09 November 2009

Forget the "How" - Worry about the "Why"

Leslie White and I did a two hour (well, actually 1:15 after you took out the breaks and the fact that the predecessor session went long) session on Twitter at ASAE's social media workshop last week. We had planned to talk a little about the mechanics and a lot about what associations are actually doing with Twitter. But we got bogged down in the how - how do I set up an account, how to I protect/unprotect my tweets, how do I use re-tweet, @ messages, via messages, direct messages, URL shorteners, etc. I was not thrilled at the time, and upon reflection, I'm even more dismayed that we got so sidetracked, not least of which because I'm sure a certain percentage of participants were totally bored.

The biggest problem is that, if you lack a solid answer to "why," no matter how easy the "how" is, it's too hard. And if you have a good answer to "why," you'll figure out the "how."

When I asked how many participants had Twitter accounts, probably 75% of the room raised their hands. When I asked how many had tweeted within the last month, maybe 25% still had their hands up. When I got to how many had tweeted within the last day or hour, it was pretty much down to just the presenters.

Now why is that? Is it that it's SOOOOOO hard to go to www.twitter.com, compose a 140 character message, and hit "return"? No.

But if you haven't a good answer to "why am I doing this?" ANY "how do I do it?" is too hard. Because you know what's easier 100% of the time? Doing nothing. You need a reason to move. And without that, any "how" is too much trouble.

And the thing is, the "how" of Twitter is really, really simple. (And yes, I know I'm techno-friendly, but I'm definitely not a bleeding edge early adopter type. And I'm not a rocket scientist, by any stretch of the imagination. Which means that if I can figure it out, so can you.)

Step 1: Sign up for account.

Go to www.twitter.com. Click on the big green Sign Up Now button. Type in your name and email address, select a username and password, type in the captcha, and click on the Create My Account button. That's it. If you want to get fancy, click on "settings" to add a little more information about yourself, and maybe a picture, and decide whether or not to protect your updates (I recommend no), but to start tweeting - and, more importantly, paying attention to conversations - all you have to do is have an account.

Step 2: (recommended but not required) Set yourself up one of the alternative platforms.

The thing about the Twitter interface is that it's kind of like when you first got cell service. And you got a free cell phone. And you were really excited about that free phone, until you realized that all it did was make calls (if that). The alternate Twitter platforms are like smart phones - they make the basic functions of Twitter easier to use and provide additional features. Most people use either HootSuite (a web site you log into with your Twitter account information) or TweetDeck (a piece of software you download and install on your computer and log into with your Twitter account information).

Step 3: It's a cocktail party.

You wouldn't charge into a party where you don't know anyone and start making loud declarative statements, would you? (I hope not.) You'd start by listening to what's happening, getting a feel for the room, and then joining a conversation that sounds interesting. Twitter's the same way, only online and in 140 character bursts. Who do you follow? Start with this group, then see who they're following. You can also go to What the Hashtag and look for topics that are interesting to you. Follow any bloggers? You can do a people search on Twitter and see if they're there. Going to any conferences? Many organizations assign conference hashtags (like #smw09), which means you can follow what's going on at that event and, again, maybe find people to follow.

Oh - and all those "cool kids" comments? While there are some genuine social media rockstars (and no, I don't mean Ashton Kucher or Oprah), I'll tell you the secret to becoming one of the "cool kids" (and I won't even make you pinkie swear that you won't tell anyone): get on the social media platforms (blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), talk to people, and say interesting things. That's it. It's a total meritocracy.

See? Easy how.

So what's the why? You have to answer that for yourself, but I'm going to try to help you, by relating some stories of ways I've used - or seen others using - Twitter to engage people and benefit their associations over the next few weeks. Want me to talk about what you've been up to? Email me at ewengel at yahoo dot com. And check back - I post 5 days a week, and I plan to focus on this (barring my Wednesday blog roundups and my Friday Top 5 lists) until I run out of stories to tell.


Sohini Baliga said...

Thank you so much for this! I can't tell you the number of seminars and things I've gone to lately where people get all wrapped up in the how. And totally forget that even if the medium is the message, you need to have something to say!

Of course some people have so much to say that they may need a refresher on how the thing in question works. (Exhibit A: people who transfer an email to twitter - honestly, it's ONE message of 140 characters. Not ten of one email broken up. For that just, um, email. Please.)

It's actually interesting how it all comes down to the basic - have something to actually say. An article on Time (online - http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1936426,00.html) about online advertising and text vs. visual has interesting things to say via new book on the subject. The upshot? Level with people. Not that different from have something to say.

Peggy Hoffman said...

Bravo - I hope this message was heard by the participants ... but more importantly by the event planners - the next SMW might want to start with a conversation about "why" and then look at what tools you can use.

KiKi L'Italien said...

I totally agree with you! The "how" of the sessions can be handles by each person going to YouTube and watching a tutorial. The "Why" is the point and the "Now What" is where the real work begins.

The "cool kids" are waiting for some new voices to join!

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Thanks for all the shout-outs, peeps. I think I could be on to something here. Make sure to check out my "why" answers over the next two weeks or so, and feel free to pick this up for your own blogging if it seems like something worth talking about.

Jer979 said...

I think it comes down to immediate gratification and an unwillingness to invest for the long haul. You go on twitter, post a few tweets and nothing happens. Then, you say, "no value for me here," and you leave. You don't force yourself to invest or build a new habit. Look at blogs. 160 million blogs out there, 750k posts/day.

Human nature on new/unproven things, imho.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Hey Jeremy,

I think we're saying the same thing - until you know *why* you're using something, it's just technology for the sake of technology.

And, to play devil's advocate, maybe Twitter isn't right for a particular organization. But again, answering the why will help you figure that out.

Joe said...

I see this as a "chicken or egg" scenario: if you've never tried Twitter, you're unlikely to see how it might be useful to you, but if you don't see any reasons why it might ever be useful to you, you're unlikely to try it out.

In other words, if you don't have a good "why," you won't bother to figure out the "how" (as you've said), but if you don't understand the "how," it's a whole lot harder to understand the "why."

This applies to any new thing, not just Twitter, of course, and the only thing that breaks this cycle is a curious mind. Those are the people who will spend some time tinkering with the "how" just for the sake of discovering a new "why."

And now I'm done with my cheesy metaphor. Thanks.