Andre Sólo, Favorites, Social Skills

How to Use Twitter (and why it beats FB)

“Another Drew Jacob shortcut,” I breathed.

We were covered in mud, bites, sweat, bruises and just about everything except the tangy salt of a day in the ocean. It was a 6 mile bike ride to the hidden beach but I found a shortcut on a map. (I love shortcuts.) We never got there.

I didn’t write the story of that exhausting day, but I did drop a hint:

Tweet03

Earning Its Keep

Many people are surprised that Twitter is my favorite (now only) social network. I never run out of friends who say, “I don’t need to hear what someone had for breakfast today,” or “I don’t get Twitter.”

I can’t help you fix what other people tweet about—though if they tweet about their breakfast, you’re following the wrong people—but I can help explain Twitter: how it works, why I like it more than Facebook, and how to get the most out of it.

Unlike Google+, Twitter is not a Facebook clone. It’s a profoundly different tool that does different things. It’s less about stalking friends/family and more about knowing what’s going on in the world—or making connections with new people.

In many ways, Twitter is for “advanced” internet users. Every tweet is limited to 140 characters—nothing more. That forces you to think about what you’re saying, and how to say it succinctly and well.

Here are the advantages Twitter has, that make it my favorite social media site:

  • Simpler. Twitter is the simplest and most streamlined social site. Everything happens in one column, and everything works the same way: no “pages,” “groups,” “causes,” “games” or anything else. You can share websites or pictures, but only as links in your tweet. It’s simple.
  • Not as addictive. Interacting on any social site gives you a hit of dopamine, just like chatting with a friend does. But some sites are designed to try to hold your eyes on the screen as long as possible. Twitter doesn’t do that. Brands can’t build their own on-Twitter presence, so any link you share is an external link. Unlike G+, Pinterest or Facebook, Twitter doesn’t try to keep you there.
  • Less clingy. On Facebook, if a real-life friend tries to friend you and you don’t accept, you’re rude; if you un-friend someone it’s a statement. On Twitter, “following” is not a personal judgment. I don’t follow all my friends and I unfollow people freely. It’s more like a news source or a chat room, and less like a yearbook.
  • Higher quality content. Twitter forces you to curate your content. All the factors above—the short, to-the point format; the easy-to-leave website; the social acceptability of unfollowing—combine to incentivize smart, funny or interesting tweets. On Facebook if you write boring/annoying posts, I stay your friend because we went to 4th grade summer school together. On Twitter, if you write boring posts you lose followers.
  • Ads aren’t intrusive. Twitter sometimes places a single “sponsored” tweet at the top of your stream. It always identifies itself as sponsored and they are never aggressive or deceptive. Thank you, Twitter!
  • Builds new relationships. Because Twitter is not a friends-only platform, it’s easy to meet new and interesting people. On Facebook, if I send a friend request to someone I don’t know, it’s weird—and J.K. Rowling will never friend me back. On Twitter, instead of waving at existing friends, it’s normal to make fascinating new ones or have conversations with people you admire.

Basically, Twitter gives you much more power over what comes your way. Twitter can be used to keep up with friends, but it’s a more fluid platform that lets you focus on meeting who you want to meet, or reading what you want to read.

Nuts and Bolts

There are many Twitter how-to’s out there, but the basic concepts to understand are:

  • When you “follow” someone, you can see all their tweets. They might not follow you back.
  • You can tweet at anyone, by putting @theirusername (for example) in your tweet, even if you don’t follow each other. They will see this.
  • Hashtags are helpful. Instead of tweeting, “I blog about adventure,” I could tweet, “I blog about #adventure” and other people looking for that hashtag (#adventure) would easily find me. (Punctuation breaks hashtags: if you try #isn’tlifecrazy you actually create the hashtag #isn, which makes no sense.)
  • Follow people you find interesting and don’t pressure them to follow you.
  • Not sure who to follow? Search by interesting hashtags, or follow the Twitter accounts of your favorite writers. Mine is @Rogue_Priest (surprise).

@Rogue_Priest

How I Use It

I’ve been using Twitter since I still had a job. I’ve always found it to be a more valuable tool than any other social network. That’s partly because of the reasons above, but it’s also how I use it.

I’ve developed practices to maximize what I get from Twitter. Because of this, I enjoy reading it as much as you might enjoy the Sunday paper. I often start a morning with my coffee and my stream, catching up on killer articles Twitter has brought my way—it’s a relaxing experience, with reading material tailored just to me.

Here are my best practices. These are just my own preferences—you might use your account differently than I do.

  • Privacy settings. I once heard author Tessa Zeng tell someone, “If you set your Twitter account to private, you’re not actually using Twitter,” and she’s not wrong. By default, anyone can see your tweets (whether they follow you or not) and anyone can follow you (you don’t get to accept or deny it like a FB friend request). Keep these settings—you’ll build more followers, meet more people, and have a reason not to say nasty things in your tweets.
  • I don’t follow everyone I know. Like any social media tool, Twitter can search your email contacts and suggest people for you to follow. Take a pass on that. Think about specific people you find interesting and follow them. You’ll have less noise and get a lot more value out of your stream.
  • When someone follows me, I don’t follow back. When I started on Twitter I thought it was good etiquette to follow back everyone who followed me. Anything else would be rude, right? Wrong. It’s not an insult to not follow someone back. Only follow them if you think they’re interesting, or if their profile and tweets are tantalizing.
  • Never follow companies. Why would you?
  • Follow less than 100 people. This is a longstanding rule for many Twitter users, and it pays off. Checking Twitter should be a relaxing experience where you see things that make you grin—not a stressful experience with more noise than signal. If you find yourself approaching 100, take a few minutes to trim off the ones you don’t really pay attention to.
  • I don’t use lists. Optionally, Twitter allows you to create “lists” to sort and organize the people you follow. I never use them—they just take more time and effort, and they’re never needed if I follow less than 100 people. (I do look at other people’s lists to find the folks they think are interesting.)
  • Retweet often. Anytime you find yourself enjoying a link that someone tweeted, RT it (giving them credit) so your own followers can enjoy it.
  • I make a point of tweeting things I like. I read online a lot, and anytime I like an article or site, I make a point to shorten its URL and tweet it with a snappy headline and a little comment.

A retweet.

Clearly, these are my own habits that support how I prefer to use Twitter—as a place to find and share high quality articles, and have meaningful conversations with the people I respect.

You might use Twitter differently, or not like using it at all. There won’t be any pressure for Rogue Priest readers to use Twitter—even as I leave Facebook you can subscribe to the site via email or RSS (check the right-hand sidebar of this very page).

But if you want to have more contact with me, or if you want to put my claim to the test and see if Twitter can be as useful for you as it is for me, then these are the habits I suggest. I believe they’ll help make your experience with Twitter far more meaningful. They’ll definitely help you beat the learning curve and avoid the frustration of many beginning users.

Are you on Twitter? Leave a comment with a link to your account. I’ll follow you for a week to see if I dig what you share.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Advertisements
Standard
Andre Sólo

How this No Facebook thing will work

As all readers should know by now I’m leaving Facebook. That has resulted in a lot of questions (What will I use instead? What happens to the Rogue Priest page?) and rightly so. Today I have answers.

Here’s the short version of the plan.

  • I’ve already increased my Twitter usage. Twitter has long been my favorite social media, because it has highest quality shares and I make more meaningful connections there.
  • I will continue to use FB through July. I want to make sure everyone knows about the switch, and has time to follow me on Twitter if they choose, before I pull the plug.
  • There will be reminders. I apologize for the overload—I want to be sure everyone gets the message. Any easy solution if you don’t want to see all these reminders would be to unlike my Facebook and follow me on Twitter (grin!).
  • No Google+. There are a lot of ways that Google+ outperforms Facebook, but both do essentially the same thing (and I’m not interested). Plus, I’m trying to slim down my social media, not bloat it out. Keep Twitter, ditch FB, add nothing new.
  • My FB accounts will never vanish. But they will go silent. August 1, my profiles will say I don’t check them (and I won’t); they will direct you elsewhere.
  • There will still be a Facebook share button on every post. I don’t use Facebook, but I’m not trying to tell others what to use. Facebook remains popular and you can still “share” my work to FB with the click of a button.
  • Now, more than ever, I count on you to share my work. When I promote a post on Facebook my traffic spikes; I’ll have less than half as many readers when I stop. Every time you take a moment to share a post of mine (on any social media of your choosing) it helps widen my audience—and gets more people thinking about adventure in their own life. Please, share my posts whenever you enjoy them.

Footnotes

[1]

I’m considering automating some content to my Facebook page. For instance, I could set it up so that all my tweets automatically post there. Likewise, I can have WordPress automatically share new blog posts there. (It’s not as pretty when they auto-share, but it works.)

That would be nice for my readers who still like FB, but it would also create the false impression that my account is active. When new people find it I’d much rather they notice it’s dormant and follow the link to where I really am. So it’s a tough choice.

(Your thoughts on this choice welcome—leave a comment and tell me what you think.)

[2]

I realize that many people don’t use Twitter or don’t want to try it. There’s a common belief that people only tweet about their breakfasts (seriously?). I find that to be generally untrue, and I find way better stuff there than any other network I’ve used. I’ll write a post soon about how I use Twitter and how to get the most out of it, in case you want to give it a try. 

Here are two of my tweets from this week:

Tweet01

Tweet02

Not very breakfasty. Once again feel free to follow me. Otherwise, I’ll see you Wednesday.

Standard
Andre Sólo, ExPostModern, Social Skills

Why a Facebook Advocate is Leaving Facebook

I write this from a patio in the Dominican Republic. The street here is an obstacle course. You walk out to buy coffee, but you’re attacked by one, five, eight people offering you things. What they offer is not what you want, and they don’t know that because they don’t ask. If you tell them what you want, they say they have it—even if they don’t.

It’s a lot like Facebook in 2013.

Confessions

How I Started

A lot of people don’t like Facebook. Some always hated it, some never even tried it out. I’m not one of those people.

I was a latecomer, but when Facebook was explained to me I took to it quickly. It was especially valuable when I started to travel, connecting me to faraway friends and family. Some people complain when their mom joins Facebook; I convinced mine to.

Now I’m leaving it behind.

Facebook no longer serves my needs, neither as an individual looking to keep in touch socially nor as an author seeking to promote my work. I’m phasing out Facebook completely, and shifting my focus to other, better designed social media networks.

This will reduce the amount of traffic I get to Rogue Priest, and it may adversely affect my work. I’m doing it anyway. In this post I hope to explain why: what’s wrong with Facebook, why it doesn’t work for me and what that means for me as a writer.

[Privacy Disclaimer]

This decision has nothing to do with “privacy.” There’s a lot of fear about how Facebook uses personal data, and I don’t share that fear. I knowingly consent to let Facebook use my anonymous metadata. That metadata lets them give me better friend recommendations, return better search results and generally improve my user experience.

As far as their privacy policy goes, I’d give Facebook an “A.”

I also have no qualms with social media as a technology. It doesn’t scare me that people are online a lot. Go ahead and check your phone at dinner—you’ll catch me doing it. Today, digital space is more like an extension of geographic space; there is no competition between engaging the digital and engaging the “real world.” At least, there doesn’t have to be.

You might feel differently than me. Maybe it’s deeply disturbing that children are learning cool things from an intuitive touch screen instead of rickety film strips. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of their opinions. Even if I find those opinions reactionary.

But I personally am very comfortable with the expostmodern world we’re creating.

What’s Wrong With Facebook?

If I’m so pro-social media, why am I pulling Rogue Priest off of Facebook?

Because it’s not the best tool for the job, and I’m using other tools instead.

Facebook has, quite simply, become a terribly unhelpful social site, one that’s no longer fun or functional. For example:

1. Cluttered layout.

I just opened Facebook in another tab and counted. It has 12 different toolbars, streams, widgets and panels spread across five different screen areas. That is ridiculous, especially since eye tracking studies show that we only look at the faces and words of our friends and ignore all the other content.

The layout of Facebook reveals two problems with the site: it’s trying to do too much, and it’s organizing it poorly.

Compare this with the smooth, streamlined layout of Twitter. Twitter has 6 panels spread across only three screen areas. They strike you as a single stream with one sidebar. I feel more relaxed just looking at it.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

 

2. Emphasis on ads.

Ads belong on social media sites. We-the-users are the product, not the customer—ad sales are how our networks stay afloat. That’s better than charging me for it.

But I resent advertising that conflicts with functionality. As a kid National Geographic outraged me because I could never find the table of contents amidst all the ads. It was intentional, because that’s prime real estate. And Facebook’s grabby ad-fingers are intentional as well. But now the real estate isn’t paper, it’s my eyeballs. Hands off my eyeballs, Facebook.

Facebook uses three main methods to advertise. First, the ad bar on the right side of the screen. Okay. Second, “sponsored” posts that appear in my main news feed and masquerade as shares from friends. It’s like sending a salesman in disguise to my birthday party. (This is icky.)

Third and most backwards, Facebook artificially adjusts the sharing ecosystem so that non-paid content reaches fewer people. While this seems fair, it artificially overrides supply-and-demand. That makes any system inefficient (and alienates people). Facebook doesn’t just add sponsored posts to my news feed, it down-regulates how many posts I see out of the ones I want to see.

This is frankly a strategic failure. Aside from haughtily disregarding user preference (and potentially losing eyeballs to sell), it also alienates advertisers and content producers, the people that Facebook makes money off of. The cost of reaching Facebook users is ever escalating, while the value of reaching them declines—because they won’t keep seeing your regular unpaid content after they “like” you.

3. It’s buggy.

There are numerous glitches and poor functionality choices involved in Facebook, especially for a Page that wants to use it as a promotional tool. I don’t mean the aesthetic choices like switching to Timeline, I mean things like no longer being able to edit a post (you can edit comments, not posts); complicated notification settings; and the fact that unfriending someone doesn’t unsubscribe them from your feed, so under most privacy settings they can still see what you say.

(I had a lot more examples but they made this article too long. Please leave a comment and tell me what features you don’t like about Facebook!)

My impression is that Facebook began as a well designed site. It declined due to function sprawl, poor design choices, too much emphasis on ads, no unified vision for the site, and trying to cater to too many users.

It really is Facebook’s success that crippled it. Facebook wants to be everyone‘s social media site. It’s so padded, so crude, so addictive that even people who can barely turn on a computer decide to make a profile and check it every day. It should be obvious that more fluent internet users are going to want something more (or something less) from their go-to online channel.

Facebook hoped to be the village bicycle and it has succeeded, with all the pros and cons that that sweaty seat entails.

The Users Don’t Help

While the site itself is the source of many frustrations, the way people use Facebook has changed too—and not for the better.

Sometime in early 2012, almost overnight, there was a huge uptick in sharing images as status updates. Not photos from your phone, but motivational or “funny” images cribbed from the web. I don’t know if this corresponded to some change Facebook rolled out (easier image sharing?) but it forever changed what I get from my friends’ feeds.

I like my status updates pithy and amusing, but at the very least personal—which they are if you write them yourself. When you use a meme, joke image, or poster as your status I feel less like I’m talking to you (social media) and more like I’m looking at a bulletin board you assembled (your waiting room).

Facebook meme

During some peak times, the majority of the statuses I see are memes. Many are poorly worded, fall flat on their jokes or are purposefully inflammatory. I guess that’s what happens when a site becomes less about social contact, and more like a place to collect bumper stickers.

[Friends and family: I love all you guys. I just like hearing what you have to say more than I like looking at posters together.]

I also see more fake names—officially forbidden by Facebook rules, but hard to enforce—which makes the site harder to use and exacerbates the use of inflammatory content.

What’s Best as a Writer

My main purpose in using social media is to share my work. My hope is that more people will find it, read it, and enjoy it, ultimately resulting in a larger audience. As a philosopher, a larger audience means more dialogue which helps me refine my ideas. And it bolsters my ability to make a living through my chosen art.

Facebook complicates this. The complication is more than the difficulty in sharing nonpaid content, or the buggy, poorly designed structure. It comes down to integrity.

Facebook feels like a crowded, cheap, tourist trap of a bar. If I don’t want to be there, why do I want my content there? And more important, why would I direct my readers to go there?

No part of my writing career has to be enmeshed in a large time-wasting machine. And neither does your life.

It hurts to know that I’ll lose web traffic. My blogging is unpaid, and the only return I get is in the form of engagement with readers. When a lot of people read and engage my work I feel good; when few people do, I feel sad.

But I still choose to live and create on my own terms. I’ll change to other, better social media and hope to build my traffic back long-term. And maybe then it won’t be so dependent on a single, unhealthy source.

Perhaps we are more than fuel in someone else’s ad machine.

Follow me @Rogue_Priest for more updates.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Standard
Social Skills

Why I Don’t Value My Privacy

It’s time for me to stand up and say my piece.

I don’t give a fuck about privacy.

I don’t mean your privacy. You won’t find me in a tree outside your window. I swear. Not that I haven’t tried.

No, I mean my privacy. I don’t care if my personal information is online. I’m pretty mystified by people who do.

A Few for the Vault

I want to make clear that I’m not telling you to give away sensitive financial information. I’d like to say, “use your common sense,” but that doesn’t work on this topic. A lot of people have no idea what information is already out there or what kinds of things thieves are after. Some people see hackers in every shadow. Maybe this is you, or someone you know. So let me clarify.

Here are the things you should not share online:

  • Your passwords
  • Credit card numbers
  • Account & routing numbers or other financial access info
  • Tax and income figures
  • Your social security number

Even these can be shared online if it makes sense. You can give your SSN to your credit union via their secure site, perhaps for an online loan application.

Your Information is Not Secret

Other than the above, pretty much everything about you is already available on the internet. This includes: your address, your phone number (even the unlisted cell), your birth certificate, your criminal record, the house you own and its estimated value, your maiden name, your spouse’s name, many of the charitable donations you’ve made (and the amount), and probably your email address.

I can get all of that stuff right now if I want.

There is nowhere you can go to remove that information from the web. There are places you can go who will say they’ll remove the info, but they are lying. They will, however, spam the email address you enter at their site.

Village Life in 20X6

The internet has irrevocably ended the age of privacy. But most people don’t realize that the age of privacy was a very short period.

Up until the early 20th century, “privacy” was unheard of. Sure, you might be able to wash in private, but personal information was completely public.

People lived in small houses with large extended families. Everyone in the community knew everyone else, including personal history. If you slept with someone, the whole village knew. If you made a fool of yourself? The village knew. Your occupation, approximate wealth, the location of your home, your accomplishments and your crimes were all pretty much public knowledge. Sure, they may never have heard of you 100 miles away but you weren’t going to travel that far anyway. To the people who mattered, keeping secrets was hard.

This changed in a few select countries in the mid-1900’s. In the U.S. it happened after World War II, when middle-class vets had enough money to begin moving into subdivisions of cookie-cutter houses. The economic boom, the widespread use of automobiles, and the availability of cheap-but-decent houses created the perfect conditions for something never before heard of.

The nuclear family was born.

Suddenly, houses had a small number of people in them—each with a private room. The houses were spaced farther out, and were often removed from civic centers.

People think of the 1950’s as a time when people were fake; they put on a front of American dream perfection, hiding their secret frustrations and struggles. We think of the 50’s that way because it was the first time in history that this was possible outside of the aristocracy.

The Consequences

In the 1990’s the internet did little to change privacy. It was actually a place of total anonymity, where kids and 20somethings used funny handles to mask their true identities.

But those kids have grown up, and we use the internet for commerce, networking, and socializing.

That doesn’t work if I don’t know who you are. Use your real fucking name.

It doesn’t work if I can’t find you. Join LinkedIn and make your Facebook public.

It doesn’t work if I can’t reach you. Put your email address on your Facebook. If you get spam, meh. Spam filter will deal with it.

This can’t be put back in the box. The 60 year period where people could buy anonymity has come to an end. Not having a Facebook page is about as friendly as turning off the lights and pretending you aren’t home when a friend knocks on the door—it’s your right to do it, but it prevents communication and rubs people the wrong way.

How I Deal

Photo credit: "The Geisha Who Refused to Look" by Okinawa Soba

Geisha girls understand how important your privacy is, but they charge by the hour.

All in all this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A lot of people are scared about their personal info being available to strangers. I credit this partly to misinformation (hackers will get into my email! Facebook will sell my home address to Somali pirates!), but I also credit it to delusions of grandeur. We like to think people are beating down the door to get our personal information, but we’re not that important. Sure, marketers want your contact info, but they can buy it from the Red Cross or your college alumni association. Unless you’re a senator you don’t have any enemies plotting how to use your relationship history to ruin you. (And if you are a senator your enemies will hire a P.I., so keep it in your pants)

My approach to this brave new world is to embrace it. I friend everyone who friends me, and I’ve met cool people that way. I make it easy to find my contact info, and I therefore have a reputation for being accessible and helpful. I end up getting invited to more awesome events, I network more in my field, and I reach a lot of people with my ideas.

I’ve found that the benefit of making my personal info public by far outweighs the cost. As the cost of privacy rises—a cost measured both in time and effort, but also in social opportunities and career opportunities—this will become true for more and more people.

What has your experience been with privacy, and have you “gone public”? Has the benefit outweighed the cost? And if you still try to protect your privacy—how successful do you feel you are?

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Standard