18 January 2012

Twitter: What I Didn't do Over the Summer

For those who lack reference, the TeleContrarian Twitter persona is an outgrowth of my “calling bullshit” as a commenter on several blog sites, most notably No Jitter.  When I started my Twitter experiment I devised a pair of questions I hoped to answer:

·    Could Twitter enhance and simplify my personal monitoring of the enterprise comms market?
·    Would anyone want to follow and interact with someone anonymous and snarky (but informed)? In other words, would my “personality” and point of view enhance others’ Twitter goals?

I set myself a goal of a year to find out and slightly overstayed.  Along the way I expanded the Contrarian “brand” by creating this blog.  In doing so, I could also begin to see the “six degrees of separation” brought about by social media (how many of my Twitter followers would re-tweet my blog link and where would readers come from?).  I thought it more interesting than releasing a sex tape (as so many have) and documenting its internet voyage.

Some may wonder why my first goal wasn’t obvious from my non-anonymous Twitter profile.  The answer is that my public profile has become so enmeshed in marketing, promotion and relationship-building that its goals couldn’t be completely separated for this experiment.  And then there’s the ribald personality of TeleContrarian which is not allowed in polite business.

Is Twitter measurably helpful?

I use several methods to monitor the UCOM market including RSS feeds, Google Alerts, push email services, vendor AR/PR and the like.  Could Twitter replace, unify and expand the reach of those services?  Would any additional information posted by my followers enhance my knowledge?

The short answer is “no,” Twitter did not do the job better.  Those articles not part of my traditional monitoring systems, while sometimes interesting, did  not uncover a lodestone of unforeseen knowledge. 

What Twitter did excel at was speed (items posted to Twitter in minutes) and the occasional sound bite of opinion (though usually gleanable by reading the linked document).  So, is the simple speed of knowledge helpful?  Again I say, “no.”  Knowing about Avaya’s IPO or Alcatel-Lucent’s Enterprise yard sale a few hours earlier doesn’t make the information more actionable.  Similarly, experiencing Avaya’s Flare launch live, while exciting, was meaningless. 

Another dimension of Twitter use in business is the fallacy that following opinion and vendor leaders would somehow reveal useful unvarnished thoughts.  Twitter for business is a marketing channel where meaningful thoughts are guarded and usually either enticement or corporate puffery.   Unfortunately candid thoughts limited themselves to the minutia of daily life.  For example, I now find myself requesting hotel rooms Charlie Isaacs hasn’t slept in (harder than you’d imagine!).

This brings me to an unfortunate side-effect of following some, bearing witness to their over sharing.  To the untrained eye, Vanessa Alvarez may appear to be a confident woman swanning her way from jet to beach swaddled in Gucci and shod in Blahnik. I, however, see shallow trappings and self-importance.  I’ve always thought her work lacked depth and now I understand more completely why.  I also more rapidly seek better company at cocktail parties.  Given the private messages sent to me, I am not alone in my opinions, just in expressing them.

The bottom line is that Twitter is helpful for those needing to be breathlessly first (and my public persona needs this perception for many reasons).  It may also help those with a more casual interest stay abreast of the market.

Goal 2: Did this persona help you?

I have no idea.  Certainly over time my following has slowly increased, so I can assume that some of what I said was interesting, useful or at least entertaining.  My primary goal began with a desire to unveil truths obfuscated by corporate marketing or those dependant on it.  To ask the questions others only thought but couldn’t diplomatically ask (including my public persona).  Most have understood that I am not necessarily malicious, just frank with a sprinkle of bitch.

The bitchery may be the most attractive part of TeleContrarian.  In a world of buttoned-down business-speak banality, someone should prick the balloon.  As proof of this, several of my tweets were the result of private messages sent asking me to tweet something the sender couldn’t.

Some have engaged with me on this journey, others ignore my existence.  It has been interesting to have dual “relationships” with most of my followers.  I appreciate the fact that it’s unsettling to interact in an inherently unbalanced relationship and appreciate their mostly jovial participation.  Most funny have been the marketing-drone Twitter accounts who must grit their teeth to answer me.  But a few times I’ve been wrong and have apologized and corrected where I could.

While I expected some bemused speculation about my identity as TeleContrarian grew, some have made the quest their raison d'ĂȘtre, as though unmasking me would finally gain them a seat at the “popular” lunch table. This has been especially amusing when I have been asked if I know who “I” am. But this hunger has also limited my ability when seated near a roving-eyed colleague. For those still playing the game, no, I have never heard anyone correctly speculate on my identity. Jim Croce sang it best, “You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger” because when the mystery is solved, the game is over.  And it’s the game that makes it all worthwhile.

Lessons Learned

People are, and always will be, sheep.  Corporate marketing Twitter accounts often see a story and retweet it again for wider distribution without reading the referenced article.  Because of this, on several occasions I have been retweeted by vendors I’ve been critical of.  I cringe when this happens, but it’s human nature to trust as much as it is to be lazy.  A dangerous combination.

TeleContrarian is addictive.  It’s a wild ride to be clever and have a forum to say what you think.  It’s also self-competitive as I found myself looking for ways to “out do” myself.  This persona has been largely silent since October 2011, and I didn’t miss it.  In fact, I enjoyed the rest.  What started as a vacation became more.  The future will bring a more focused voice with less bitchcraft.

TeleContrarian is a crutch.  While I shed light on some truths, those truths are there for anyone to find.  If you find yourself believing the “increased productivity and reduced spending paradigm of a cloud-based OpEx model” mantra of this week’s marketing campaign, it’s your job to take a step back and evaluate.  Like any religion or belief, if you unchallengingly follow, you can’t complain about view or the destination.