So I’ve had an interesting few weeks and not been on Twitter very much at all.
I was also hit by a car and knocked off my bike last month.
Not to give away the punch line but, I am going to make the case that the two are connected – and for more ideological reasons than “I was in a body cast and couldn’t reach the keyboard”. Let me know what you think. I wasn’t in a body cast, by the way. That was just to make my point. Phewy.
We needn’t actually get too sidetracked by the accident – all in all I was incredibly lucky and am largely fine! But I did find a couple of things around the event to be kind of interesting and it’s those that I want to talk about. Even if my point isn’t a social media epiphany for many of you, I think you might well enjoy how I get there anyway.
Now then. After I came off my bicycle, I had a brief personality shift and the key element of that shift was that I temporarily almost totally lost my sense of humour. I've talked about the Scouse sense of humour before and how important it is to the way we look at things. So this was a weird thing. It came about as follows:
Firstly, the nature of my injuries meant that it was uncomfortable to smile – you guessed it, I fell on my face – and it hurt to laugh, because I had some tissue damage around my ribs.
Secondly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nonplussed at having been hit by an automobile. That was just rubbish.
And thirdly there were the drugs. Which had the greatest effect, I think. Having had a sum total of zero experience with narcotics, I’d assumed they made you high, or something along those lines. Turns out they do not. They just check...you...out. Yes, that broken arm hurts, but who cares? I’m just going to have a little sleepy in this chair, if that’s okayzzzzzz…
The entirety of what I had in my arsenal of positive expression through this period was (count ‘em) one tight, completely insincere, half-smile and one soft, high-pitched laugh which involved no breathing. Any dalliance even near a genuine guffaw and I had to have a sit down and clutch my chest like an old person in a bad sitcom. I was pretty disconnected from things and, for a little bit, just nothing was funny.
All of this messing about of course impacted on how I communicated. Though I didn’t quite get the extent to which I was nonsensical until after the fact (“gibberish”, my doctor assures me retrospectively - I guess that’s the medical term, then), I could still tell that my social synapses weren’t quite firing and that was frustrating for me regardless of docility.
My dealing with this problem quickly took the form of speaking in only very functional conversation; it took less brainpower, was more likely to get the job done (so long as my aims were slight) and was way less likely to leave me staring space for minutes at a time when I got lost in the middle of a sentence. For example, where previously I might have said:
“That smells great. I’d love some, cheers. How did you make it?”
I now might have said:
“Food. Yes. Thank you.”
All of the social fell out of my socializing and it sucked.
Of course, anything that affects the way you communicate is going to affect the social media you use, because social media is all communication.
When I logged in to Twitter as I tried (and failed) to get back to work that first week, I found I was just in a digital equivalent of this same situation. I was trying to follow conversations and trying to partake in them, but it was really hard. I didn’t get jokes, certainly couldn’t make them, and couldn’t find the language to comment on or interact with the stuff in people’s streams that I was finding interesting. I was living in a loop of Homer realizing he’d been called slow in the first scene of the Simpsons episode Secrets of a Successful Marriage.
There was a distinct point at which I remember I looked through my own Twitter stream in that week and realized it looked like my stream did when I had just started using Twitter – when I, like a lot of people, thought that it was simply akin to a more rigid Facebook status update.
(For anyone not familiar with push versus pull communication style, ever-so briefly, push messages are what you decide you want to tell people, rather than what you say when you take the opportunity to find out what people are interested in and what they want to hear about. The latter, pull style communication, creates interaction and is far more useful to all concerned. Social media is built on pull-style. That's a whole paragraph in parentheses. My English teacher would have me shot.)
It seemed to me at this time that what I was saying was almost the very definition of push-style communications. The messages weren’t really for anyone but me and interacting was proving to take more concentration than I had. My stream was monotone and was pretty much either telling people I’d had a crash, telling them that I was okay or, apparently, telling them that I was going for waffle fries. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really useful way to tell some people that I was okay and, doubly don’t get me wrong, the waffle fries at Asylum in DC are incredible, but these things did not by themselves amount to worthwhile content. My output read like the tweets that come out of organizations when they are just starting to tweet or the ones that have never quite tipped over into getting that it’s about interaction: “We’ve got a course and you can go on it!”/”Give to this click here!”/"We’ve written a report.” (No, the last one doesn't even get an exclamation mark.)
I couldn’t bear it. At best I was dull and at worst I was dumb – at one point I got a new Twitter friend’s gender wrong. Fabulous.
I want to use someone else’s commentary to illustrate my frustration with myself here. I saw @theLaCproject present at an Institute of Fundraising social media conference earlier this year and they said something that really stuck with me and that I’ve quoted a number of times since then. I’m completely paraphrasing, but I don't think they'll mind and you’ll get the gist:
If you use Twitter only to push what you want to say instead of what people want to listen to, or just to ask for things without giving anything, then you rip out all of the humanity.
I think you can transpose that and pull it across all social media, but it’s worth adding about Twitter specifically that although it’s 140 characters per communication, people pour their humanity, humour, intelligence and compassion into their tweets. And that's why it's so special.
Now, as apparently all of these things were on hold for me, I thought it might be a good idea to pipe down for a while. I was wary of boring people to death or just bugging the crap out of my followers enough to alienate them, because I just didn’t have the capacity to engage. And there’s the sentence that you want to note, if you’re going to note any of this. The point you want to register is that I didn’t have the ability to engage honestly with the other humans on Twitter. So I went quiet while I recovered and gave myself some time to get my sense of humour and my positivity back. By the way, I’m just re-engaging now really and it’s great to be back talking to people. For instance, I was really sorry not to be at the IoF conference (#iofnc) for the first time in ages this week but got to keep up via Twitter – and I even got the awards live (thank you @robmdyson specifically for the latter). Anyway...
I’m not positioning myself as a Twitter expert here, merely as a Twitter lover (very different). This stuff has been on my mind a lot recently as I’ve been coaching some non-profit people on the "do"s and "don’t"s of Twitter for nfps and I have to say this personal experience has been a great example to use for people I’m talking to on what not to do. My point, and I suppose the moral of the story if there is one, is that we need to tweet with our personality and humanity engaged. There is simply no point otherwise. It’s a waste of time. We always have the option to be honest and interesting and that’s our most exciting option. Without a doubt.
Another way to remember this could be to, if you use Twitter or are about to start, aim not to tweet like me on a bunch of heavy narcotics.
Thanks for listening. My next post will probably try to be less narcissistic ;) Go here is you want to watch that Simpsons episode. And please wear a helmet if you’re biking home.