I remember going to an IABC networking session about social media trends back in late 2008 in Toronto. The panelists were talking about this 'Twitter' thing, and many attendees were even live tweeting during the talks. I figured I needed to get on board with 'tweeting' or be left in the dust, plus it did seem kind of fun!
I opened my Twitter account in January 2009, and I have to confess I developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with the social media tool. It seemed like my comments and observations, my little jokes (that I thought were funny) and personal expressions were just drops in an ocean-sized bucket. I was starting to feel as though what I was putting out there didn't matter. I felt a little shy about reaching out to others too; after all, most of these 'tweeters' were people I didn't even know! Why would they want to connect with me? I began to wonder if Twitter was meant for the Justin Beibers and New York Times of the world. The people and businesses that had already achieved notoriety, and would easily hold the attention of thousands of followers.
Was it really a big deal if I did or did not participate? Instead of bringing me together with people, I felt quite isolated.
Since tweeting for my PR & Digital Media module, I feel a bit more emboldened and I believe it is partly to do with connecting and engaging with a specific group. As Clay Shirkey mentions in 'Here Comes Everybody' p.186, "These twitters are interesting not so much because the messages themselves are informative, but because the receiver cares about the sender." I believe we do look for these kinds of connections with others, whether it is online or in person. It is validating to share with those people who are interested in what you have to say or have something in common, and it builds your confidence when it is acknowledged.
Tweeting won't work optimally for you if you are only throwing random stuff at the wall to no one in particular (although this is certainly allowed). It is really through engagement with others that you truly understand its purpose and get some benefit from Twitter. When I look back at my tweets from my first few months as @laurabee43, there is not a retweet or a link posting or a reply to be found! No wonder I felt alone! Since I've been seeking out others for information, links and ideas, it has felt like a much more rewarding and stimulating experience.
I have found that Twitter is certainly comparable to an ocean, with so many bits and pieces of information zipping by it is easy to feel swallowed up and overwhelmed, but I think you can engage with it as much or as little as you want to. You can jump in and go for a long "swim", or you can dip in a toe; both approaches have their time and place. The important thing is to use the opportunity to connect with others as this will enrich your usage.