Stepping into the conversation

One of the benefits of not being a bleeding edge early adopter is that there is much wisdom and experience to be drawn from the pioneers who have learned the hard way. It is the equivalent of being at a busy intersection and choosing the right time to merge. There will never be a complete break in the traffic, but at least you know what you are joining.

Experienced tweeps are going to find this post a case of stating a range of obvious observations, so apologies to you in advance. You are the people I am learning from, so thank you. However, I know a number of communicators who think they may need to do more to understand these channels but are not quite sure of how to step in. For you, here are some of my early observations.

Working within an organisation, I had been a passive observer of twitter for over two years, had researched best use and had even been involved in the formulation of social media policies. I had been waiting on the kerb.

It was not until the 2010 Federal Election that I found my stride, began exploring applications such as hootsuite and tweetdeck, learned some of the etiquette of hashtags, and how to create lists to wrangle the growing sources of information and ideas. In trying out these tools, I am finding that my twitter use has grown in recent weeks. 

I have been watching behaviour. One of my main interests during the election was the degree to which these tools were being used authentically, only to observe the range of pollies who jumped in, uncomfortable and managed. There seem to be an equal number of businesses who have a twitter account but clearly don’t know why (“everybody else was crossing…”)

Over the past few months there have also been some notable public train wrecks and PR disasters amongst journos, sports stars and others who have struggled with the public/private nature of the medium, and with businesses who have applied the communication practices of the past to the new world and damaged their credibility in the process.  

I have also begun to see how many NGO and other dot orgs are using these tools to enlist, engage, enrage and encourage. Then there are the companies who have already ‘got it’, who are intelligently conducting business with their customers by being in the dialogue in an authentic way.

As illustrated at the Media140 conference last week (#media140) (and in today’s twitstorm arising from the outing of an anonymous blogger by the News Ltd paper the Australian #groggate), the acceptable norms of behaviour are still being defined in this medium.

Within the communication industry, there has been a substantial growth in the range of eduction, consulting, and ‘expertise’. There are many good resources and these are questions that professional communicators are taking seriously. (I follow many of these in my range of lists). There are others who don’t know whether to join the traffic or not.

For me, twitter is an opportunity to get prompted about a diverse range of ideas, sources and interests. I hope to take the lessons of those who have become expert at sharing information that is useful with their communities, to be succinct and relevant, to occasionally be a little irreverent. I hope to join conversations and start discussion. I have decided on a strategy. 

I’m stepping in. 

Is it ironic to wish you were in the room for a realtime web conference?

Today I watched a webcast of the Media140 OzPolitics event held in Canberra. Media140 is an independent organisation committed to the application of the real time web (social media and related tools) to politics, business, NGOs and communities. Like a specialised TED, they have run a number of symposiums and events globally to explore the issues, ideas and social change arising from the new communications.

What made this session different from the usual range of social media training, conference and talks was (aside from Julian Morrow’s MCing of the afternoon), was the range and experience of the panelists and presenters.  Using politics as a (paradocixaly) unifying theme, the event explored:

– Lessons from Obama’s Campaign
–  Dissection of real time web use in the Australian Federal Election
– The UK 2010 election (a fantastic presentation from UK Academic Dr Clare Wardle)
– GetUp case study and NGO/activist engagement with realtime web.

There was a good cross section of experienced voices in the room, and there were some quite substantial differences of opinion – particularly about whether the ‘realtime web’ is good or bad for democracy/reportage/politics/engagement. The differing stances are predictably driven by  the perceived gains or losses arising from the shift in voice and participative nature of this new environment.

Big themes today included:
Control versus participation
Realtime web asks for participation, and democratises information. Media, politicians and businesses who strive for control (of the message) in this environment are missing the fundamental difference inherent in the new environment.

Its only the beginning
These are early days for the technologies and the usage patterns. Looking at the extreme growth in the use of twitter for example (which still doesn’t approach the daily volume of SMS used globally) it is apparent that while there are patterns of use, communication and behaviour now, these will evolve as more people adopt the technology – it will change language and behaviour.

Know your purpose
Whatever realtime tools become available and however they are changing the discourse, some principles don’t change. Check your sources. Do your research. Go where the fish are.
The quote that stood out for me was from social activist David Hood: Rather than being too broad, “be a social media acupuncturist. Apply pressure only where you need to for results”.

All of it was fiercely tweeted (#media140), particularly by those in the room, as documented by Crikey cartoonist First Dog on the Moon.

Audio from the sessions is being posted at .

ABC Radio Canberra has done a stoic job transcribing some of the panels.