August 26, 2020

Think of Twitter as a Massive Global Television

vintage television

I find it helpful to think about Twitter as a massive global television where each Twitter account one follows is a channel. I decide that channels to watch by deciding which Twitter accounts to follow. Of course, Twitter goes well beyond that by providing a far less passive experience than what one gets by watching television. Not only can I view content from each user, but I can also interact with them. The "Twitter as television" metaphor holds a few valuable lessons that can help us improve our experience of using it.

Your Own Channel (Your Twitter Profile)

If you have ever had cable, satellite, or utilized streaming services to watch television, you will be familiar with the idea of the on-screen guide. For each show or movie, there is a brief text blurb describing it. Some of the more sophisticated systems even include information like ratings from various review sites. Thus, if you are trying to decide whether to watch something, you can easily get information about it to inform your decision. Those of us who use Twitter should think of our Twitter bios this way. They tell the world what they will encounter by following us.

Have you ever had the experience of reading the description of a TV show or movie and thinking it sounds like something you'd like and then discovering when you watched it that the description was extremely misleading? This can be frustrating, and so it is important to provide people with an accurate sense of what you are about on Twitter. Setting their expectations effectively makes it less likely that they will be frustrated with what they find in your timeline. It is worth the effort to make sure that what you say you offer really is what you offer.

What to Watch (Who to Follow)

I think that most of us decide who to follow based on reading others' Twitter bios and asking ourselves whether that sounds like something we'd be interested in. It is just like when we are scanning the on-screen TV guide, we don't pick something to watch that sounds boring; we are trying to find a match between our interests and the content. Give yourself permission to do this: when you read someone's Twitter bio, do so as if it was a description of programming from an on-screen TV guide. You aren't any more obligated to follow someone who doesn't sound interesting than you are to watch a TV show that doesn't sound like something you'd like. Following the right people will improve your Twitter experience in much the same way that watching interesting programming would.

What is even more important than deciding who to follow is unfollowing those who end up providing little of value. Most of us don't keep watching a TV show we dislike, but I see quite a few people who seem to keep following accounts on Twitter they dislike. If you do not like what you are seeing, change the channel (i.e., unfollow the account). Most television platforms do not offer anything like the degree of control Twitter gives you. You don't typically get to select only the channels you want and discard the rest. On Twitter, this is exactly what you get to do.

Finding New Channels (Twitter Users You Missed)

If you have had trouble finding people on Twitter you consider to be worth following, I suggest you give the free version of Tweepi a try. Once you tell it what you are interested in, it will generate lists of Twitter accounts for you to consider following. Initially, the lists may be fairly long (i.e., 70 accounts/day). Simply scan the Twitter bios and see if any sound interesting. Some are clearly not going to interest you. Click "Skip" and you won't see them again. For those that do sound interesting, click "+Follow List." At the end of the process, you'll see a blue box on the bottom of the page that says "View List on Twitter." This will take you to Twitter where you can examine timelines, make sure they aren't bots (I use a browser extension called botcheck.me for this purpose), and follow the accounts you are interested in.