Your downside is my upside

Posted: March 5, 2009 in social media, Twitter
Tags: , , , , ,

Jeremy Klaszus has an interesting article in Fast Forward Weekly this week about Alberta politics on Twitter.  After reading the article, I’m struggling with something Jeremy touched on regarding the use of Twitter. It has nothing to do with politicians on Twitter, (I think it is a fantastic forum for them to connect with constituents) but everything to do with what Jeremy sees as the downside to Twitter.

Twitter has other downsides. For one, it can be intensely addicting and, when used without restraint, rude. At the recent “Twestival” in Calgary (a pub night for Twitter users), many people in the room couldn’t keep their hands off their BlackBerrys for more than a couple minutes, even during a panel discussion on Twitter. To an outsider, it seemed ironic: the technology is supposedly about connecting people, but put a bunch of Twitterers in one room, and they struggle to let go of the technology long enough to give full attention to each flesh-and-blood other.

The world of social media is real time. People are talking, thinking, sharing now. Not 20 minutes from now, not 4 days from now. Twitter is about conversation.  It adds an entirely new dimension to discussion.  To those not yet used to the forum, it may appear rude when your audience is tweeting away.  But take a step back and you’ll find an array of conversation and engagement like you’ve never seen.

I want to know what people are thinking as they are thinking it. Twitter gives me that. At Twestival, Twitter users were indeed on their Berrys, iPhones and other devices. But who do you think they were talking to? One another (and sending questions to the panel). If I were to be involved with another Twestival, I’d want to see a screen up showing all of the tweets coming from users in the room, much like we saw at last night’s Third Tuesday Calgary event.

At Third Tuesday Calgary, Joe Thornley encouraged audience members to tweet while in the room.  Comments on what he was saying were coming in from a few audience members (search #ctt), interesting points he was making were being tweeted to Twitterati who were unable to attend the event.  Attendees were agreeing with things he said, disagreeing with other points he brought up. Alain Saffel from Edmonton even joined in on the conversation.  And the entire world could see it if they wanted to. When and where else have you ever seen this happen?

It was the first time I had live tweeted from an event I was at. Several times throughout the night, I felt like my attention had been fragmented.  When I was sending out a tweet about something interesting I had just heard, sometimes I missed out on another one.  But I was also able to converse with people in the room about those points on the spot. A good 15 hours later… my retention on what we were tweeting and conversing about during the presentation are high.  I may have missed out on some of the things Joe said, but the other bits I have a high recall rate on.  And with multiple people tweeting, most of what I missed was picked up by somebody else. It’s the ultimate note sharing tool.

People who are tweeting about what you are saying are so interested in what you are saying, whether they agree or disagree, that they want to talk about it NOW.  They think the topics you’re touching on are worthy of putting forth into the world for debate.  Whether they agree or not, that’s impressive… and frankly, flattering.

For those who haven’t yet seen this side of social media or are scared of what people will say about them, guess what?  They’re going to talk about you anyway.  But now, you have a direct link to the people talking about you… and you can respond right back.  You can see what they are saying about your presentation, about your topics. There’s discussion happening that may bring up more points of view that in turn you can take and make your arguments more solid, or change accordingly.  They can help fill in any gaps you’ve missed.  It’s all in how you use the information that’s there.

Twitter is giving you unfiltered thought and discussion. Conversation on the fly that can be joined by people inside and outside the room. Conversation that is now searchable. Anyone wanting to know what happened at an event can search for the hash tag. No more closed door conversations. The event filled up or sold out? So what? You can still be a part of it and gain value from the conversation happening.

Jeremy’s downside is my upside. It’s a new way of interacting. It’s stretching the limits of what people are used to.  It’s a little overwhelming at first. But it’s amazing how much it can bring to the table.

Side note – Twestival was a fundraising event to for Charity: Water.  In about a month, 200+ cities all over the world came together to host local events. Worldwide, the event raised $250K USD to help provide fresh drinking water in areas of greatest need.

  1. lyn cadence says:

    Thanks Wendy,
    I was going to do a similar post. I agree completely. My addition – when you are in a webinar where you are provided notes afterward, it is not only efficient to send in your questions, but to connect with the participants in other cities and develop relationships with them. It’s great to discover that people you know are also on the call and you can follow up later to exchange other resources. I don’t do it enough.


  2. Angela says:

    Hi Wendy,
    Great post. You further the Thornley-Basen debate with a personal perspective.
    The glory of Twitter is to connect and share in real time. A presenter shouldn’t feel ignored by those in the crowd who are bent over their laptops or BlackBerries. Conversely, those folks are so tuned in and excited by the conversation that they want to share it with their peers.

  3. An occasional twitterer says:

    “People who are tweeting about what you are saying are so interested in what you are saying, whether they agree or disagree, that they want to talk about it NOW. They think the topics you’re touching on are worthy of putting forth into the world for debate. Whether they agree or not, that’s impressive… and frankly, flattering.”

    I totally disagree on this point. Twittering (and blogging and any other form of publishing) is, to a large extent, ego driven. You want your opinion out there, you want people to know your thoughts on a subject. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be inclined to start a blog, or tweet in the middle of a speech.

    The problem is, if you’re admitting to sending tweets during a speech and consequently missing out on discussion, you’re admitting that it was more important for you to have your voice heard than to listen to the person who was speaking. It used to be considered an insult to say someone wasn’t listening, they were just waiting for a chance to speak. This kind of Twittering even takes out that waiting — you’re talking over someone, regardless of whether it’s out loud.

    That’s not to say there’s no value in discussion, and that there’s no element of flattery. But, I think you’d be hard pressed to disagree, even if you don’t find it particularly rude, that it’s not the *most* respectful approach you could take.

  4. Great post Wendy. I still disagree though. Why is it so important to immediately broadcast everything that’s happening in a lecture, a panel discussion, or even one’s own head? What’s wrong with keeping the conversation in the room where people can give full attention to each other instead of trying to think of something clever to Tweet?

    I’d argue the conversation (the human one, not the online one) is cheapened when people are thumbing at their BlackBerrys while someone else is talking. Maybe I’m just old-school, but I think that when you’re in a conversation with someone, you should give that person full attention. Be present in the room, with that person. The face-to-face conversation should take precedence over the online one. This “new way of interacting” detracts from that.

    Also, why not let someone finish what they’re saying — and maybe even spend some time mulling it over — before commenting on it or analyzing it? What’s the rush? That’s what I don’t get. The CBC’s Ira Basen had a good column about this recently. He points out that you can’t even finish laying out your argument in a speech before someone starts analyzing it (or trashing what you’re saying) on Twitter.

    Here’s Basen:

    “…before attacking, wait until a speaker is finished so you can hear and reflect upon everything that person has to say. Then perhaps you want to consider writing your comments in a medium that allows for more than 140 characters at a time, like an email or blog.

    “At many of the conferences I go to these days, there are so many people live-Twittering, blogging, texting and emailing during the proceedings that it seems no one is actually paying attention to the speaker.”

    Full column is here:

    In summary, I do think it’s rude to tweet while someone else in the room is talking to you. They deserve full attention. Twitter can wait.

    (Glad to be having this debate, by the way.)

  5. Wendy Peters says:

    Lyn, you’re right. Connecting with other delegates even after the fact is yet another bonus. Thank you for adding that.

    Angela, I would be more offended to find people bent over laptops and blackberries working or talking about things not at all related to my presentation if that were me. I think it’s important for presenters to find a way to work this technology into their presentations and discussions so they can harness the real time comments coming in.

  6. Tyler says:

    I’m pro Twitter, but there’s still something to be said for being present and accounted for. It gets weird when “social media” prevents you from actually being social.

  7. […] 18, 2009 by Wendy Peters Awhile back, I debated the etiquette of live tweeting from an event/presentation.  Since then, I’ve had the chance to live tweet in two other instances.  I’m finding […]

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