It seems that over the past week Twitter has made it into the headlines for both being an amazing new communication tool, and how ridiculously it is being used. This past Monday on the Daily Show John Stewart pointed out some of the effects that Twitter has on our perception of both the news media and congress. While many members of Congress were Twittering through Obama’s most recent speech, the inane messages seemed to detract from the gravity of the event. As John Stewart said, “..these messages don’t enlighten or inform, it’s a gimmick that actually lessens the credibility of institutions in desperate need of authority." Regardless of the method of communication, why should we care unless you have something meaningful to say. Both the London Times and The Washington Post have tried to address the question as to why we twitter, only to come to the conclusion that we have a terribly underdeveloped sense of self and need to be reassured that we exist. From the London Times...
The clinical psychologist Oliver James has his reservations. "Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It's a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity."
"We are the most narcissistic age ever," agrees Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and director of research based at the University of Sussex. "Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won't cure it."
This is generally why I can't stand most Twitter feeds. Yes it is a new and powerful means of communication, but it seems to me that right now it is primarily being used as a posturing mechanism to help aging organizations appear youthful and with it. The majority of the Twitter feeds out there are either devoid of content, incredibly trivial or mundane. They only communicate that someone exists and not much more.
That being said, there are some really amazing ways that Twitter is being used. Organizations that understand the importance of real time communication with their audiences are pushing the boundaries with Twitter and capitalizing on the unique ways that they can receive audience feedback.
The Twitter Art feed at the Brooklyn Museum is part their new 1stfans program, and allows members access to tweets by contemporary artists every month, and has featured works by artists such as Mary Temple and An Xiao that utilize the social feedback aspect of Twitter. An Xiao's piece was about Morse code and the history of instant communication in which 1st fans were asked to feed to tweet using Morse code, while Mary Temple's piece Currency provides a daily link to a drawing made from current news articles about important world leaders in the media.
Conferences are also beginning to utilize Twitter Back Channels to allow their audiences to discuss the content of a presentation in real time without disrupting the event. This is in essence what we tend to get scolded for in school, passing notes, making fun of a presenter's overuse of the word "nascent," and whispering to a neighbor about the content of the presentation. More often than not, these conversations are being spurred on by the speaker, and Twitter is creating a real-time avenue for discussion that is centered around the speaker's presentation. This is creating a non-invasive avenue for audience participation and places the focus of these events back on the community of people attending instead of just sitting at the feet of the keynote speaker.
These organizations are utilizing Twitter feeds for audience engagement and a way for inducing a flattened level of communication. The Brooklyn Museum also seems to be using the Twitter feed as an interesting source of revenue, as 1stfans membership costs $20 a year.
I can't help to think that it might be useful way to get instant feedback on the progress of projects and tasks at work, especially if certain employees are telecommuting or out of the office. And the fact that updates can be sent by phone, allows updates to happen when access to a computer is limited.
Share what you think about Twitter, and some of the possible real world applications of using Twitter for audience (or employee) engagement in the comments below.