Friday, April 18, 2008

Do you Twitter?

Ah Twitter! New love of my life!

Twitter is a strange, random, chaotic place with 140 character long chats from you and people you follow. I found it recently through other bloggers and have formed an attachment. There are two stories here really: Why I like Twitter, and why it can be useful to us artists.

Why I like Twitter

I sent this message to Alyson Stanfield of ArtBizCoach last week, in an overenthusiastic attempt to convince her of Twitter's value. What I really told, though, was my personal story. Why Twitter clicks with me because of my background with online resources. The conversation grew out of a post on Alyson's blog about whether or not blogs are good for artists. My reply via email was:
Discussion if blogs are good for career artists: Makes me realise that I've been publicly sharing my life in (tbc) in IRC, mucks, or some online form for nearly 20 years. Blogging (& Twitter) in many ways doesn't seem "new".


The benefits of Twitter for me have been indirect I suppose. I've gotten very interested in social media projects through it, by following a few interesting people, including Beth Dunn who blogs about social media for small businesses and non-profits. I've found several people whose blogs I now follow (Seth Godin and Chris Brogan) through Twitter. In fact I wanted to do a presentation using a CommonCraft video to a group of artists and Lee LeFever from CommonCraft actually answered my question and gave me a direct link to a Quicktime file (the problem was our gallery has no internet so we could watch a streaming video). I've had a few people help with podcast issues by tweeting a question. Ditto on dying fabric - okay, not work related but I was surprised to get answers. Last night I sorted out my hair dye problem with another Twit. I do tweet my new blog posts, new Flickr images, new podcast, and occasionally new listings on Etsy. My hits on the blog and podcast have increased through it though sales not necessarily. Etsy tweets their new Storque articles and to be honest I look at them because of that. (I also get an email update but generally ignored it.) I also use it as a mini-blog - my twitter comments all go automatically on my blog too so people see updates throughout the day even if they're not on Twitter.

I'm still very new on Twitter though so know it will take time to build relationships with the people I follow and who follow me - especially in the sense of getting active conversations going. I think with all the Web 2.0 sites there is a growth curve, it's about nurturing relationships rather than directly measurable marketing-->benefit results. So it takes time. But as Katherine Tyrrell once told me (she runs it took a couple years for her blog to hit a sort of critical mass and suddenly be popular and a place artists responded as well as read.

I admit that I mix personal and business on Twitter, but I'm very comfortable with that. That's what interested me about your topic today. The online world, in my life, has been almost as important as "real" life. At various points in my life there has been little separation. I realise the rest of the world is still getting used to this idea, hence the question about blogging.

I've been on sites that operate similar to Twitter for a very long time and am used to public conversations like blogging but on old interfaces like direct telnet connections, then IRC, then MUCKs. I still connect to my MUCK even now and there are other members there since the beginning - and we've seen each other change jobs, move, marry, have kids. (in a virtual sense of course, I've never met these people in real life). This is very very pre-MySpace and the lot. (I started mucking in '89.) Even back in '95 I was able to get enough international data for my masters degree dissertation by connecting with my online communities to post a research poll.

I'm seeing Blogging [and Twitter] as a reinvention that original type of interaction, but of course now far more of the general public have access and familiarity with the idea.

So there's my (long and rambling per usual) story. ;)

But what can Twitter be used for?

You can see some of the things in the above quote it specifically has helped me with.
  • Promoting my blog
  • Announcing new ideas, new products, new projects
  • Sharing technical information - helping other artists who need tips for photos, Flickr, blogging, Etsy, html, etc.
  • Asking your own technical questions - I've had a lot of direct tips for my podcasting, for example.
  • Networking with colleagues you know but who are distant

Most important, for me at least, is LISTENING. I contribute what I can of course but while I build my presence I'm trying to absorb. So I throw out info I know but have few followers who are picking it up yet. There are a lot of interesting if not expert people on Twitter who are discussing in real time issues about all this Web 2.0 malarky, specific websites like Etsy, marketing and promotion topics, politics and the economy, etc. I feel that keeping up with the business and technical world is important to me too. I'm an artist and a business, while the first is more important it doesn't mean the second can be ignored.

Finding the right people to follow is tricky, but I started but a couple people and looked at their followers and kept ones that were interesting. I, like many others, do also share personal notes but that's a bit inevitable with the chatty instant format of Twitter. So if you want to see my links to blog entries with business advice for artists you might also have to hear that I dyed my hair purple one evening. Why the mix? Because it's a human interface. On Twitter we're not just businesses and marketers but actual people too.

What do artists need to keep in mind? (with all Web 2.0 sites)

What artists need to be very careful with is that now our stepping stones are completely public and archived out of our control. (for example, see Way Back Machine) We used to do shows, have newspaper clippings, maybe make a mistake or two along the way or reinvent ourselves. You could make a press pack or whatever that showed what you wanted. Now we need to keep in mind that everything we've done or write might be found by someone much later.

However, galleries and museums also need to accept that this will become the case. Artists public profiles will become much more public, especially as the next generation of artists comes onto the professional scene - they won't know a world without social media online. I know a few galleries who won't accept artists with websites. In this day and age that is like telling artists they can't have business cards. It's a ridiculous, draconian and very old fashioned point of view. Websites are the tip of the iceberg. There's no reason that honest, responsible artists and galleries can't work together and embrace this brave new world. (sorry, had to be said!)

And the Twitterverse responds:

On Twitter itself I asked for other blogs discussing the meaning and benefits of Twitter. Don't worry, the debate is limited to the art world! Here are other people's point of view (with Twitter names beforehand in case you'd like to follow them). Some Twittered me back, some I simply went and found their Twitter posts on their blogs:

LeeLeFever: Twitter in Plain English - Best videos EVER on this site.
msholin: Social Networking it's just not me! and Why do you Twitter?
gapingvoid: always talking about Twitter! A good post here, a cute cartoon and comment here, and great comparison of Web 2.0 to art here for starters.

So go forth and Twitter! Or choose another site. Just get out there. If you want to follow me I'm tina_m. But be warned, you'll see art stuff but also other strange things mentioned. Particularly coffee and Battlestar Galactica. My Tweets also show up in the sidebar of this blog, so you can just follow along there if you like! (but you'll miss out on any cross-conversation)

Fab birds photo by DonnaGrayson on Flickr - "Hollywood Birds - Power Players" click the image to see her Photostream!
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