Thanks to Dana McNulty for giving me a subtle push to write this post.
(Only) two weeks ago, I had the honour of attending the wedding of Joe Ginese and Robyn Kaplan in New Jersey. I still occasionally pause and reflect on how a conversation, built 140 characters at a time, has turned into a friendship that saw me attending one of the most important days of Joe’s life. Putting aside (for now) any jokes about the Student Affairs professional ensuring their event was appropriately diverse (I think I was the lone Canadian in attendance), the journey from follower to friend is an interesting commentary on using the power of social media for good.
When asked about why I use Twitter, my response is consistent. I always refer to the people behind the information – the articles, the pictures, the announcements and the blog posts. Like most news sites and feeds, Twitter offers a drink through the information firehose. Ideas and resources are available 24/7/365 for us to read, ignore, dive into and make our own.
The first time I logged onto Twitter, I was absolutely intimidated. There was so much to see and so little time! I was also unsure of how to start a conversation. Someone would post an interesting article and I wanted to tell them so. Someone else had a hilarious and/or intriguing bio, and I wanted to get to know them. Do you just tweet ‘hello’ or ‘great bio’ or ‘thanks for sharing that article’? How exactly could I start a conversation in 140 characters or less? I can barely answer a question in that many words.
Funny enough (though not entirely surprising now), it really was all that simple. While there are a few privacy options available, the majority of people on Twitter want to see and be seen. They are looking to connect and will readily respond to an invitation to do so. With someone like Joe, I quickly realized that one tweet was all it took. The poor guy never knew what he was in for …
While I began to have many conversations on Twitter, I realize now that I was making far fewer connections. Conversation topics and partners covered a broad range, allowing me to pick and choose areas of interest as my own preferences and needs changed over time. Twitter was a fantastic way to collect and curate information for a certain task, at a certain time and for a particular purpose. These conversations were challenging, enlightening and inspiring.
Connections, however, were much more rare. Connections for me meant not only keeping a conversation going but expanding the scope of a single conversation beyond a solitary topic. Connection was about depth, not breadth. It meant taking advantage of other technologies (Skype, Google Chat and Hangouts, email) to learn more than the 140 character glimpses into each complex person.
Connections were rare because they had to be. They require work; an investment of considerable energy in being authentic and a bit vulnerable. Joe, and others I have grown close to over time, no longer saw my censored, condensed 140 character reactions. Never one to entirely separate my public persona from my private thoughts, I still needed a brave space to share more of myself. I found that in these followers turned friends – building trust over time.
I will continue to promote Twitter usage for professional development, perhaps a bit biased from the awesome opportunities I’ve been able to access through the conversations initiated there. What I don’t often reflect on, yet am eternally grateful for, are the personal connections that have pushed beyond any professional growth to a set of truly life changing relationships. From a single tweet to a wedding ceremony, it is awesome what can happen, who you can meet and who you can become 140 characters at a time.