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.

12 Comments on “What’s your strategy for your online work?

  1. Pingback: A couple of quick hits | Innovation in College Media

  2. Thanks for the post—I was actually trying to express this to a skeptical coworker earlier today and the timeliness is just eerie. I’ll pass it along.

    Besides that, I think the “do you even know why you’re doing what you’re doing?” question is perfect. If I were ever to implement a “social media policy” for a company, it would almost entirely revolve around that question. The assumption that Twitter must be all about people’s lunches persists partially (I think) because of the fact that Twitter pages have a person’s photo attached to them—therefore they must be all about themselves, right? Those of us who use Twitter know that’s ridiculous, but non-Tweeps obviously don’t understand it as well.

  3. Thanks for the post – it inspired me to post http://predocsblog.blogspot.com/ about what I’m trying to do with blogs and Twitter. And I’ll pass on your advice to our students, many of whom think that Twitter is either weird or a waste of time (as do most of my departmental colleagues). I’m determined that’s all going to change this academic year

  4. Thanks for this Mindy. I think you do need a strategy for deciding who you follow. The ones who complain about people who tweet their lunches are following the wrong people. I try to take time to find people who are tweeting about journalism and digital innovation and now I get great links and ideas every day. Also, it’s important when you tweet to think about who your followers are and why they follow you. I tweet mostly about journalism, often RT’ing great links. I think people follow me because I’m about journalism on Twitter. So why would I post my lunch!
    Thanks for a great post.

  5. Great post! I think the people who criticize Twitter the most are likely the ones who don’t understand it. Twitter didn’t start off with a great approach. The “what are you doing” question certainly invokes images of the “here’s what I’m having for lunch” tweets. Those who take the time to give Twitter a try and really learn what it’s all about, soon discover that it’s much more about content sharing and having a conversation with like-minded folks. I just wrote a blog post “Top 6 Reasons to Try Twitter” as a way to educate new Twitter users and help others decide to take the plunge: http://lauraclick.com/2009/09/top-six-reasons-to-try-twitter/

    Once you understand Twitter a bit better, then yes, it’s imperative to create your own policy on how to use it. Great analysis!

  6. Thanks for the comments! A lot of people have liked the “Do you even know why you’re doing what you’re doing?” question.

    I think maybe when you first start something new, you DON’T know. You’re just trying it out. But after a while, if you’re sticking with it (whatever it is), you ought to have figured out what IT is good for, and the most effective way to use IT for your business, your journalism, your personal life — whatever.

    Otherwise, quit using IT!

  7. Pingback: Notes from a Teacher - Saturday squibs

  8. Pingback: links for 2009-09-16 | Joanna Geary

  9. Thanks Mindy for another good post, especially one that inspired such conversation. I agree with Michelle on the topic of twittering. Instead of drifting off into LaLaLand or trying to strike up useless conversation with someone next to you who is obviously too busy to speak with you anyway- twittering during lunch periods has proven to be productive, entertaining and boost your social life. Like Michelle, I also try to take time to find people who are tweeting about journalism and digital innovation and now I get great links and ideas every day. However I now keep in mind her point about who my followers are and why they follow me. It’s not as if I post self serving things over twitter. I use it as a conversation starter and way to network. It’s meant to be done on the fly, which is why I take such enjoyment tweeting over a subway sandwich and chips.

  10. Pingback:   Bookmarks for August 25th through September 20th by andydickinson.net

  11. Thank you for this. You just made me realize why I’m not getting what I want out of Twitter, etc. I’m preaching to the choir instead of hanging out with the people in the back pew.

    I followed other journalists because what they’re saying about convergence, multimedia, and the future of journalism matters to me. But I’m tweeting their links and talking about those issues. Why would the people I really want to reach care? They won’t. They don’t. No wonder crowdsourcing isn’t working for me.

    I wanted to position myself as a Southern journalist with a keen understanding of the challenges our region faces. I wanted an editor sitting in New York to think of me when he needed a Mississippi story. I wanted to talk to the local people, the people I write about every day, and engage them on a new level.

    I wanted to become better at what I do. To maximize every tool available to tell the stories that are important to me.

    As much as I love other journalists, I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd.

  12. Pingback: Twittering and texting; temptation or turn-off? « According to Rios

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.