Experimental improvement in twitter behaviour



Some people collect spores, moulds and fungus, I collect online behaviour. [0]

I’m fascinated how user behaviour changes as soon as they are presented with easy to use software tools, something to talk about and an audience. Something happens when users are divorced from the people they are communicating with, foregoing eons of learned behaviour and restraint and the results [1] can be pretty nasty. [2]

So the question I asked myself is, “what kind of approach can I use to improve communication” among technologically disconnected users? So I tried a very simple experiment. It wasn’t scientific by any means, but it did illustrate a concept that is normally associated with people the off-line world and body language. Now you might ask yourself. “how do you apply body language techniques to a textual medium?” Well I wasn’t sure myself so after reading a very short article on communication [3] and adopt the ideas to twitter messages just as I might to a person face to face.

The problem

I have been using twitter for a long time now, since 2006 [4] and as the number and diversity of users has increased I have adapted the way I follow the steady stream of information from users. I no longer follow users directly, instead I have created lists and sort interesting people on twitter into these lists. Simple enough but it goes against the standard usage pattern most people associate with following. So if a user suddenly appears on one of my lists they might be confused why? What do you do? Ignore them, try to explain your twitter usage optimisation techniques in multiple 140 character messages?

The experiment

Having just added a twitter user to a number of lists I received a message from a user asking why they had not been followed but added to a list? Of course this is how I add users. It allows me to thin-slice people by the groups I assign them to. But to a user who knows nothing about this it is just plain confusing. So I decided to follow the simple ideas of observation, effective communication, comfort dividend and move to action [5] to see if they work with a twitter user who I’ve never interacted with before. You can see the results below.



Observation The twitter user is confused and cannot understand what I’m doing and decides to CC another twitter to clarify what is going on. I observe this confusion.

2010MAY211737 Observation The twitter user is still confused and I recognise that effective communication is needed to help the user understand what I’m trying to achieve.
2010MAY211736 Observation The CC’d twitter user tries to explain what is going on. Again I recognise effective communication is required.
2010MAY211743 Communicate I try to explain as clearly what I’m trying to achieve.
2010MAY211749 Move to action, Comfort I recognise the user is still uneasy with not being listed but not followed. Instead of waiting for the user to ask me directly, I automatically follow the user and acknowledge the twitter user I know.
2010MAY211750 Outcome Twitter user now understands what I’m trying to achieve and appreciates my follow without direct prompting.

This was an interesting little experiment. Too often with social networks, an effective outcome is mishandled because the technology gets in the way. I’ll be trying this simple approach to other areas of confusion to see if I get similar results.


[0] Flickr, “Online behaviour: Good, bad & ugly. Behavioural observations for later use.”

[Accessed Friday, 21st May 2010]

[1] 2010MAY041658, Flickr, “Nasty Logie tweets from Anderson, AAP. The Age Newspaper, May 3, 2010.”


[Accessed Friday, 21st May 2010]

[2] 2010MAY041657, Flickr, Taken out of context’: Deveny defends Twitter comments on Logies night, Thomas Hunter, The Age Newspaper, May 3, 2010.


[3] Joe Navarro, “Four Small Things You Can Do To Be An Exceptional Communicator”

[Accessed Friday, 21st May 2010]


[4] Twitter, I joined twitter on 15 November 2006.”

[Accessed Friday, 21st May 2010]


[5] Joe Navarro, “Four Small Things You Can Do To Be An Exceptional Communicator”,Ibid. Each of these concepts are discussed in the article.


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