“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What role does a conversation have in social media?
If you are of the persuasion, as I am, that social media is about relationships, then conversation and the art thereof, is one of the major requisites of social media.
People generally understand how to comment and converse blog-style on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Plus. But with Twitter, the syntax seems to leave even experienced users perplexed.
It’s funny to me how frequently I am asked how one starts a conversation on Twitter. The answer is always the same.“You start a conversation on Twitter the same way you do in real life.”
Hold that thought. Let’s first discuss the retweet button and your social strategy.
The Retweet Button: A Conversation Inhibitor.
I am pretty famous (or infamous depending upon whether you agree with me) for my opinion about Twitter’s Retweet Button. But it comes down to two major reasons for me: manners and conversation.
It seems that a retweet is commonly accepted as a substitute for “thank you” or “you’re welcome.” And this is why the conversation is stopped.
To make my point, I recently tweeted:
Using the Retweet Button in real life would be like being in a conversation and your reply is playing a recording of what they said.
— Bridget Willard (@YouTooCanBeGuru) January 20, 2014
I really liked this reply:
@YouTooCanBeGuru In real life, Twitter itself would be randomly saying things and hoping someone replies.
— B.C. Kowalski (@BC_Kowalski) January 20, 2014
Though, I don’t happen to agree with him entirely. But keep his thought in mind while I digress to strategy.
Strategy: Why are you on Twitter?
Strategy determines tactics. If your main purpose on Twitter is to opine and to be known for such, then you’ll really like being retweeted and you can collect those stats like baseball cards, showing them off when your friends and family come to visit. Being retweeted in this scenario is a good thing (for the opiner). However, if you are the person retweeting, you get little to nothing out of your effort.
If your purpose to be on Twitter is to meet new people, then the conversation tactic is the one for you.
Let’s go back to B.C. Kowalski’s thought. Is Twitter full of randomly blurted out phrases and questions? Are people venting to no specific audience? If no one reads a tweet in the social media forest, does it exist?
He makes a philosophical point. True, one person couldn’t possibly read every tweet in their timeline. But what about the tweets you see right now? Can you spend two-three minutes reading those (excluding the linked content)? Yes, right now in the home feed. Go take a look. I’ll wait. Without scrolling more than three times, is there one tweet that you can reply to? If the answer is yes, then you’ve just done the equivalent of walking over to a person at a party, perhaps so shy that they’re hiding behind the cheese tray, and started a conversation. It’s true that if we were taking this analogy quite literally, the cheese plate hiding person is also talking to themselves, but I digress. Let’s stick with the premise.
When you read a tweet, you have the choice, dare I say power, to reply. You have the ability to make that one person (or group of two) feel more comfortable.
Amy Donohue says:
“Twitter is a party that your neighbor’s brother-in-law’s mother is having. You won’t know ANYONE when you get there. How are you going to get through it? Easy. You start jumping in on conversations and learning about others, so you make friends. Talk about what THEY are talking about and, eventually, they will ask about YOU.”
Case in Point:
Today I tweeted (from my @gidgey account), my Foursquare check-in. It resulted in 13 replies with three people talking, because Chef Ivan Flowers asked me one simple question: “How do you get your burger?”
— Chef Ivan Flowers (@ChefIvanFlowers) January 22, 2014
If you’re still reading, let’s address the original question.
How do you start a conversation on Twitter?
There are two major strategies to start a conversation on Twitter: asking a question or commenting upon a tweet.
Being the cliche introvert, my husband always told me to ask questions at parties. “People love to talk about themselves.” It’s true. In Carol Stephen’s “Social Media Conversation Starters,” she advises us to make the conversation about the other person.
“Don’t be waiting for a break in the conversation so you can talk about yourself. Let the other person lead and be willing to be surprised by listening.”
If you’re still at a loss, bookmark “101 Conversation Starters” and refer to it often.
Tweet a Question in a Reply
You can ask questions about a user’s bio which is made easier if you have commonalities.
For example, if someone’s bio says they live in Fresno and you went to Fresno State, you can ask about the school, weather, restaurants. Mix a question with a bit of empathy for the best impact.
For example (Twitter handles are fictitious):
@Fresno_Guy I used to go to Fresno State. How are the Bulldogs doing?
@Fresno_Guy Oh man. I remember Central Valley winters. How’s the Tulle Fog treating you?
If you have a sport or sport team in common, you can ask their opinion on recent coaching decisions or who they think will win the next meet.
Curiosity also fuels conversation.
If you find a hot air balloon pilot, but have never been, ask them about their passion.
@BeautifulBalloon Where is your favorite place to fly?
@BeautifulBalloon What is your favorite festival?
Comment Upon a Tweet
The comment tweet is my favorite form of Old School retweeting.
When you see a tweet that sparks your interest, copy/paste or Old School RT with a comment in front. This method keeps some of the context intact.
Then you wait for them to respond.
My disclaimer is that people often will not respond right away. Honestly, I’ve had people wait a week (or worse ignore me altogether). The ball is in your court. If it really offends you, unfollow them and chalk it up to a loss. This kind of stuff happens in real life, too, remember.
I double-dog dare you to try it for a week or two. Spend five to ten minutes a day looking at your lists or home feed and pressing the reply button. Start a conversation. You never know what you might learn or who you may meet.
Am I in left field? Off my rocker? Sound off in the comments below or send me a tweet.