After 3 Months on Twitter, still wondering…

TwikiniAbout 5 or so months ago, David Pogue wrote in the New York Times that he had tried out Twitter and wasn’t sure what it was good for. He wrote “Like the world needs ANOTHER ego-massaging, social-networking time drain? Between e-mail and blogs and Web sites and Facebook and chat and text messages, who on earth has the bandwidth to keep interrupting the day to visit a Web site and type in, “I’m now having lunch”? And to read the same stuff being broadcast by a hundred other people?” But then he had a revelation. He was on a panel and used Twitter to send out a quick request for an answer to a question, and got dozens of immediate responses from his followers. 

In the ensuing months, Dave’s followers have grown to over 378,000, and he tweets so many times per day, that I’ve removed him from my instant message feed.  What does he tweet about? There’s at least one amusing word game per day, in which he asks his followers a question, and then re-tweets the 10 or so best responses. He offers some kind of “punny” thought of the day before retiring each night. And he sprinkles in a few plugs for his blogs and articles. Now Dave is a very entertaining and prolific writer, so he has found a cult following and a purpose for these little missives. But what about everyone else?

It was Pogue who got me started on Twitter, and in the three months I’ve been using it, I’ve been fascinated by how different people use it. After watching Pogue’s tweets increase so dramatically, I’ve been cautious about who I’m willing to follow.  There are people I know from the indie film business, columnists that enjoy reading, news sources and the obligatory Obama feed. Just about everyone, from Pogue on down, starts out with a first tweet that says something like “testing” or “not sure what I’m supposed to be doing” or “why am I doing this?” Then some of them quit (there was a recent report that over 50% of Twitter users quit after 30 days) and some of them find a voice. Here are some of my observations:

Indie film companies have yet to figure out how to use it. I started following some of my favorite distributors…folks like Magnolia, Zeitgeist etc, and all the tweets are a simple statement of a film opening with a plea to go see it this weekend or a new film available on home video with a plea to buy it. Just like on Facebook, the sheer clutter of this type of tweet ends up being just plain boring. Anyone who would decide to follow one of these companies is already predisposed to their movies, and is going to be reading the reviews and deciding on that basis whether to see a film or not. So now, before deciding to follow a company, I look at their feed to see if there’s anything truly interesting there.

Indie producer Ted Hope is an example of someone has developed a following by being a kind of single-issue tweeter (is that the right word…or is it “twitterer”?). Most of his tweets are links to interesting articles or web sites devoted to the idea of democratizing the film business. Many of them point back to his various blogs, and others that share the same agenda.

Other film biz friends, such as Christine Vachon, John Vanco and Michelle Byrd take a more personal approach. I now know that Christine likes more commercial movies than I realized, that John is really into fatherhood and that Michelle never leaves Brooklyn anymore. Of course this is only interesting because these are people I actually care about. And my son Jeff obviously falls into this category as well. His tweets are typically concise and funny. His live Twittercast of our Passover Seder consisted of some of the funniest tweets I’ve seen to date.

Film journalists are also trying to find their voices. Those that attend a lot of film festivals have the opportunity to use Twitter to give immediate real time reports of reactions to films, rumours on the street and a sprinkling of personal observation. Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood), Eugene Hernandez (indieWIRE) and Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker Magazine) have found a good balance of those things. Also, none of them tweet too often.

I also follow a Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist who tweets before every Cubs ballgame with today’s lineup and other interesting trivia. It’s useful stuff and he (or she) doesn’t tweet often enough to make it annoying.

So what about me? After absorbing all these various approaches, I’ve reached a few conclusions about my own tweeting activity. First, I’ve decided no one cares about what I am actually doing from minute to minute other than perhaps my immediate family. I’ve also decided that I can’t limit myself to one subject. Much like this blog, which was a conscious decision to allow myself the freedom to sound off on a variety of subjects, I’m going to be all over the place. Finally, I’m trying to be amusing, or at least interesting. I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with something pithy within the limitations of the 140 characters. Before pressing the send button, I try to think about all the people who are tuning in, and whether the tweet will be entertaining, or not. So I won’t be commenting on every play in a Cubs game anymore (which I did once or twice).

As far as process is concerned, I thought I’d talk a little about how I actually manage Twitter. First of all, like many people I have connected my Twitter account to Facebook, so that all my tweets appear simultaneously as my Facebook status. This not only simplifies things, but it also gets a larger response. The vast majority of the comments I get from my tweets are on Facebook, rather than on Twitter.  Also worth mentioning is that I’m effectively on Twitter all day long as a result of an application on my Treo Pro called Twikini. It’s a sleek application that allows all Twitter functionality, and makes a cool little bird sound every time a new tweet comes in. If you have a Windows Mobile phone and want to try it, you can find it here.

So those are my ruminations about Twitter after my 3 months of use. I’m anxious to hear from others about their experiences, and particularly if you know of someone who is doing something truly original with this admittedly strange form of communication.

UPDATE: My comments about the indie distributors may have come across more harshly than was intended. First of all, these distributors have to be given major points for even trying out new forms of communication to reach their audiences. In particular, Zeitgeist is a company that leaves no stone unturned in reaching out on a grass roots level. My only point was questioning the effectiveness of Twitter in motivating the audience. At the risk of fanning the flames, I might add that I also question whether the Twitter audience is really the audience for indie films?

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5 Responses to After 3 Months on Twitter, still wondering…

  1. Noah Harlan says:

    I also like some of the fictional characters on twitter like @darthvader, @jekporkins, @goldengirl1 and of course, the awesome Mayor of Newark @corybooker who today was left his office in the control of his chief of staff who subsequently went mad with power – all played out on twitter.

  2. Adrian Curry says:

    Sorry for the belated response.

    As one of Zeitgeist’s tweeters I don’t take offence to your remark about the value of our twittering, but it does raise some interesting questions. I myself have become hooked on Twitter (having never been on FaceBook) and what at first seemed like yet another internet time-waster now seems to me like something I can barely do without.

    When we started on Twitter, about a month ago, there was some internal debate as to what we as a company should be tweeting about: should it be solely Zeitgeist news, of which there’s not really a very steady flow, or should it be other interesting tidbits not necessarily Zeitgeist-related in order to keep people following us. I would assume that anyone that follows us really just wants the occasional bulletin and doesn’t want to know what we think about last night’s game, or about the auto bail-out, or what we had for lunch. Based on what I want from the companies I follow (as opposed to individuals), I think the trick is not to tweet more, but to make sure you don’t over-tweet so that people stop following you (as you seem in danger of doing with Zeitgeist).

    We do try to keep our tweets interesting with anything Zeitgeist related, but the stuff that would make it a must-read for people in the business (the gossip, the films we passed on or didn’t get, our MGs, our sales figures) we obviously don’t want to reveal to the world even if it would get us noticed. We try to keep our news varied (an alert that Afghan Star will be featured on The Daily Show tonight; a link to Dave Kehr writing about our Philippe Garrel DVDs; the TV premiere of Trouble the Water on HBO) but inevitably, as you say, a lot of our tweets are about film openings and DVD releases. That’s what we do.

    To mix things up even more, the other day we did try a Twitter DVD giveaway, with a relatively easy quiz question, and yet only four of our 700 followers replied to it, so the jury is still out on how useful Twitter is as a marketing tool. But we will tweet on for now and hope that somebody is listening.

  3. Ira says:

    Thanks for responding. I actually agree with every point you make. I think your approach is not only completely valid, but by keeping the number of tweets down, is respectful of your audience. I took notice of your contest the other day, and wondered if you got any reponse. It was certainly a nice try. In the meantime, I’ll keep following you, mainly because I really care about the films you distribute. And we’ll both keep our eyes peeled for some new twist that harnesses the power of Twitter for the good of indie film.

  4. Bruce Merwin says:

    Thank you for your efforts. How about as a pre-prodution/production/post prodution tool. A way for cast and crew to link and share.

  5. Dung Fenty says:

    Great article, thanks for a terrific read

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