Photo by Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Friends aside, I would say I'd had more actual conversation on Twitter in the past week or so than I've had in the past five years.
How? I've been saying hello to some of the people who've followed me by sending them a private message. Not all of them, but those I had something to say to.
Of course, it helps that I have a job for a charity which involves reaching out to volunteers about campaigning. That means I have had something to say and a general offer of help to tender. But the key thing here - as with any networking - is having a friendly interaction based on a common interest, not playing a zero sum game where every conversation has to get me somewhere.
Unlike e-mails, Twitter messages are also framed as a conversation. Literally, in the way the screen is designed. So there's both more stimulus to respond and less pressure (because less formality) in doing so at the same time, perhaps compared to an e-mail. Certainly the freedom to go over 140 characters helps with responding compared to public Twitter conversation.
Worth saying too that the message content has not been a generic 'Hi - Thanks for the follow - Sign up here' affair either. People can smell that kind of phoniness, that pseudo-bot behaviour in what you write.
So while my messages have often contained all of those things, it's been personalised to what I know of that person or that organisation and their interests. I've tried sharing some information I thought they would find interesting. I've offered help - and sometimes I've been able to help them, even if it's something as straightforward as retweeting the launch of their latest project.
So - why don't you try it? Who's started following you that you would like to build a relationship with?
Perhaps I shouldn't have to say this, but belt and braces:
- If you think a message from you could potentially be seen as an unwelcome intrusion, either in content, because it's a message from you, or even just because it's a message period, then don't send it.
- It's for that reason I'm restricting my messaging to new follows, organisations and accounts who RT me. And even then I'll be discriminatory.
- With the best will in the world, I have to say social media is still a place where abuse and creepy behaviour happens, disproportionately directed at women. People (especially women) are therefore rightfully cautious about strangers on the internet. So, I say again, if you think the act of messaging might possibly be misconstrued, don't message.