Unlike Hillary Clinton, when I opened a Twitter account, I didn't attract thousands of followers. More like one. This was back in the fall of 2008. I wanted to find an appealing way to stay in touch with my son, Alex. He suggested we tweet back and forth. Since I only hoped for a few pithy lines from him now and then, Twitter, with its 140-character limit, seemed the perfect medium.
Once I opened my Twitter account, I treated it as a private link to Alex rather than using it to expand my social network. Still, I loved our communications. Alex wrote clever, often hilarious, tweets to me, while I inclined toward overwrought poetic messages, such as this one:
"Saw a little fish leap out of the water with a littler fish in its mouth—beautiful and tragic."
Over time, our tweets petered out and we reverted to more traditional modes of communication, like phone and email. But it was fun while it lasted.
Recently, I decided to revive my Twitter efforts. I've been taking an online class that aims to help students use social media to increase the audience for their writing. But before tackling Twitter or Facebook, the instructor urged us to tweak our own blogs to make them as attractive as possible. Plus, I needed to come out of the closet. For the first time in many years of blogging, I created a home page that reveals my full name. In fact, you can access the home page by using the url barbarakriss.com.
One thing I've learned—it's hard as hell to keep up with 20-something techies when you're pushing 65. The recent redesign of my blog took me days of trial and error. At some point while I was tearing my hair out trying to get just the right background color, Alex decided to redesign his blog. As far as I can tell, it took him about five minutes and the result is fabulous.
Don't get me wrong. I had a fantastic experience trying out various templates, brushing up on my html, and taking risks (it seemed as if every time I altered the template code, I risked losing all my work). But my brain just doesn't have the hard wiring to do this stuff easily. And my brain is having an even harder time adapting to Twitter.
In order to generate traffic on Twitter, I have to tweet, or reply to other tweets, or retweet tweets I like. Preferably all three. The aim is to get lots of people to follow me. It helps to have a core group of followers to begin with and for that my contact list is the obvious place to start. Obvious, that is, if I weren't intent on protecting my privacy.
Twitter offers to search my contacts for friends who are already on Twitter, but that means I have to grant Twitter access to my contact list. I can't seem to get comfortable with that idea. Sure, I realize that Google already knows just about everything there is to know about me, but the thought of extending that to Twitter, or Facebook for that matter, fills me with vague paranoia. It was a major leap for me to associate my blog with my actual last name. Letting Twitter tap into my contact list seems like a bridge too far, at least for now.
Instead, I've started following people and organizations connected to areas I find interesting, like animal rights and aging. I've responded to tweets by people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman when I have something to say, but also in the hope that I'll gain some followers. It's been fun, time-consuming (some would say time-wasting), and has yet to yield me more than a few new followers. So much for promoting my writing, which there hasn't been much of lately anyway, in part due to the fact that I'm spending so much time on Twitter.
Maybe it's my age cohort—if most of my potential audience tends not to use Twitter, how will I create my desired social network by using it myself? On the other hand, if people who might enjoy my blog are on Twitter, how do I find them? Which leads to the larger question, why do I want to find them? But that's a subject for another blog, or better yet, a psychotherapist.
Meanwhile, there's so much about Twitter I haven't even begun to understand, like how to use hashtags effectively. If any of you have insights to share, please post a comment. Or better yet, tweet me @bkriss.