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Lurkers, interrupters and more Twitter rules

January 14, 2013

Lurkers and Interrupters

I’m sure many of us have been following #twitchats at some time or another and a tweet comes in saying “I’m here, but just lurking“.  Someone said to me recently “I’ve been spying on your conversation about… and wanted to make a comment… ”

I’ve twice seen a comment “I’m sorry for interrupting ..”

But surely ..

ConfusedI must confess to being a little confused about the underlying ‘apology’ inherent in the statements from the lurkers and interrupters.  Now I get it, it could just be me that thinks this, BUT – surely social media, Twitter in particular, is about engaging and sharing.  It’s an opportunity for anyone to share, to listen, to watch, to participate when they feel ready.

Public conversationsSurely no-one can have the remotest expectation of their Twitter conversations being private (except DMs which offer a limited degree of privacy, and locked a/c which again afford a limited degree of privacy) – this is not a conversation on a bus, or a train, neither is it a private conversation at a conference or such

it’s an open conversation taking place in full view, and in full voice, in front of the world.

I’m often taken aback when someone says to me, yes I was following your conversation last night, or even more surprised when someone says I read your blog – although if truth be told I’m also rather please as well, after all I write the blog to share my thoughts, fears and aspirations, to invite comment and discussion, my diary (if indeed I had one) would be where I recorded my private ruminations, for my own consumption.

It’s SOCIAL media

Is there anything wrong with ‘lurking’ – frankly no, it’s nice to know someone is there and introduce themselves, however, they shouldn’t feel any pressure to participate.  Those that chose not to highlight they are there shouldn’t feel any pressure either – let’s remind ourselves it’s social media, it’s not *confidential* or *restricted* emails or secured messaging, it’s social media and as such everyone should approach it as open access for anyone and everyone.  I encourage newbies to Twitter to spend the first week or so to lurk, to simply watch (and listen) to a few selected people, to examine the content of others’ tweets – what is interesting, how are messages kept to the point but still make sense?

SpyI’m sure my ‘spy’ is just a lurker who prefers the intrigue and romanticism of being a spy rather than a lurker – whichever terminology they use, they are welcome to share, to watch until they feel ready to engage.


Interrupters – in a way this refers back to my previous blog on hierarchies.  There may be some people on Twitter who think themselves of greater importance or of greater standing than you or I, this is probably a reflection of their ‘in the person’ persona – Twitter, social media etc isn’t really going to change them.

The side effect of this hierarchy is ‘interrupters’ – people who have equally valid perspectives, thoughts and opinions apologise for interrupting.  I truly get it if they are apologising as they are joining a conversation part way through, in some ways that reflects the good manners that would be expected in a face to face conversation, however I fear some of the apology is about ‘worth’, that in some way the interrupter feels the need to apologise for them having the audacity to interrupt, rather than it being the former explanation.

In my mind I acquaint this to the principles of ‘Transaction Analysis’, with the apologiser taking the role of child and apologising to the parent, rather than having an adult to adult discourse.

The ‘so what’ question and more twitter rules?

If I’m having a conversation with fellow tweeters everyone and anyone is welcome to join in – the rules, they’re not that different from others well recognised rules:

Speakers-CornerYour opinion is valued, the same as everyone else provided you are respectful of others and share your opinion in a way that respects others.

We may not always agree, but I promise to listen to your views, I expect the same courtesy in return ( several tweeps did not agree with my blog on uniforms) – I very much welcomed their input and perspective, all our discussion were respectful, the way I would expect if I was sitting across the desk from them.

If you are having a (Twitter) conversation and I join in, I expect to be welcomed for my contribution – you’re having a public conversation, unless you are trying to demonstrate how exceptionally clever you are, why would you not expect/encourage engagement with others.  I will be respectful and I will listen – I want to share and to learn, don’t you?

So what?

My final thought is to the apologisers – are you sure why you are apologising?  If it’s about courtesy, then great, let’s not change that.  If it’s about worth – then think again, your contribution, your thoughts and perspective is a valuable as everyone else, please join in as an equal – if people don’t/can’t embrace the principles of equality on social media and welcome input to conversations I’m convinced they shouldn’t be on it.

I look forward to e-meeting you and sharing – It’s good to talk.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2013 1:53 pm

    I favourited your hierarchy post and have meant to get back to it to comment but here we are a week later and I haven’t done so!. So, I’ll comment here if you don’t mind because I do think that they are part of the same area of discussion. My academic background is information science. All this is, of course, just my opinion!

    I think the central issue is about barriers, boundaries and the communication (read information / knowledge ) structure that these create and how electronic channels either undermine established structures or how they are used to replicate traditional structures (and whether these structures are as effective) . (Social science will recognise this of Giddens and Structuration)

    One example of traditional structures are the ‘corporate accounts’ for instance a Council tweeting – or rather broadcasting as these accounts are rarely involved in conversations, they are more like announcement accounts and also the twitter accounts that are obviously run by a staffer rather than the ‘name’.

    I’ve recently joined Twitter as an active user ( late last year) and to be honest have plunged into it. Almost like a crossword puzzle – I’ve seen retweets that interest me and then followed the original tweeter, I don’t particularly bother whether people follow me back but its great if they do. And I plunge into conversations if I feel I have something to say. Almost as if I am in the middle of a big spider diagram / mind map where one idea leads to another that leads onto another. I haven’t unfollowed anyone yet – but that might happen.

    Its a function of social media that it is open – why use it if you restrict information to a select few – its easier to email to a list of people. But a function of social organisation is that it self organises – creating patterns of self replication, ie like follows like. But social media barriers (especially twitter) are generally more open than phone conversations / selective email lists / letters and face to face conversations – almost a reversal of media richness theory. If you’re comfortable with flexibility of barriers and the flexible structures then you will be more comfortable with interrupting / being interrupted, If you have a feeling that there is a fixed hierarchy then you will be more aware / uncomfortable with the opaqueness of any structure.

    This is where its usefulness in learning /developing comes in – ie communties of practice – boundary spanners – those that are the ones reach across the barriers to enable collaboration and sharing of information.

    But of course there then comes the problem of information overload 😉

    I’m happy to discuss – hopefully I make some sort of sense…

    • January 14, 2013 7:44 pm

      Thanks for commenting on both posts – I think in general we are in agreement around the what of the structure and boundaries, I guess we deviate slightly in what to do about it. As you said most corporate accounts have a tendency to broadcast, it’s more difficult for them to engage in real life conversations, although a few of them do manage it – the fluidity of it I think is a challenge for them. Where we do deviate is your more accepting of non-engagement of others, demonstrated by follow/unfollow; I recognise that my more structured thought-out approach may mean I don’t listen to as wide a pool of tweeters as you, but those I do listen to I’m more engaged with. I don’t think either are right or wrong, by sharing my approach it invites others to agree or disagree and I fully respect that. The other purpose in the blog was to invite people to consider why the do/do not follow others the challenge and whether its about hierarchies or something else at play.
      BTW – I like the ‘mind map’ analogy, I also follow that link from on idea to another. Thanks Derek

      • January 14, 2013 8:22 pm

        As I said I’ve only just (in relative terms) joined Twitter actively (I do have another account that is older but have never used that. ) I haven’t unfollowed anyone *yet*. It maybe that there is an ‘ageing’ process and that my preferences may change over time – but viewing what has happened with my FB account (which has a lot more people linked) I don’t tend to unfollow lightly and usually either hide or just ignore the fact that people are there and not engaging. (Personally I find it uncomfortble when individuals on FB do the ‘do you still want to be my friend, if so respond meme’.

        My follow / unfollow rules are more loosely formed and are more implicit than yours I think. I don’t know whether this is because I have been involved with Internet forums / mailing lists since round about 1996 and I’m more comfortable with the fact that there will be some people that I won’t engage with or they will be there in the background. Actually one of the people I have unfriended on FB recently I know has her FB account solely to *see what everyone was up to* but refused to engage with her list of *friends*. Once the (working) relationship ended – the first thing I did was to unfriend her as I felt her then to be an intrusive presence.

        But in general I like the fact that individuals can shape their titter involvement in their own way but still remain engaged with it and others who shape it in a different way!

  2. January 16, 2013 6:43 am

    I was about to say “it’s not interrupting, it’s joining in” but then I read the bit about joining in, so I won’t say that now 😉 Nice post Derek.

  3. January 21, 2013 4:36 pm

    I enjoyed your post, Derek, and recognise the lurkers situation. I quite often wonder if there are more than 1 or 2 people reading anything I write because most of the people who follow me are silent most of the time. Every now and then, however, I’m startled by someone who steps out of the shadows to comment on something, and their comment suggests that they’ve read quite a lot of my tweets that day/week. Sometimes, it feels a little weird. Very occasionally, I become aware that I’ve been quoted in an online newspaper or magazine, and that reminds me to be careful about what I say to whom in this public space.
    I would hope that people regard me as sufficiently approachable that they can tweet to me or join in a social media chat. I can’t talk to everyone I follow or who follows me, and sometimes even I hesitate to join in, or address someone whom I know to be senior in the hierarchy, but I do try to respond if people address me directly.

    • January 21, 2013 8:46 pm

      Thanks Janet – I’m somewhat fascinated by the topic. It seems that, that which was once hidden, is being played out in public. Hierarchies have always existed (and still do), the way people are treated within hierarchies was less obvious in the past, although possibly less keenly felt by those involved. I’m surprised by some who ‘apologise’ for interrupting as, to me, they are leading lights (or is that a dressed up hierarchy?), I therefore wonder if they feel the need to apologise then want does that mean for other less confident people. The treatment of people on SoMe is a topic that comes up more and more with people engaging with our community MH teams – it’s a source real positive support for many, I think however we constantly need to consider our individual impact on others.
      In terms of person hierarchies – you do realise that you are ‘up there’, given that I’m in awe of weeklyblogclub. Derek

  4. lelil permalink
    January 22, 2013 9:29 pm

    “Surely no-one can have the remotest expectation of their Twitter conversations being private…” In my experience, a lot of people do actually have that expectation. I’m not sure why that is the case.

    • January 22, 2013 10:41 pm

      I wonder if I used the right word ‘private’ when I wrote that, but couldn’t think of a better description. I’m not sure that people (or not many) think conversations are private, however that begs the question of why some people apologise for ‘interrupting’ – which I find interesting. The question would be who is it that thinks the conversation is private? From my own perspective I consider everything I say is there for the world to see, if people want to engage with me they are very welcome, after all that’s why I’m there. Kind of like writing this blog and then complaining people are reading it 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read and comment – much appreciated. Derek

  5. January 23, 2013 10:25 am

    Great post. From my experience people are getting used to the world of social media, and are just getting to grips with this new world of openness and transparency. Often when people are just beginning to use Twitter, they struggle to see how their opinion might be of value as an individual, hence the lurking. But hopefully with time comes confidence!

    Having read Geektapestry’s comments above I read your hierarchies post too, and that was really interesting and relates directly to this post too. I think it takes time to see and come to terms with the fact that one of the best things about Twitter is that everyone is (nearly) on the same level, and that traditional hierarchy of responding isn’t there (even if some others are formed). Lots to think about from this post – cheers!

    • January 23, 2013 11:58 am

      Thanks for the comments – I think you are right that new hierarchies are being formed, some based on traditional structures but others on a new and emerging paradigm. My perspective on the blog is about awareness, not that one is right or wrong, but hopefully we promote understanding and thereby being thoughtful of the impact we have on others. Thanks for reading and comment. Derek


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