More Lessons from My 10-Tweets-a-Day Challenge

Chart showing tweets per day for February 2012In the beginning of February, I challenged myself to post at least 10 times a day on Twitter. As I explained in the blog entry announcing the challenge, I had a variety of reasons for undertaking it. Mainly, though, I wanted to make better use of my Twitter account.

Now that the month is done, how did I do? And what, if anything, have I learned?

Unlike my previous challenge to publish one blog post a day in November, I didn’t quite achieve my goal this time. The main reason for my shortfall was a vacation in San Antonio, Texas. As the accompanying chart shows, I fell short of 10 tweets for all 5 days of the vacation. On one lamentable day, I managed only one tweet.

Overall, I sent out 301 tweets, for an average of 10.4 a day. Humble though that number may appear, it is 10 times my daily average for the previous six months.

My aim was not just to tweet 10 times a day, but to make about one-third of the tweets promotional (linking to something I’d written), one-third curatorial (linking to something elsewhere on the web), and one-third conversational (where there is no link, just a comment). Despite having just self-published a book (the New-Media Survival Guide), my usual reticence restricted my promotional tweets to just 12% of the total for the month. Conversationally, I was closer to my target, at 24%. More than 6 of 10 tweets was curatorial.

A couple of other metrics are worth noting. My lifetime average for daily tweets, as determined by How Often Do You Tweet?, has risen from 0.7 to 0.9. And my net number of followers has increased by 28, to 283. Though I can’t say for sure whether my stepped-up activity is responsible for the increase in followers, I gained 45 in February compared with 29 the month before.

Midway through the month, I noted a few of the things I’ve learned about Twitter and myself in the course of this challenge. I would add a couple more.

First, I’ve found that tweeting about articles and other Web content is a good way to keep track of them. I don’t often remember to bookmark things I like. But since my Pinboard social bookmarking account records links in my tweets, I don’t have to remember to bookmark them if I’m tweeting actively.

Second, both the quality and quantity of my tweets are related to those of the people I follow. On days when a lot of them were sharing great content, I didn’t have any difficulty meeting my quota. On other days, there wasn’t much worth retweeting or commenting on.

Recognizing that this review of my challenge is of interest primarily to myself, I won’t draw it out. But as I noted two weeks ago, it’s been a good experience for me.

Will I maintain my average of 10 tweets a day in the coming months? I can’t guarantee it. But I will try. Stay tuned.

My February Challenge: 10 Tweets a Day

It’s somewhat sad, I suppose, that my only effective mode of self-improvement is to set arbitrary goals. But it works.

Last November, I challenged myself to write a blog post a day. I am happy to say I met my goal. Although I subsequently fell off the wagon in December (8 posts) and January (5 posts), it still feels like a significant achievement.

This month, I’m setting my sights on Twitter.  I think of myself as an active and enthusiastic user of the platform, but when I actually calculate my daily tweets, the number is unimpressive. A visit to How Often Do You Tweet? tells me that I’m averaging 0.7 tweets a day. That ties me with the estimable Paul Conley, but leaves me well behind even the moderate output of new-media mavens Rex Hammock (7.0) and Adam Tinworth (7.6). And if I can trust the MediaPost claim that average Twitter users tweet 0.5 times a day, that makes me only slightly better than average.

Now, to be fair to myself, I rarely used Twitter for the first year or so after joining in April 2008. How Often Do You Tweet? calculates your daily average by dividing your total number of tweets by the total number of days since joining Twitter.

But even calculating my output for the last six months yields just 1.4 tweets per day. Clearly, that’s not enough if I want to consider myself a genuine participant in the conversation.  But how many daily tweets is enough?

According to Dan Zarrella, “Users who tweet between 10 and 50 times per day have more followers on average than those that tweet more or less frequently.” Now Zarella notes that the optimum number of daily tweets appears to be 22 (and can it be sheer coincidence that the the wily and ultra-productive Mark Schaefer tweets exactly—you guessed it—22 times per day?)

Realistically, I will never hit that level. It’s just not in me. But 10 tweets a day should be doable.

I’m not sure one’s number of followers is a good proxy for effective use of Twitter, but let’s assume that it is. If I tweet at least 10 times per day, how many more followers will I have, I wonder? My count as of February 1 is 255. Let’s see where I end up on leap day.

No challenge is complete, of course without a few rules. Here are mine:

  • Every day I must post at least 10 times on Twitter. Ideally I will spread my tweets throughout the day, but I won’t rule out the occasional barrage at 11:30 p.m. (Just hope you aren’t awake and on Twitter then.)
  • Retweets and @replies count toward my daily goal; direct messages do not. Twitter’s not strictly about originality or broadcasting, but about sharing. If the world can see it, it counts; if not, it doesn’t.
  • Exactly three of my tweets must be self-promotional. I want to follow my formula of one-third of my daily tweets being conversational, one-third curatorial, and one-third promotional. For me, the last of these quotas is the biggest challenge; not, as for many others, because I need to cut down on promotion, but rather because I need to increase it. Marketing does not come naturally to me.
  • Escape clause: One day a week, I can make up any deficit for the previous six days (but by no more than 10 tweets total). I hope I won’t have to exercise this one, but realistically, I probably will.

Will my challenge make me a more prolific Twitter poster in the months ahead? Perhaps not. But that may be OK. We also serve who only sit in the back of the classroom and take copious notes. As one Douglas Ferguson of the College of Charleston commented in reply to the MediaPost article cited above,

Defining “activity” by messages “sent” is misleading. Twitter is also for receiving messages. In fact, much of what counts in the media world is concerned with receiving messages, not sending them. No one holds YouTube to the same standard as Twitter, so it seems unfair to focus on messages being sent.

Still, one wants to encourage those students in the back to share their thoughts more often. So here goes my humble effort. (And if you want to check on my progress, follow me. And on the other hand, if you don’t relish the thought of 1000% more tweets from me every day, feel free to unfollow!)

Personal vs. Corporate: Six New-Media Principles, No. 3

In last Wednesday’s post, I described how new media make the reader an equal partner in journalism, able to talk back to, as well as compete with, the journalist. The same dynamic similarly changes the journalist’s relation to his or her employer. Journalists no longer need a traditional publisher in order to talk with readers.

Formerly, most journalists were, to readers, little more than a name on a page. But in the social media world, they have an increasingly personal and direct connection to their readers. In the terms of commerce, journalists are becoming brands, potentially the equal of their employer’s corporate brand.

Having a personal, conversational relationship with an audience inevitably means having a distinctive voice and point of view. To traditionally trained journalists, this may seem not simply unfamiliar, but unprofessional. Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalism program manager, puts it this way:

“As journalists, we often squirm at phrases like ‘personal branding.’ But the reality is that social media, and the social Web in general, have created a shift from the institutional news brand to journalists’ personal brands . . . [and] a consumption environment that encourages conversation as much as content, and the personal as much as the professional. It’s a shift from the logo to the face.”

As all forms of media become more personal, the bonds that link media professional to corporate employer become weaker. At the same time, the connections to social networks grow stronger. For journalists the implications of this trend are simple: embrace social networking, or say goodbye to your career.

Collaboration vs. Control: Six New-Media Principles, No. 2

In yesterday’s post, I described new media’s foundation in conversation, the preference for dialogue over monologue. Today’s principle is closely related. Conversations are only truly conversational when they are collaborative. If anyone controls the conversation, it ceases to be one.

But for traditional journalists and marketers alike, the notion of giving up editorial control can be challenging. Many print veterans, for instance, have difficulty accepting the idea that good editorial content can be provided by readers volunteering their work. As one prominent B2B publisher put it earlier this year,  “people who write for free will give you exactly what you pay for in the long run.” (Ironically, he made this statement in a presentation he was giving for free.)

Behind this perspective is a bias to professionalism. In this view, journalism is a complex product that can only be produced by trained career journalists who are paid for their work. It’s their job to write, the readers’ to read, and the advertisers’ to pay for it all.

But in the social media era, roles and responsibilities are not so clear-cut. When journalism’s role is seen as enabling conversation in a community, the journalist’s voice is no longer privileged. Others may speak with as much or more authority and insight, and without needing payment to do so.

The print veteran’s tendency to discount contributions from users is amplified by the form of those contributions. In keeping with the nature of online media, they tend to be decidedly unprofessional: incomplete, unpolished, and personal—in other words, conversational.

To survive in the new-media era, journalists must not simply accept user-generated content, but enable it; they must aim to collaborate in the conversation, not to control it.

Tomorrow: The personal vs. the corporate.

Dialogue vs. Monologue: Six New-Media Principles, No. 1

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, over the next six days I will be discussing six new-media principles, adapted from my forthcoming e-book, the New-Media Survival Guide. Today’s principle is based on the importance and power of conversation, reflecting new media’s emphasis on dialogue rather than monologue.

Photo by Shel Israel: Doc Searls and David Weinberger

Doc Searls and David Weinberger: "Markets are conversations"

In 1999, when Doc Searls and David Weinberger wrote in The Cluetrain Manifesto that “markets are conversations,” it was a fresh, radically new idea. Today, for anyone who’s thought much about social media, it verges dangerously on being trite. But however obvious the idea may seem, it remains a powerful, foundational concept for new media. We ignore it at our peril.

Searls and Weinberger were addressing their comments above all to public relations and marketing people. In the beginning of their chapter, in fact, they point to magazines as a “form of market conversation.” But the publishing industry’s advantage is only relative; it too has tended either to ignore or to dominate the conversation.

Before the Internet, journalism was largely a one-way form of communication. Publishers talked to their readers, but few readers could talk back, and in only limited ways. Digital technologies have dramatically changed the balance. Now, readers can easily and immediately comment on stories by commenting on blogs. What’s more, they can now be publishers themselves, whether through their own blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of social media. Not only can they talk back to publications, but they can also compete against those publications by talking to other readers directly.

This change means that traditional distinctions between the journalist, the reader, and the news source are breaking down.  Journalists can no longer rely on the idea of professionalism as separating them in a meaningful way from “amateur” bloggers and other kinds of citizen journalists. Now, as Storyful’s David Clinch told Mashable, “journalists must be able to pivot quickly between the idea of using the community as a source of news and as the audience for news, because they are both.”

As a result, the nature of journalistic discourse is transforming. It is no longer a one-way speech, but a two-way exchange. The journalist’s role is no longer to dominate or control the conversation, but to participate in the conversation, support it, and help a variety of other voices to be heard.

(SImilarly, the publisher’s role is no longer to dominate or control the journalist. Despite the ongoing efforts of organizations like the Associated Press to control when and how their employees speak, journalists now have the same power as everyone else to speak directly to their audience.)

As I say, all this is old hat for anyone even slightly familiar with new media. But that’s the challenge. We tend to forget that a conversation is not simply one person talking, then the other. For any participant in a communication, the most important elements are first, truly listening to what others say, and then meaningfully responding to them. As their use of a social-media platform like Twitter shows, even today journalists tend to think of their primary media role as talking. But true dialogue demands an equal emphasis on those other conversational skills: listening and responding.

Tomorrow: Collaboration vs. control.