Long long ago (2006) in a land not really far away (beautiful Boulder, Colorado), two colleagues of mine at @rallysoftware, @mikealber and @brianedsauer, sat me down to explain something called “social media.” What it was, where I should engage, how to engage, and why. Blogs, RSS feeds, facebook, linked-In, and twitter. Mike and Ed offered some basic “getting started” guidance.
Facebook: use it for your personal life, letting friends and family know odds and ends about your life. Linked-in: create a professional profile that helps others connect with you and helps you create a network via other people with profiles in linked-in. Blogs: use the www/rallydev.com/community/agile blog to provide your thoughts relevant to your professional passion in order to create a larger voice in the agile community. (My first blog post April 20, 2006: “Amplify Learning–The Program Pause that Refreshes“. ) RSS feeds: find people whose blogs you like; get a nudge each time they write so that you can read and learn. And finally twitter: share a thought or a link that is a glimpse into your thoughts about the agile community. Re-tweet your reactions to others’ thoughts. And keep it to 140 characters.
Of all of these, twitter seemed the least intuitive to me. Get a twitter handle (@jeantabaka was available.) Write something in 140 characters or less. Use it to link to other 140 character tweets. Let others know about blog posts I’ve written or read. Seriously Mike?
Doggedly, Mike encouraged me. @rallyon pitched in and paired with me on some blog topics. I also watched how Ryan was revealing his interests via twitter. I learned to share links to these blog posts and others. And, in those salad days of my life in the twitterverse, that was about as comfortable as I was. At least I was starting to see some connections of my various digital personae and how the different milieus could serve me.
Later, working with @markgammon, I received more encouragement to bring my voice out in blog posts and tweets. (Ah, who can forget the “One Hit Wonder Friday” series?) I learned to tweet a bit more. And I learned to do more than write. I began to read the twitter stream much more in order to see what others were sharing. Tweets might be someone’s rant; there may be rants among people. I was learning how to read tweets and how to choose when to engage in a topic or create my own topic. I saw people only tweet about their own blog posts (blaaah.) I saw people only re-tweet other tweets (seriously, where are your words?) I even saw someone retweet their own tweets. Huh?
On this day, the day of my 4000th tweet, here are a few reflections on my 140 character digital world:
1. You can do it. I wouldn’t be here without @mikealber, @brianedsauer and @markgammon. Through their patience and humor urging me to keep working at it, there is a 140 character @jeantabaka voice out there.
2. Keep your voice. @jeantabaka can and should really reveal my passion in words that have heart and meaning for me. Don’t be tweeting crap you don’t care about. I think that, early on, I was just trying to get tweets out there. It was a wobbly effort. By default, I wasn’t very discriminating because I didn’t know how to be discriminating. Now, I feel much more intentional. My tweets can reveal my passion. They can equally reveal my vulnerability. It’s all about how I want to show up in the twitterverse.
3. Growth comes from stepping out of your comfort zone. Tweeting was massively foreign to me. And, I kept at it. I “leaned in.” Now, twitter feels comfortable, kind of like a pair of cool hiking boots. They take awhile to break in. But once they are, those boots take you to great places: along a familiar trail or over a new ridge. Through twitter, I’ve definitely felt professional and personal growth in ways I wouldn’t have believed in 2006: so many paths to so many people and such varied thought streams.
4. You are always welcome back. If one were to draw a timeline depicting the frequency of my tweets since the initial creation of the @jeantabaka profile, you’d find stretches of zero tweets throughout that timeline. And then you’d see spikes, then extended periods of checking in. Lately, the tweet graph is on an upswing. I don’t feel so crappy anymore about the long stretches of zero tweets. I do feel glad @jeantabaka is more vocal of late.
5. How you use hashtags can be engaging or stupid: you decide. At first, getting my twitter legs under me, I felt clumsy and fairly random. Using hashtags was an attempt for me to keep myself “relevant” in certain communities. For instance, I had loads of #agile #lean #collaboration #scrum tags in those early tweets. I notice I use these hashtags less and less in my tweets. This probably goes back to item #2 above. I’ve moved more into just creating my entries because they reveal something that interests me. While applying a hashtag may get followers of that hashtag to see it, that seems less important to me now.
6. Hashtags at conferences are way cool. I had no idea how much fun I would have using twitter when attending conferences. Tweeting about speakers and their topics, I loved finding tweets others were writing about the same conference sessions (or sessions I was missing) via the conference hashtag. Hashtags rock.
7. Who knew twitter can create enduring joy? Those hashtags at conferences connected me to other people also writing at the conferences. Without twitter, I wouldn’t have met wonderful people each of whom I believe I can now truly call friend. @drunkcod, @prettyagile, @joakimsunden, @markatscale, @ourfounder, @kjscotland, @cyteain are people I deeply care about. Through twitter we have shared many laughs (even stupid tweeting competitions, which @prettyagile won at #agileaus in 2013!) They bring me joy and connection. Twitter pulled me to them.
8. Wanna join a tribe? Get your tweeting butt out there. I have these twitter friends (some named above) with whom my life is definitely much richer. And there are other connections. Consider @sarah11918 and @nativewired. Though Sarah and I only see each other about once a year, and I only met Gitte once, I look forward to when they tweet. I like feeling that connection. There is a whole crowd of tweetsters out there with whom I believe I have a quirky tribe. Twitter reminds me how much I value them professionally and personally regardless of geographic distance or infrequency of face-to-face time.
9. 140 characters needn’t necessarily look abridged or cryptic. Okay it’s true, 140 characters makes you think differently about how you express yourself. And, it doesn’t have to look aborted. Think of it as a Faulknerian exercise: kill off your little darlings. Get to the heart of your message with those 140 characters. Consider @drunkcod. I think Toby may have the most eloquent voice I know in the twitterverse. All in 140 characters. He is beautifully prolific. Check him out.
10. Let them come. @mikealber urged me to not filter or approve who would follow my tweets. Anyone could follow. That advice has turned out to be so helpful. I in turn learned to follow people I have never met. I never imagined I’d have over 4300 followers. I didn’t have a goal. And, to be clear, I DEFINITELY never thought I’d be writing my 4000th tweet to these 4300 people.
11. Breathe. I have learned that tweeting needn’t be either a task or a disruption or a challenge. When I was on sick leave for 3 months last year sitting on my couch here in Boulder, the one creative thing I felt I had the energy to do was to tweet. As I healed, instead of feeling shame about a state of seeming nothingness, @jeantabaka found 140 characters just the right amount of creativity to tackle. 140 characters helped me stay connected and gave me a sense of value. I was able to check in with my friends and my tribe worldwide. 140 characters helped me breathe through.
560,000 characters later, I’m still learning about my digital world. Lately, I’ve been receiving warm, stellar guidance from my @rallysoftware colleague @cauloccoli. How lucky can one person be to have Jenny as your sherpa? So, I’ll dedicate this blog post to @rallyon, @mikealber, @brianedsauer, @markgammon, @drunkcod, @prettyagile, @joakimsunden, @markatscale, and @cauloccoli as well as the larger group of tweeters I consider part of my twitter tribe. You all guided me here. #jeantabakalovesyou.