Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Social media has opened the channels of communication between politics, media and the public, giving us in the cheap seats unprecedented access to the movers and shakers in our world. This is particularly true of Twitter, where the short message format of 140 characters means communication must be to the point. No-one expects a deep and meaningful conversation about values on Twitter, which is good. They rarely happen.

Of course not everyone is on Twitter, so not everyone has this experience. Some don’t want to, some don’t know how to, some don’t see the benefits, and others only see the risks. Whatever the reason, those who haven’t taken up the Twitter invitation are missing out on two levels: firstly, they are not privy to the information flow which is now my primary source of news; and secondly, they can’t contribute to it. There’s a whole world on Twitter and they don’t see it.

More and more, it’s becoming a choice to opt out, rather than a choice to opt in.

The other factor is that people who don’t use Twitter and aren’t part of the “Twitterverse” may not understand it. As with any society, there are standards of behaviour and etiquette to be observed. Within that, there are subcultures with their own “cool” language and their own version of what’s okay and what’s not.

Just last week, Brisbane’s BMag ran a story by reporter Laura Stead, entitled Brisbane’s Top Tweeters. It caused a few ripples amongst the Twitter folk I run with, because it seemed as though she was reporting on a parallel Twitterverse, where the rules were different and so were the people. Ms Stead proposed four major rules for tweeting:
Twitter etiquette

• It’s ok to follow people you don’t know – they can choose whether or not to follow you back.
• It’s better to message someone rather than tweet if you’re making plans or having a personal conversation.
• It’s also ok to openly tweet a reply to a question asked by direct message if you think your
audience could benefit from your response.
• Promote and support others as well as promoting yourself – it’s a nice way to show
support for your community.

I was particularly concerned by her version of Twitter Etiquette (above), which is a little different to mine, and those of the thousand or so people I interact with on Twitter. Points 1, 2 and 4 are basically okay, but anyone who was to follow the third point might find themselves embarrassed.

Just yesterday, I saw an instance where a very experienced and popular tweeter sent a DM (Direct Message, which cannot be seen by anyone other than the sender and the recipient) to a radio personality who has chosen not to tweet, although he and his producer have access to the radio station’s twitter account. The radio man, not understanding the rules, then shared the content of the DM on the airwaves. That’s simply bad form: it's twignorance.

At the opposite end of the twittersphere is Paul Murray Live, a news/chat/commentary show on Foxtel’s Sky News Australia. Last night, Mr Murray mentioned Independent MP Rob Oakeshott on air, and invited viewers to tweet their response to an anti-Oakeshott campaign being run by the National Party. One of the tweeps who responded was Mr Oakeshott himself, who will be most likely appearing on PM Live tonight as a result of that random tweet last night. The difference here is that both participants knew how to conduct themselves on Twitter. Oakeshott, who tweets as @OakeyMP, agreed via Twitter to appear on the show, but arrangements were to be made this morning, off Twitter.

Ms Stead’s BMag piece completely misinterpreted what it takes to be a top tweeter. It’s certainly not about the number of followers, as was suggested in the article. As social media, it’s about engaging with the tweeps you follow, and with those who follow you. Photographer Greg Wilson was noted in the article for having over a million twitter followers across a range of twitter accounts. Bully for him. Does having a swag of followers provide anything of value for Mr Wilson? If his purpose was to amass millions of followers, he’s well on his way. If it was for something different - driving traffic to a website, engaging, making new friends - has he achieved his goals?

BMag also included the @QPSMedia account as one of their Top Tweeters, and that’s entirely justified. QPS's Twitter account is a great service. They provide timely information, they engage with their tweeps, they share some really bad puns, and they’ve earned their place as cluey users of social media.

Spencer Howson, who introduced both Mr Wilson and I to Twitter, would be one of Brisbane’s Top Tweeters. With around 7,000 followers, he’s far short of the million plus reach of Mr Wilson, but the difference is in engagement. Spencer, who also writes for BMag in addition to his regular gig as 612ABC Brisbane’s breakfast host, makes a point of engaging with his followers daily. He understands that Twitter is not a broadcast medium; it’s a means of personal communication with many people at a time, much like radio.

It’s not about the numbers; it’s about the people. It’s the “social” in social media.


  1. Yes, Sally agree with you here. A classic 'quality v quantity ' argument. I also liked the way my TL eventually settled to a great group of people with whom I'd happily have a coffee, or dance with in the ABC Foyer! Cheers.

  2. Spencer got me onto Twitter too. I thought if Spencer, and the ABC for that matter, can embrace this modern comms tool, then so can I! Also agree with comments regarding Spencer's clever use of the medium. I am more engaged with him on twitter, than I am on air (as my schedule means I can't listen much). So in effect he's reaching 2 audiences - providing good value for the ABC I reckon.