Are you swimming through Twitter or merely treading water?
As part of our services here at Kane Consulting, we provide community management training for clients. Typically, that starts with some very basic Twitter training. And, very often, the expectation is that surely there’s a manual or a blog post to read, maybe a quick tutorial, and then, you should be off and tweeting with the best of them. It’s not always easy to explain why this isn’t so.
Learning to tweet is a lot like learning how to swim.
In a previous life, I was a swimming instructor and, maybe because it’s summer and all, I’m struck by the philosophical similarities between teaching someone tweet and teaching someone to swim. While there are books and videos galore that attempt to provide training, no amount of reading and studying will help you master either skill.
You can’t get too comfortable on the side.
With timid swimmers, I spent a lot of time sitting at the side of the pool, getting them used to the water and carefully explaining what we’d be doing next. Anxious parents were always a few feet away, ready to step in and whisk a fearful child away from the water and into the comfort of their arms.
This is not unlike the timid, untrained, community manager – fearful of slipping up under the watchful eye of corporate leadership who also knows little of these new waters and will be all too eager to pull them away from tweeting all together if things are uncomfortable. It’s very easy to get stuck here, gripping the edge, trying one thing here and there, and then quickly climbing out until next time. But…that’s not swimming.
You have to spend time in the water. A lot of it.
A person will never learn to swim without putting their body in the water, getting a feel for their buoyancy, understanding how one stroke will keep them afloat, figuring out how to breathe, etc. None of these skills are ones that you can master by reading a tip sheet or watching a video. You need an instructor to take you into the water, demonstrate and then guide you. Then, you have to try, fail, probably even choke on some water or cramp up a bit, and just keep on going to stay afloat. But it will happen.
It’s not much different with Twitter. You need to actually, you know, tweet something. Follow people and let them follow you. Expose yourself and your company to both the potentially good and bad that will come of treading in these waters. Learn from others who are actually doing it themselves, not just talking about it. You’ll tweet with a typo. You’ll tweet things that get no response. But, if you keep on moving, you’ll get the hang of it and soon will be keeping up with the others.
Treading water is great for endurance, but it’ll wear you out.
For many, once they master the ability to tread water, this will be their default skill for staying afloat. But, you can’t do this for long without getting worn out. I always taught my students the importance of being able to float, and just let the water carry them. It’s a good safety skill to have. Stay afloat, and save your energy.
It’s easy to get caught treading in Twitter, too. There’s a lot to see, and a lot of movement, and you might feel like you are struggling to stay afloat in one place in time – reading every tweet, clicking every link, and feeling pressure to respond. This is time consuming and ineffective. Instead, you’ll want to understand how to float in, and then float out, making sure your energy is well spent.
You have to understand your goals and objectives.
Yeah, the goal thing. I always have been and will be a stickler about it. Are you training to become a competitive swimmer? Do you want to become a lifeguard one day, or do you simply want to be safe and comfortable in the water? Maybe synchronized swimming is something you’re working toward? Your goals and objectives will determine the type of training you pursue, your practice regimen, and of course, give you something by which to measure your progress.
Your time on Twitter should be a part of a much larger communications objective that is supported by clear, measurable goals. Your trainer/consultant will then work with you to identify the most effective ways to use Twitter to build a community that will help you to achieve these things.
You never stop learning.
Even Olympic swimmers have a coach to monitor their activity, tweak their practice schedule, keep them on top of the latest industry standards and push them to excel.
Your social media consultant can and should do the same. And, you should let them. Once you’re comfortable, it’s easy to feel like you don’t need them around anymore, but it’s wise to keep them in the wings. These waters change quickly, and it’s their job to stay in the know. We like to call it “social chaperoning” – overseeing activity and being there to step in with a suggestion or to answer a question if things get tricky. And, most importantly, to monitor your activity to report on progress and to adjust your strategy as needed.
If you’re struggling to feel comfortable in the moving waters of Twitter, take some time to think about how you’ve been taught and what you’ve done to practice. It might be time to regroup and then really dive in.