Posted on September 10, 2009
What’s your strategy for your online work?
Recently several students have asked me questions about what kind of content to put in their blogs. At the same time, I’ve heard a few random remarks to the effect of: “I just don’t get Twitter.” After reading a post by Craig Newmark about why he retweets what others have said, I realized that many of us have clear ideas about why we do what we do online — but new folks don’t have the same clarity.
Today Jeff Jarvis wrote about two journalists basically calling Twitter stupid. I immediately saw a similarity between what they said and what hundreds of journalists have said about blogs. Apart from the negativity, what is similar is the tendency to lump all blogs together — as if all blogs have the same intentions. The same with tweets — for example, there’s a blanket criticism to the effect that everyone on Twitter writes about what they had for lunch.
Well, I’ve posted 1,907 tweets, and I’m pretty sure that only one of them was about my lunch. I remember it specifically because I also took a photo of that lunch and posted it (on Twitpic). And I had a good reason: I was on a road trip, passing through Georgia, and I was surprised to discover some really tasty Mexican food. But since the summer of 2008, I’ve changed my Twitter strategy (in my own mind), and I probably won’t tweet any lunches ever again.
Most of my tweets are about journalism and journalism education. I retweet a lot, because most of my carefully selected 320 Twitter “friends” are journalists and/or journalism educators.
But sometimes I tweet off-topic. Several times a week I preface a tweet with the words “Asia watch” to post something about the region that I think might be easily missed. (My reasoning: I follow a lot of news about Southeast Asia, and North American news outlets publish very, very little about Southeast Asia. So maybe I’ve seen something that would interest others, something they would otherwise not see.)
So many various uses, so many motivations
Now and then I @ ( “at” ) my friends on Twitter, and to most of my followers, those @’s are probably just noise — no value. I try not to use Twitter as a substitute for IM, because I’m cognizant of having more than 2,000 followers. I don’t want to alienate them with too much noise.
This brings us to the corollary to Twitter as a mass medium or “broadcast” platform — Twitter is also a personal space for those who choose to use it that way.
That’s where the tweets about lunch, waking up, getting drunk, feeling happy or sad, and walking the dog come into the picture. Or maybe I should say “mosaic,” not “picture” — because this is where many of the whiny critics make their mistake: Twitter, like the blogosphere, is composed of as many different parts and types and subsets as a community or a nation or a stadium full of football fans.
One of the many valuable observations Clay Shirky made in his book Here Comes Everybody addresses this perfectly:
… why would anyone put such drivel out in public?
It’s simple. They’re not talking to you. (p. 85, Penguin paperback edition, 2009)
This brings me back to my reason for writing this post — your strategy for what you do online.
Do you even know why you’re doing what you’re doing?
Don’t get me started on how many times I have wanted to scream those words at newspaper reporters and editors … No, today I’m speaking in general, to journalists and students (not only journalism students) and even moms (and dads) who are blogging and/or tweeting about who-knows-what.
Figure out what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Another way to put it: Who is your audience, or who do you want to be in your audience? Who is this for? There’s an old creative-writing maximum that goes something like this: If you write only for yourself, you’re likely to have an audience of one. What Shirky wrote (above) reflects the fact that there are people writing, for example, diary blogs who are really writing only for themselves, or for a very small circle of friends. Some people write travel blogs when they go abroad, with the intention that only friends and family will be in the audience.
So whether you’re writing a blog, or tweeting, or posting Delicious bookmarks (I mark many of my bookmarks personal, or “not shared”), or lifestreaming, give some thought to the audience. If you want a site or venue to be personal, intended for a small circle of people you know, then write accordingly. If you want to cultivate your reputation as an analyst of East Asian economics, then you’re going to be writing about (and linking to) entirely different stuff.
But you know, it’s always your call. Another example I love from Shirky’s book relates the experience of a Thai college student who wrote a “fashion obsessed” blog. During the 2006 coup in Thailand, she switched from frivolous matters to day-to-day eyewitness reporting from her perspective. She posted photos of a soldier and tanks in the streets. Then the coup excitement ended, and she went back to her normal breezy life.