joyful. There’s a certain delight that comes from sharing an idea that you care about publicly. This is compounded for every person that acknowledges your idea and passes it along (in the form of “Retweets” usually). In the same vein, it’s amazing how willing people are to help out with ideas or resources in response to questions you might pose on Twitter (of course, in this case you’d probably need to have some active followers for this to work).
4. Everyone has a story. One of the most remarkable things about Twitter is the abundance of experiences and perspectives that people have. Just browsing what people are writing about at any given time, or around any given topic is often humbling and enlightening. For example, I loved sharing the experience of fans around South Africa of the World Cup opening ceremony and game - people in the stadium, at fanparks, at home alone (dancing!), or with family and friends.
5. A little humour goes a long way. An informal survey I conducted on Twitter revealed that the most popular tweets for South Africans are humorous one-liners. In response to even the most tense debate, helping people laugh is sure to win you friends and followers.
6. Mean what you say. Insincere expression of feelings - whether good or bad can come back in surprising ways. People have lost jobs, business contracts, friends and followers from saying things they didn’t mean on Twitter. I think this stems from a sense that complaining is a good way to build sympathy - it works if you’ve had a real experience but can really backfire if you’re making it up. Just because you’re saying it online, it doesn’t mean there aren’t real people or real consequences on the receiving end. On the other hand, flat praise or outright lies tend to be exposed online, and people tend not to follow those who they don’t trust.
Lastly, I'd say that ultimately Twitter is pretty meaningless if you're only using it to accumulate followers. The real value of it is in the relationships you develop and the ways in which you can get to know people, share experiences and resolve problems.