That moment when you tweet about not feeling heard on Twitter, and nobody responds…
It’s ok, I’ll live :) but it got me thinking. About Twitter, about social media in general, about the human tendency to extrapolate from our own experience and forget to mention specific context when making sweeping statements… and, oh yes, about the very human desire to feel you’ve been heard.
I’ve had a kind of on-off relationship with Twitter. Started with great excitement at some point (can’t remember why now), left after a while because I found it too frustrating, went back, left again, etc etc… kept popping in once in a while and remembering why I didn’t like it, but then a few months ago something happened: I had something to say to a person who is active on Twitter, I tweeted and actually got a response! Then I found a bunch of bloggers who tweet about words and linguistics and stuff, and to my joy I found that now and again it’s possible to have a conversation with some of them. Yay.
But note that I said “now and again” – this is not how I find Twitter most of the time, and coming back this time round it was clear to me that if I am to survive on Twitter, it has to be on the basis that I don’t expect much by way of interaction. If I tweet in the hope of getting responses, I will only get frustrated again. I am not a celebrity, I do not have a huge following – under 100 so far – and when I click on one of my tweets to check activity levels, the number of people who have seen my tweet is low enough to make some people think: what’s the point?
So when I saw someone’s tweet linking to an article claiming that “Twitter’s gift and curse is that it does make each of us feel heard and valuable”, you can imagine my reaction…
I replied to that tweet with incredulity, saying that this is exactly the opposite of my experience.
The utter silence in response kind of proved my point.
The guy who had written that article has 28,000 followers. The guy who had tweeted the link has 566,000. Of course they feel heard on Twitter. But I wonder: have they forgotten what it was like in the beginning? Have they become so comfortable that they really think everyone has the same experience? I have a decent size following on Google+ and enjoy the fact that I am, generally, heard on that platform – but I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that this is the norm for everyone, I know how hard it can be when you’re starting out, when you hardly know anyone yet, and you might post the most interesting content but if nobody has signed up to read your posts then you might as well be talking to the nearest wall.
Even more so on Twitter, where there are so many more people so what’s your chance of anyone discovering that you exist at all? Not to mention the huge challenge of somehow saying something meaningful in such a short chunk of text. Not everyone has the knack – we’re not all built for short and pithy.
I wondered, though: is it just me who feels this way? So I asked people on G+, because that’s where I do get interaction. 16 out of the 18 people who voted on my poll agreed with me:
I asked the one who voted Yes – a friend who doesn’t have a huge following. He confirmed one of my thoughts about that article – the reason my friend feels heard on Twitter is because he takes part in political/social justice campaigning, and that’s the context from which that guy who wrote the article seemed to be speaking.
If you’re taking part in a well-hashtagged campaign on Twitter then yes, you will feel heard. But that is an exception – most people most of the time are not doing that. The average person who is just going about their day to day life, doing whatever job they’re doing to pay the bills, juggling stuff like family time and shopping and watching TV and all that – that person, if they set up a Twitter account and start tweeting whatever comes to mind, will not have a huge chance of being heard.
Like I said, on G+ I do have the privilege of feeling heard. I post a random “hello people, how’s things?” and I get replies. I vent feelings and get sympathy. I share my photography and get +1s. I run into problems with Windows10 and friendly geeks come up with answers. It’s great. But if my G+ follower numbers ever go to my head, all I need to do is pop over to Twitter to get humble again – because there I’m just one tiny, insignificant person in a great big hall where everyone’s talking all at once and hardly anyone stops to listen, let alone reply.
Which is something I’m no longer feeling frustrated about. I’ve come to terms with it. I’m there with zero expectations now – I tweet because why not, I tweet because it just might make a difference to someone, I tweet because I’ve decided that it’s worth the effort as long as I don’t put too much effort into it, and as long as I don’t rely on Twitter to make me feel heard.
Let alone feeling valuable… Good heavens, may I never ever for one second turn to social media for that… or to human beings offline either. But that’s another story, which I’ve talked about before.