Don’t let Twitter Make You a Twit: Finding Your Voice on Twitter

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I resisted Twitter for a long time. It just never appealed to me. I already feel like I have enough social media to handle, as well as enough noise coming at me, with Facebook. I also didn’t really like what seemed to be the principle behind Twitter— which seemed from the outside like it was just turning complex ideas into soundbites. It gave people a platform for spreading ideas quickly, but at the same time it seemed to be making communication worse, not better. A prime example of this is when elected officials in the US tweet during presidential speeches, such as the State of the Union. That kind of platform seems to encourage thoughtlessness in communication— speaking out of turn, responding in the moment rather than building in time for reflection, interrupting others when they are still speaking, and just generally not really listening— which is the cornerstone of communication.

But when Lindsay and I started this online forum at BeSpoke, we wanted to challenge ourselves to explore all avenues of online expression; both for getting our material out there, but also because online communication is yet another way of using one’s voice. My relationship with Twitter initially created skepticism and anxiety, but I’m growing into it— and in fact I find that using the principles we teach for in-person communication can strengthen the Tweeting voice as well.

Here are three tips taken from communication skills coaching that can strengthen your Twitter presence:

  1. If you have nothing to say, say nothing: When we first joined Twitter and started getting followers, I immediately felt this sense of pressure. I thought: ‘I have to say something, and I have to say something regularly, in order to keep and grow our following.’ I would wake up in the morning and think, “What do I tweet today?” And the reality is, there were a lot of days where I just had nothing to say. BeSpoke is a forum that posts weekly, not daily, so while I do sometimes come across other articles or interesting items, I am not at the point where I am ready to have daily content. It was a turning point for me to realize, first of all, that I was putting this unnecessary pressure on myself. Just because I had a forum, didn’t mean I needed to consistently use it. In fact, consistently speaking when you have nothing of substance to contribute can diminish your communication power, because people learn to stop listening.
    2. Breathe before you Tweet: The world is full of horror stories of people reactively tweeting without thinking, and living to regret it later. In the same way that words cannot be unspoken—while tweets can be deleted— they cannot be unseen. So before you tweet, take a breath. Is your message something you are comfortable with the entire world seeing? Will you still be comfortable with the entire world seeing it tomorrow? Or the next day? Or years later? If you’re not sure, exhale, leave it for an hour (or a day, month, or year) and come back to it. We always put the pressure on ourselves to respond immediately, but we could all benefit from some more reflection in our communication. Which leads me to:
    3. Listen: Even before Twitter, the world was full of people who had plenty to say (including me!), but the most difficult part of communication, in my humble opinion, is learning how to truly listen. Not letting someone else speak while you think of the next thing to say, as so many of us (me!) are guilty of, but really listening so that you are taking in others’ words and ideas. Breathing while you listen is an excellent way of helping you do just that— take in other people’s words— literally, with your breath! The biggest surprise for me about Twitter is discovering the amount of interesting information that’s out there that I can expose myself to and take in. However, if you find that you are tweeting while someone else is talking to you in real life, maybe even in response to what that person is saying (ahem, US congressmen and women), then put down your device. Trust that there will be time to respond later, and your response will be better, because with listening comes understanding.

I’m still very much in the beginning stages of understanding Twitter. One question that always comes up for me is, to tag, or not to tag when you post? There may be a whole etiquette around this I don’t understand, and yet when I don’t tag, I’m not sure people see my posts! (If you have any insight on this, please comment below, especially if you’re one of the people I’m always tagging!). And while online communication is certainly a new beast with a host of problems and opportunities to consider, it’s reassuring that, at the end of the day, this is still human communication— and we can bring what we already know about it to the table!

Take good care,

Christine