Should I be on Twitter?

This week I was away on a conference with my fellow clergy from the Diocese of Exeter. From the start of the conference we were given permission to sit engrossed in our laptops, tablets and smartphones as this was to be the first Devon clergy conference with a “social media element”.

As I quickly pointed out using the #DevonClergy hashtag, this wasn’t really anything new, we used to call it passing notes, and it used to be frowned upon if you did it too obviously.

Now it turns out that there are a lot of Vicars in Devon who have Twitter accounts, but many of them have a tweet count in double figures, rather than the thousands which it is possible to rack up if you post on a more regular basis. They had signed up, but not really found a use for Twitter.

New to Twitter Login Screen

As Erasmus commented “In the country of the blind, the one eyed man is king” so even with my fairly modest 1,234 tweets I found myself in the rare position of being an early-adopter. I also found myself being repeatedly asked the question by colleagues “Should I be on Twitter?”




So here is an answer to the question – which doesn’t make recommendations, but does give an insight into how I see my own Twitter use, and how I want to develop it from here.

I my personal Twitter account in three main ways:

First, as a way of connecting with local people, businesses and organisations. I’ll typically do this by mentioning places I’ve gone, things I’ve been impressed by, and sometimes things I’ve been disappointed with. Most businesses, charities and venues have a Twitter account these days, so if you mention them by their account name you should expect some sort of response. Recommendations on social media are generally thought to be a good thing, and I’ve found that retailers get to know you as a customer if you interact with them online. I’ll often share photos here too, especially if something special is going on and I want to help publicise it. Here’s a couple of recent examples, both positive and negative:

Having a great ?#TouristWednesday? in the sunshine. With ?@Marttheart?, ?@NMAPlymouth?, ?@RoyalWilliamYd? & ?@NationalTrust? Shamrock.

Well done Boots Opticians. Just posted my new contact lenses to an address I left 12 years ago!

(I wasn’t being kind by leaving the Twitter username off this Boots tweet, I couldn’t find a relevant account to aim it at.)

Second, as a way of announcing news, notices and insights related to ministry or my blog. These are typically announcements rather than invitations to dialogue, but I occasionally retweet comments I agree with or pass on links to articles and blog posts, as in the example below. As a rule I tend not to retweet things I don’t agree with ‘as discussion starters’. Under this section I’ll also engage on a fairly superficial level with discussions or disagreements, but try to avoid protracted or heated exchanges in this public sphere. I’m also not a big fan of retweeting aphorisms from well know Christian speakers.

Catch up and share Stephen Ellard's great sermon 'Peace under God's rule' from ?#spancras? this morning. ? ?

Finally, I use Twitter as a way of sharing personal thoughts, anecdotes and photos with friends. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a public forum, so I have quite strict rules about what I do and don’t share. I try not to give away any personal information that might help identity fraudsters; I never use my son’s name or put any identifiable photos of him on Twitter or my blog; I don’t advertise if the house is going to be empty, and I’m careful what I write about alcohol, eating out or spending money. I always need to think ‘would I be happy for my congregation, neighbours, parents (or Bishop) to read this?’

This does keep the sharing to a fairly superficial level, but I’ve found that it is possible to be truthful and humorous in a way that does help people to build up a picture of you are a person. Like a true Brit, my best humour is self-deprecating, and this seems to work well on Twitter too.

Just accused my mum of stealing aprons from my kitchen. She pointed me towards a draw containing nothing but clear, ironed aprons. #contrite
Fortunately I looked up from my iPhone when I heard the words "Tom Daley diving" from the bath tub.

Now the thing to keep in your mind as you tweet, is that if you are interesting and courteous (follow others and mention them) you will gradually build up a list of followers who fall into one of these three categories. As such, you want to keep them all interested, and not flood their timeline with stuff that isn’t relevant to them.

It’s a temptation to set up several accounts for different audiences, but as Christian leaders we ought to be able to integrate our life and ministry in such a way that we are presenting the whole person to those who are looking on.

Having said that, there is one additional category which I’m just starting to explore, which is using my presentation software to automatically tweet from lectures and sermons. Because the volume of information is likely to exceed the spam-tolerance on those who are not in the lecture, I’ve set up a separate profile to handle this information. (@JonMSpeaker) If I want to interact with my own lecture material, I will then do so by retweeting or replying from my personal account.

As I reflect on these three ways I use Twitter, it seems that there is one thing that they have in common, which is that Twitter is a great way of making friends. Twitter allows you to interact with people you don’t know or you hope to get to know and breaks the ice quickly. In a conference setting, it’s difficult not to speak to someone you’ve been interacting with online just a few moments ago, but for many, Twitter is now the starting point.

So yes, you probably should be on Twitter, but you also need to know when to put it down and have a real conversation.   

If you don’t already follow me, the you can find me on Twitter using the name @jjmarlow. Now you know what to expect. 

3 thoughts on “Should I be on Twitter?

  1. I think there are plenty of other ways of using Twitter. So for instance in the last week I’ve used it to challenge what I’ve seen as a wrong practice by a large UK wine retailer and the way they have approached a situation with a supplier in the public sphere. I also use it to network.

    I used to blog, but no longer have time or inspiration to do it because what I blog on (wine) has become the day job – so I’m drained of creative wine thought by the time I get home (perhaps I should blog on something else) and a lot of wine people had heard of me because of my blog. There are still quite a lot who remember me as one of the early wine bloggers (most people who blogged when I was are now making something of it, and plenty of others who have set up since then are now getting extra income from it). Now people, including many of the luminaries know who I am because of Twitter. So I go to a tasting, and the social media savvy people know who I am.

    I also blog as work – there I blog live from events. People see things going on, engage and decide that they want to be involved next time. I’ve blogged live from tastings, from food festivals and the like – it’s about breadth the wider your reach the more people you touch.

    Oh and use hash tags – not those that you just made up, but ones that other people are using – they make a difference.

  2. in his book ‘1966 and all that’ satirist Craig Brown writes ‘The reign of Tony Blur (sic) was famous for its numerous discoveries and inventions. One of these was the theory of the Big Ban, which said that most things should be banned.’

    the fact the police are investigating people who write unkind comments on Twitter is indicative of the theory of the Big Ban. it is also indicative of blurred thinking (in the literal not satirical sense).

    on the other hand, recent days have shown Twitter cultivates a kind of Lord of the Flies herd mentality where people re-tweet comments or pick up trends that are factually wrong and defamatory, and which could cause genuine harm.

    these issues are not what you are talking about in your post. I think you make sensible points but I don’t see Twitter as integral to achieving the things you write about. (I don’t think your old boss RT is on Twitter?, and he gets about a lot). And I wonder if even despite its use for proving pointers to more substantive or real world communications Twitter engenders superficiality (which=error in some serious cases) in personal, professional and political matters –

    and so

    to return to the Big Ban and defamation: i’d rather people were allowed to write without fear of arrest, but on the other hand much of this stuff is not very interesting or just rumour. Twitter is a kind of haven of babble. when the now deceased philosopher Anthony Flew was asked whether he knew his conversion from atheism to theism was trending online, he said ‘no because i’m not a dedicated follower of the internet’. You may think that’s a rather ignorant stance in the “information age”, and I think you’d have a point, but i admire the sentiment. Twitter gets a thumbs down from me.

  3. ok – RT is arguably on Twitter in the shape of Reform, as of February 2011 the stats are: 17 TWEETS
    so, it’s not significant usage, but it’s a presence.

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