Six blind men and the twitterphant

You may have heard the Indian fable about the six blind men and the elephant. Six blind men happen across an elephant, and each feels a different part of the elephant. Each describes the elephant according to what he feels. The one who bumped into the body of the elephant thinks it’s a wall, the one who felt the leg thinks it’s a tree; the one who touched the trunk thinks it’s a snake, the one who grabbed the ear thinks it’s a fan, the one who discovered the tusk thinks it’s a spear, and the one who found the tail thinks it’s a rope. All are correct in their own experience, yet each is wrong when it comes to the whole.

Twitter is much like an elephant being described by the six blind men.

(The same could be said of social media/networking in general.)

Each person’s experience of twitter is different, depending on six factors:

1.) One’s own expectations for the medium
2.) The content of what one contributes oneself
3.) The people that you choose to interact with
4.) The quantity of people you follow
5.) The tools you use to engage with the twitterverse
6.) The frequency with which you engage the twitterverse

Most of these are self-explanatory in how they will affect your twitter experience. I will point out that the biggest factor in your perception of the twitterverse will be who you follow. One’s network is very important, and like snowflakes, no two people will have exactly the same network. If you don’t find people right away who are thoughtful, engaging, witty, and/or relevant, you won’t have a good experience. If you do, you’ll have a great experience. If you find friends, family, colleagues, you’ll find it hard to imagine life before twitter. If you don’t find anyone that is interesting to you, you’ll think the twitterverse to be a wasteland.

The tools are also important. If you start a twitter account, find some great people, but then never come back, you won’t engage in any of the near-real time conversations that occur. If you use a desktop twitter tool such as Twitteriffic that pops onto your screen interrupting you, you’ll have a much different perspective of a humorous or superficial tweet than if you have a tool like TweetDeck running in the background, and only check into it on your own time schedule. If you don’t check into twitter regularly, or follow hundreds of people, you’ll wonder why no one ever talks to you… unless you use search.twitter.com to catch all the messages aimed at you. (Then again, if you never tweet anything interesting, no one will tweet back at you.)

The main thing to bear in mind is that twitter means different things to different people, and that there is no right or wrong way to use it.

If you’re just getting started with twitter, here are my beginners’ twitter tips, and here are the four phases of twitter. (It ALWAYS begins with denial.)

What factors have shaped your perception of the twitterverse? If you could share one secret, tip, or technique that has changed your perception of twitter and how you use it, what would that be?

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3 Responses to “Six blind men and the twitterphant”

  1. Tim McAlpine Says:

    Good post Morriss. Great advice for the many that start and give up.

  2. The Financial Brand » Blog Archive » BofA is on Twitter, so why aren’t you? Says:

    […] Twitter 101: If you’re scratching your head wondering what the heck Twitter is, don’t worry. Check this out: It’s a good, basic overview of Twitter. Just be warned: Almost everyone has a sharply skeptical opinion of Twitter when first hearing about it… then they become addicts (as has been documented in The Four Phases of Twitter). Also, as you absorb other people’s advice and opinions about Twitter, it helps to keep this in mind. […]

  3. Tom Says:

    I should have realised somebody had come up with the blind men and the twitterphant metaphor by now – just posted my take on it here

    http://tinyurl.com/d6joua

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