“Strangers are just friends waiting to happen.” ~ Rod McKuen
Recently I was trying to explain Twitter to my 80 year-old mother. After about 20 minutes of telling her about all of the great things I have discovered through Twitter, her only comment was, “You talk to thousands of strangers every day? Did you learn nothing in kindergarten?” After laughing a bit at the absurdity of my mother lecturing her adult daughter about stranger danger, I stopped to reflect. She had a point. From our earliest years it has been ingrained in us to avoid interactions with people we don’t know beyond certain contexts. Has a rule we learned when we were five, made us reluctant to communicate with strangers outside of a business connection, personal introduction, or face-to-face social setting?
I see many adults on Twitter who don’t engage at all. They broadcast or just retweet. For the first couple of months after I joined Twitter, I just sort of “lurked”. I wasn’t sure what I should tweet about or to whom I should talk. I had been involved in social media for years, but I primarily used LinkedIn for business networking and Facebook to interact with friends and family. Twitter just seemed awkward. I realized I needed to adjust my perspective and consider interaction on Twitter as I would a business seminar or cocktail party.
I soon got beyond my original discomfort and sent out my first @ reply. And my Twitter experience changed significantly. While even as adults we need to be cautious with whom we interact and the information we share, the benefits of opening up to more engagement justifies erasing from our psyche a strict adage we learned when were five. Here are my top 5 reasons you should forget what you learned in kindergarten and start talking to strangers on Twitter.
1. Learn From Others. One of the most fascinating aspects I’ve discovered about Twitter is the ability to connect with experts in any field imaginable. For me, the opportunity to connect with peers in marketing, advertising, and sponsorship has been invaluable. Every day I learn something new, stay up-to-date on the latest within my industry, and gather ideas and tips from engaging with others in my profession, reading blog posts, or asking questions. It’s an incredible learning tool. This extends into my personal interests as well. Where else would I be able to chat with a sommelier in London about a great new Cote du Rhone, a NY Times bestselling author about his recommended books, a travel blogger about where I should stay on my next trip to Venice, or a chef regarding his favorite salmon recipe? All this at my fingertips; in one place: Twitter. It’s like being at the best cocktail party in the world!
2. Establish Genuine Friendships. I’ve seen several blog posts and much debate about whether connections made through Twitter and other social networking sites can develop into real friendships. They can if you treat them the same way you would a relationship IRL (in real life) and make the effort to connect. I have developed true friendships with amazing, interesting, supportive and inspiring people I’ve met on Twitter. We talk in stream, by DM, email, and on the phone. I’ve met with several Twitter friends at various tweetups and events. I hope to meet many more face-to-face at future events. These are real friends, with shared interests, with whom I feel very fortunate to have connected. Friends I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t started engaging more.
3. Foster Compassion and Understanding. One of the most powerful qualities of Twitter is its capacity to connect people from all over the world. I’ve met people in countries I have never visited and knew little about. They share with me their blog posts about current news, events, politics and culture. Unlike reading in the news about a place or event across the world to which I have no connection, Twitter allows me to talk firsthand with people who are experiencing the event: sharing their photos, their joy, and their anguish. It humanizes the stories we read about or watch on the evening news. Through Twitter millions of people learned about and closely followed the riots during the Iranian elections. Just as many are learning about censorship in China. On Twitter we saw the devastation in Haiti in real time, can continue to talk to people who are there, and can truly understand the magnitude of loss in their lives and the unbelievable struggle it will be to rebuild. We can discover new organizations and follow a charity’s efforts to help others. And if the Twitter campaigns of Yele Haiti and Red Cross are examples, we give more because we feel personally connected to these people, inspired by others with whom we have engaged, and feel more compelled to act. This is an incredible power of Twitter: compelling compassion for others, undermining ignorance, and creating an opportunity to understand other people and cultures can only make the world a better place. Engaging on Twitter can broaden your perspective and make the world seem a little bit smaller.
4. Create a Perpetual Networking Resource. Whether you’re looking for a job or just trying to make business connections, Twitter can be a constant networking resource. After LinkedIn, Twitter is the social networking site most used by recruiters and hiring managers to source talent. Unlike just posting a resume on an online job board, Twitter offers the job seeker the opportunity to actually connect and build a relationship with hiring managers and recruiters, people you may never have the opportunity to meet if your resume is lost in an online filtering process. By engaging, you can show your communication skills, knowledge, and personality. You can direct them to your blog to discover more about you and your experience. You have the valuable opportunity to establish a relationship even before a position becomes available. If done well, it’s one of the ultimate personal branding avenues. Here is a list of 140+ employers using Twitter for recruitment from TheUndercoverRecruiter.com.
For those in sales or business development, networking on Twitter can create your next significant lead. But it won’t happen unless you make the effort to reach out and connect. The best salespeople don’t go in and toss a proposal on the table and just speak AT the client. They take time to listen, get to know their client’s needs, and engage in a dialogue. Twitter provides an excellent opportunity to not only show what you can bring to a business partnership, but to converse and establish a relationship with potential clients.
5. Grow a quality following. Everyone has their own reason for being on Twitter; and, for some, gathering a large following is important. For others it isn’t relevant. But I’m constantly asked “How do I get more followers?” There are several ways to do it, but one of the first questions I ask is “Do you engage?” Let’s say you were at a cocktail party, would you want to become friends with the person going on and on about his/herself, or the person you met and had a genuine conversation with? It’s the same with broadcasters and engagers on Twitter. Unless you are a celebrity, don’t expect to build a following if you only talk about yourself. Focus first on quality, not quantity. Share and engage. These are the first steps toward increasing your followers.
Although I don’t consider Twitter an appropriate or safe social network for children, for the adult with the ability to use discretion in what to share and with whom, it is one of my favorites. As I told my mom, talking to strangers on Twitter has created a wonderful resource for me professionally and personally. If you’ve been holding back, step out of your comfort zone, shed the fundamental principle you learned in kindergarten and start engaging. You won’t regret it!
What have been some of the benefits you have discovered from engaging with others on Twitter? I would love to hear your personal stories and insights.
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