Listening to the Geek Whisperers and pondering their viewpoints on how to effectively engage with IT folks through social media got me thinking about my own experiences with this. Participating in social networks (especially Twitter) and generating content like blogs and podcasts are the ways we get to know each other, exchange ideas and information, and set the stage for the occasional meatspace run-in at a conference.
For the most part, social media is a nice way to develop a sense of community. Social media is also a colossal distraction and occasional frustration, but on the whole, it’s useful. From a career standpoint, I can make the case that engaging effectively with your peers via social media is a boost.
If you don’t get the whole Twitter thing, that’s fair enough, and the best thing I can suggest is to build an account and follow technical people you might know from reading their blogs. Then find out who they interact with and follow them, too. Eventually, you’ll be keeping up with the conversation and getting a sense of it. From there, you should be able to jump on in and start participating within the proper context.
Some other thoughts on how to make the most of the Twitter experience.
- Don’t be a tool. If you’re about to hammer on someone for their opinion, it’s possible you don’t understand it. Even if you do, then there’s still nothing wrong with a mature, reserved discourse. Twitter’s a terrible venue for that sort of discourse, though. 140 characters minus all the handles you’re tweeting to means your message is likely to be too terse or cryptic for your no doubt nuanced and well-informed viewpoint to be clearly articulated. It’s hard to have an adult conversation via Twitter; a twitpiss rarely ends well for anyone.
- Don’t be ignorant. If you’re going to say something, understand completely what you’re talking about. If you’re not sure of the details, pose your tweet as a polite question instead of a firm statement. That way, you’re gathering information instead of demonstrating that you don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. There’s a lot wrong with not knowing, but acting as if you do. Or worse…thinking you do, when in fact you’re wrong.
- Don’t be a vendor shill. If you work for a vendor, you’ve got to be balanced in your comments. Most of the vendor employees in my Twitter lists are very good at this. They don’t beat up on competitors. They don’t sound like a non-stop ad for their employer. They engage with others in the Twitterverse about technology, but sometimes other things, like bacon. A profitable and enjoyable experience is had by all. Some other vendor employees elicit an inward groan everytime they pop up, because I know I’m about to hear a commercial or other comment colored by the mother ship. I want to read thoughts shared by a human with brain, not a soulless marketer spewing out recommended tweets.
- Don’t be a fanboy. Worse than the vendor shill is the vendor fan boy (whether employed by the vendor or not) who bashes other companies at every opportunity, usually uninvited. I’m glad you have a favorite vendor, but if you really think they are *that* superior to every one else in the marketplace, you haven’t been playing the IT game long enough. IT practitioners are the brokenhearted, the disappointed, the cynical and the jaundiced. You *will* experience problems in your data center because your favorite vendor has failed you…if not yet, then soon. Probably very soon.
- Don’t be a vendor shill fanboy. (See what I did there?) This whole post was inspired by a Very Special Vendor Tweeter & Blog Commenter who says things are are, at various times, abrasive, ignorant or an overt attack on competitor’s products. If you’re going to be obnoxious, at least have the benefit of a well-formed point of view on your side. Otherwise, no one cares what you have to say about two tweets and/or blog comments in. You’re just embarrassing yourself and your employer, who’s probably going to be cranky when they grok what you’re on about. I can tolerate a certain amount of hyperbole & drama when you know what you’re talking about. I can’t when you don’t.
- Do…engage. Listen. Be witty. Create. Think. Share. Offer. Question. Apologize. Help. Thank. Research. Acknowledge. Collaborate.
The point of the “do” section is that social media isn’t about followers or about *you*. It’s about the larger community. When you come at it from that perspective, my take is that it works better.
But please, follow me @ecbanks. Please oh please oh please oh please oh… ;-)