How I use Twitter

1. My Twitter background

I joined Twitter in late December 2008, but really didn’t pay close attention until March 2009. I was working as a lobbyist for industry at the time, and became aware that activists were using Twitter to rally and organise opponents on various issues.

I was interested in Twitter for two reasons: as a professional communicator I was fascinated by its capacity to directly reach target audiences, and as an advocate I was inspired by its ability to build communities of support.

I initially signed up with a pseudonym because I wanted to watch and learn before stepping into the fray. I later established another account in my “real” name and used that for professional purposes.

Ironically, this world of micro messages re-introduced me to the love of writing. Firstly I was encouraged by fellow tweeps to blog about the issues that I was debating on Twitter. Then I started to read other blogs and became inspired by the incredible writing talent that exists within our online community.

Once my own posts started to flow, I was surprised and thrilled to be invited by The Drum, The Kings Tribune, Crikey, The Hoopla, and more recently Guardian Australia to contribute.

My world has evolved into something that it would never have been without the opportunities (and support) presented by Twitter and its community.

2. Rules for following

I follow people with an interest in Australian politics, sci fi and fantasy, rugby league, PR and communication, or media issues. I initially follow pretty much everyone who follows me, unless they’re a bot or trying to sell me something. I used to follow many more journalists, but have discarded those who only use Twitter for broadcast purposes or who cannot be bothered talking back.

I make an effort to follow people who think differently to me, because I like to learn through conversation with people who have other points of view.

I promptly unfollow anyone who is habitually boring, or is abusive or offensive (even to other people). I also unfollow anyone who calls me a shill or sock-puppet just because they don’t agree with my political views. Sometimes I block them so I don’t have to see their tweets.

I keep a number of Twitter lists and maintain them on a semi-regular basis. I maintain my followers list by regularly weeding out anyone who looks like a bot and using Tweepi to “flush” inactive followers.

I use Janetter to watch different tweet streams and so I can use its mute function.

3. Conversation

I try to respond to most people who mention me, and say thanks for RTs, FFs and recommendations. Sometimes I will just retweet someone’s message to me to show agreement. If a conversation continues after I have gone offline, I will read it but may not respond. Sometimes I will just lurk, because that’s the mood I’m in.

I’ve tried a number of Twitter applications, such as Hootesuite and Radian6, but prefer to use Janetter. Also, to minimize the chance of accidents, I send Drag0nista tweets from Twitter.com whilst at work.

Twitter can be a lot like the school playground: there are cliques and clusters and it’s a bit daunting when you’re a new kid on the block. I remember being told I was too forward when I tried to get into a conversation with two tweeps that I admired by giving them a link to one of my posts. I learned there is a delicate balance to be found in being conversational but not intrusive.

While I know there are many thousands of communities of interest on Twitter, I sometimes think that those of us who follow politics think the platform is there just for us. Sometimes Twitter is like a cavernous virtual ballroom, full of known and unknown politics junkies clustered into talkative groups or milling about handing out newspaper clips or copies of their latest treatise. When Twitter is like this, I like to wander around and eavesdrop; sometimes I’ll make a remark as I pass.

Other times the Twitterverse is like a raucous dinner party, where everyone knows each other and there is much banter along with the deep political discourse. Occasionally, of course, someone gets drunk or offended, and there is need for conciliatory words or a virtual taxi. I particularly like these times on Twitter (the intense debate between friends, not the drunkenness), and they’ve literally been a lifeline to me over the past couple of years.

4. Pseudonymity

I’ve always had more than one Twitter account, some in my own name and some with other pseudonyms. I use the latter mostly to set up follow-lists for work. I’ve also run Twitter accounts for different places of employment.

While initially using Drag0nista to gauge the lay of the land, I decided to keep her mostly for one reason. Having been involved in politics all my adult life, and part of that as a media adviser, I often have my views IRL dismissed because of the jobs I’ve held. I got sick of being told “well you would say that, because you worked for x or used to be a press sec or a lobbyist”. So, with Drag0nista, I wanted to argue my case without the ad hominem dismissals.

I know people need contextual cues to understand information, so I’ve let people know enough about my background to give them context, hopefully without it distracting from what I have to say.

These days, Drag0nista is my primary Twitter account and she’s become more of an alter ego than a pseudonym. Dozens of people know who I am IRL and some of them are journalists.

I respect the power of pseudonymity and do not abuse it. I never talk about issues related to my employment, to avoid any perceived or real conflict of interest. For this reason you would never have known that I worked for 13 months at the Department of Climate Change, firstly on the home insulation program and then on the Clean Energy Future package. Some will have noticed though that I stopped talking about the carbon price.

I always tell my employers about Drag0nista.

Just because I use a pseudonym, it doesn’t mean I can’t have political views. I am equally disdainful of all politicians, but am prepared to give credit where it’s due. Many people on Twitter are vocal about their political preferences, either in their own name or using a pseudonym. That is their right, as it is mine. I have no time at all for the Greens, and express this frequently, but this does not make me a shill or a sockpuppet.

5. The IRL dimension

I’ve met only a small proportion of the people I talk to on Twitter, and a very small number of those have become close personal friends. I also feel close to some tweeps that I’ve never met but with whom I share a connection.

I love how tweetups allow the bizarre situation where you re-engage in a conversation or share a hashtag joke or Twitter experience with a person that you’ve only just physically met. I don’t often attend #wonkdrinks as I find them very cliquey and would much rather just go for drinks with the tweeps that I already know.

6. One last thing

I do sometimes tweet about what I’m eating (usually Twisties and red wine, or pineapple) and I occasionally tweet cat pictures. There will never be too many cat pictures on Twitter.

Postscript: In January 2012 I disclosed that my name is Paula Matthewson.

HOW I USE TWITTER – The Complete Set

3 responses to How I use Twitter

  1. margokingston

    Yes, you are a very good writer. And this is very good advice. I’m afraid I dived in on impulse and thought I’d be out again very quickly but then the world turned… and the old addictive personality burst out again. I’m very glad we met again on twitter, Paula.

  2. Thanks for this. I’ve taken something from the ‘Pseudonymity’ section in particular…
    I’m trying to feed and grow my dormant inner author, slowly and against the grind of routine existence. It’s helpful to find gems of wisdom occasionally…
    All the best.

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