Twitter: Mindful Guide for 2016 Newbies

My first foray into Twitter was back in 2010, and it lasted a mere 2h lesson. To grasp the burgeoning power of social media, all of us were instructed to create accounts by the form teacher, Mr Unpopular. Following his glowing recommendation, we just had to quit Twitter.

Okay I’m kidding; computer lessons are fun regardless of the teacher, as long as it doesn’t involve coding. I recalled posting a video link and moments later, a classmate’s desktop blared. Not my fault! But that was it. I thought, why do I need to limit myself to 140 characters when I can write and do more on Facebook? Its utility was lost on me. It ain’t the teacher’s fault. You wouldn’t want to waste too much of your time either, right?

Twitter Angry Bird

Twitter just became an Angry Bird! (Original: Pixabay)

Yet 6 years on, I’m jumping on the bandwagon that stalled.

Not surprising, for a blogger seeking to reach more people. That’s indeed my intention. But it took so long because I’m the kind who must know what he’s doing before he does it. Signing up last Sunday is thus a deliberated decision built on the belief that I can bring added value in the 140-character Twitterverse. I’m entering as an enthusiast.

My first few days were spent playing with the various functions available. The experimentation is not merely functional, but mindful.

1) Follows
My first hours were spent searching for relevant and interesting accounts. I needed to connect with like-minded individuals or groups. Yet I also feared entering a world of endless distractions. Thus I mainly picked accounts which weren’t posting way too much (e.g. news outlets) and weren’t circulating useless rants (if they were even rants). It’s clearly not all rosy:

Dark Side of Twitter

Tweet by SG author of award-winning “Ministry of Moral Panic”. Her last post: 24 Aug 2014.

I might be worrying too much. The Twitter feed has gone from unfiltered to sorted (like FB), which protects users against spamming and reduces spamming itself, because tweeters need not jostle every minute to appear top of others’ feeds. On the downside, those with less followers will be disadvantaged as they will naturally elicit fewer responses and be ranked lower.

One way to tackle this is through Lists. (Find it in the dropdown from your display icon in the top right corner.) Lists, as the name implies, help to organize our interests into groups. We can thus easily group less-followed Twitters we like into a list of its own. Apart from taking greater control of our quick reading, we also allow other tweeters to benefit from our list curation. Indeed, Twitter greatly facilitates community sharing. I’ll probably explore this function over the next week.

2) Tweets (Posts)
The next question is, of course, what should I post? It is quite disconcerting to post something to ZERO followers. (Inviting my real-life friends won’t happen till I get the hang of it, and even then, made to be entirely voluntary. I don’t want to be liable for dragging them into the dark side!) This felt like a chicken-and-egg scenario. I settled on a truthful statement of why I’m expanding into social media earlier than I envisaged:

Twitter 1st Tweet in 2016

The sad truth + Exclamation (!) = Under-happy.

My next post, meanwhile, linked to one of my blog posts. Over the next few days, I shared a famous quote, a quote from a book, a quote from a scholarly essay (by Sartre), and my play on a well-known quote, simple but thus difficult to attribute. Suffice to say, I’m still puzzled about how people can find my posts.

Quote 01

My first-ever Twitter ‘Like’!

3) Retweets (Shares)
Retweets simply mean sharing other user’s content. But to think there are multiple ways to retweet! With the help of HubSpot, I’ve identified 3 distinct ways, in order of decreasing convenience:

  • Retweet: Click the buttons twice; no typing needed.
    • You’ll appear in the list of post retweeters.
    • You’ll appear in the original tweeter’s notifications tab.
  • Retweet + Comment: Click Retweet, add comment and post.
    • You can use <116 characters, but original hyperlinks will not show in blue.
    • You’ll not be shown in the list of post retweeters.
    • You’ll appear in the original tweeter’s notifications tab.
  • Manual Retweet: Copy original tweet, add RT: and tag (@__) the original tweeter.
    • You need to fit in <140 characters, but original hyperlinks will show in blue.
    • You’ll not be shown in the list of post retweeters.
    • You’ll appear in the original tweeter’s notifications + mentions tabs.
Options for Retweeters

Example of the 1st option: Retweet (no comment). Click the post and I’ll be visible in the list of retweeters.

It amazes me how all these options serve subtly different functions. My first instinct was to use the 2nd option, Retweet + Comment. After all, knowledge is meant to built upon and applied, as per my objectives. Yet this option also appears the least favourable for reaching out to others.

Do I want to be more prominent to fellow readers (Retweet) or the original tweeter (Manual Retweet)? I have tried the 1st option, albeit to no visible effects. I haven’t tried the 3rd option, though I’ve played with the ‘tag’ function. I managed to tag my way into a conversation with a writer (albeit little-known)!

4) Hashtags
Twitter is synonymous with #hashtags, which becomes a convenient search tool for users to follow key trends or start their own. Obviously I haven’t been able to do the latter. Doing the former feels pointless too, because your post will likely be buried in the traffic.

I guess with hashtags, it’s rarely about trendsetting, but about adding meaning to your tweets in fancy, humorous ways. I feel like there’s a lot to learn on this front, because it is so open-ended.

5) Likes
Like are pretty self-explanatory, except that they are represented by a Heart button. Unlike FB, Twitter likes are compiled on every tweeter’s profile page:

Twitter Likes Bar

Likes may be less prominent than tweets and retweets, but they can be really useful in my opinion. Here are key uses:

  • Reference: Revisit interesting posts you’ve liked (unlike FB).
  • Community: Another way to identify like-minded people.
  • Reciprocity: Tweeters you like may follow you in return.

For me, Likes allow me to affirm other users without needing to commit to all their tweets. Indiscriminate following is a way to gain reciprocal followers fast, but I don’t believe in that. What I’d prefer are users who really buy into what I stand for. It’s hard to reach out, but this is a benign and potentially helpful option.

In this age of social media, we tend to hop on bandwagons with great uncertainty. Often we have little choice. But if you are only just joining now – years after its advent – there is little excuse not to be more conscious about it. You don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time, everywhere!

Social media is a technology biased towards endless but superficial consumption. I hope this brief first-step guide made you a little more mindful of how technologies, hidden with design interfaces, can shape how we interact with others and present ourselves. If you like what I’ve written, do follow my future steps on WordPress and on Twitter.

Mindful Thinking on Social Media

(Original: Pixabay)

Granted, I’ve only been ‘on’ for about a week, so the observations are far from complete. But completeness is not the point. As technologies evolve quickly, we must be ready to evolve with it. All you need is to take a firm step back and ask yourself, again and again: How can I use this platform more enjoyably, more purposefully?

“Stepping back is hard, but it renews our purpose moving forward.”
(^I’m tweeting this!)

Socio Empath

Hi, my name is Eugene. I am a Sociology graduate from the National University of Singapore. This blog is an invitation: To see our selves as colored by cultures, and to brighten the colors of our society. I seek to help you create freedom in everyday life, with empathy and the sociological imagination.

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