Meet The Twitterati Who Rule News Tweets In Tampa Bay

"RT @ALDO_JOEL916: @TiUnderwood @McCourtyTwins where wood at? <--Lol Wood At Benihanas In Indy''

Foreign language? Nope. It’s Twitter.

Allow me to translate: RT means, "retweet'' and when you see it, it means that someone has shared a previously written message in the same fashion that they received it by simply clicking on the retweet icon.

The @ symbol represents two things: a user, and also an action -- a directional message -- meaning that you are pointing your digital voice at another person. It's also worth mentioning that the individual that you're pointing your @ communication toward will receive a notification that you've "tagged'' -- for lack of a more universal term -- them in your tweet.

The message could have easily included another popular tool of the Twitterverse: the "hashtag,'' as a means of letting people search for it and associated messages that also have included the same #xyz. In this case, #SuperBowl would be appropriate because the tweet has been posted by an NFL wide receiver, who was cut from the New England Patriots just one day before the big game! #ouch!

Interestingly, the event has made him a star, as he promised to tweet his thoughts on the big game, from a place significantly different than the sideline of Lucas Oil stadium.

Why is this important? Well, it's interesting and timely.

The world has never been privy to the thoughts of a freshly released player -- one who spent two weeks inside the organization preparing for the big game -- as he sits back and watches the pinnacle game of his professional life unfold in front of his eyes, as a spectator. This notion of flexible communication of the unexpected is a major part of what makes Twitter cool.

It started out in 2006 as an internal communication platform for a tech company in CA: Odeo, and it soon grew into something much different.

OK, but isn't this just a lot of strangers who don't care about each other talking about what they had for lunch?

Nope -- not even close. Twitter has evolved into a global communication platform boasting over 300M users! Not quite Facebook level (800M), however, it's still an INCREDIBLY large user base, and because almost everyone on Twitter tweets publically, it's like Facebook, but more like Facebook if it were happening inside of a glass house.

What makes it such an effective communication tool? Simplicity and transparency.

Tampa Bay Twitter user Aubrey Goodman (@AubreyGoodman) appreciates the inherent dynamism of the platform: "It can be everything from informative and educational to sarcastic to insulting, and it comes in just the right amount of what you need and nothing else.''

Another example of the game-changing nature of this communication platform: You can call the White House anytime you’d like, however, I guarantee you won’t get to talk to anyone important, and furthermore, the rest of the world will never know that you've called. This holds true with just about everyone and everything. Because of Twitter, average Justin/Jessica is able to participate in the conversation as they see fit. It's truly unprecedented and quite remarkable.

Wait, let’s talk about usage. How many people who have accounts are actually active on the site? According to market research firm Lab42, 70 percent of users access the site at least once per day, and 65 percent tweet at least once per day, with 42 percent posting multiple tweets per day. Not too shabby!

Twitter In Tampa Bay

To geeks, being a "power user'' of something is a term of endearment. It implies that you are an expert. According to Amber Osborne (@MissDestructo), power users tend to be the ones who are really connected in the community. In Tampa Bay, they are likely involved in the startup community as well. She loves reading their posts, because: "They are the ones who are out there participating in the community.''

Here are some power users of Twitter in the Tampa Bay area, followed by their profile descriptions:

@radinfo: Author, Speaker, Blogger and Consultant in the telecom industry.
@sjervewfla: Chief Meteorologist at Newschannel 8, the NBC affiliate in Tampa, FL.
@JoelinTampa: CoFounder BarCamp Tampa, Early Stage Product Development Strategist & Evangelist, Optimistic Technology Startup Networker and Catalyst

@thatgirlallie: Never regret. If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience. My dimension's exquisite, I invite you to visit ... #NASATweetup #STS135 alumni! :)
@4Ayes: Gagsparilla: Aye matey! Man (or woman) ye Twitter accounts, you unlucky lot o' laugh-lubbers. Here's me take on news, politics & pop culture. You'll be hooked ... IN THE ARSE!

@Whoisgregg: VP @ClassB, Web developer, Eagle Scout, WebmasterWorld JavaScript & Databases Moderator
@Antony511: Founder & CEO of Head of Lettuce Media We do Social media @HOLMedia, Social Media Theorist, Professional Speaker, Degree in Organizational Innovations
@MeganHatton: Meteorologist & Ohio native. Lover of killer heels, black licorice, Ohio State, old school rap & all things science! Opinions are my own and NOT OF MY EMPLOYER.

@NBrown10: Social Media-phile, beginning blogger, mover and shaker. I'm a huge nerd in general. My tweets reflect my views only.
@NateBW: local eye doctor and founder of FourSquare day

@Z_Williamson: Overly offensive and defensive. NSFW, NSFAnybody, Anywhere. You've been warned.
@BenMarte: Interactive Media Developer from the Tampa Bay area, always looking to learn and improve my skills, while helping others do the same.
@AubreyGoodman: Fun-loving, passionate, workaholic technologist who loves challenge and sustainability. Co-founder of @ChannelShift and @CraigsCrawler.

@CSwitaj: Social media for @TBLightning @TampaBayStorm @tbtimesforum. Previously PR for USA Hockey, Bruins & Boston College (alma mater). Born & raised in Hockeytown.
@MitchNeff: Father of three wicked cool kids | Social Strategist | Instigator | #StartUpBus Miami Alum | #WebtrendsTV co-host | Tweets are mine.
@LizzHarmon: CEO of HarmonTampa for 15 years; integrating PR and social media. Tweet PR tips every weekday, and about USF, Tampa Bay, PR and digital media.

How are the local Twitterati actually using Twitter?

If you ask @thatgirlallie what's happening on any particular evening, she turns to Twitter. In fact, she's developed a sort of digital pre-gaming strategy that works well for her. She doesn't use Twitter to search for events like you would a calendar system, but instead she actually finds out who is talking about the event, who is planning on attending, and then takes the initiatives to connect with them (referred to as a "follow'' on Twitter), and introduces herself beforehand! How cool is that?

It might not seem like much, but she leaves the event with stronger (and digitally persistent) social connections than your parents' party chit-chat ever produced.

"In fact, it's not just parties, it's anything I am going to; I check hashtags and add people if I don't know them already.'' This isn’t just about parties, either. Allie describes Twitter as a great tool for job hunting, too.

Gigs-A-Plenty On Twitter

The talent acquisition industry has taken to Twitter as a way of identifying candidates for opportunities their clients are ready to contract out, and human resources departments are using it to screen candidates (behave yourselves out there, kids!), and also to reach out to candidates they think might have unique potential.

Local entrepreneur, Tony Duda, used it to land a high-profile opportunity to pitch his company to investors. To go one step further, some firms have begun asking candidates to hang on to their resumes, and just to point them toward their digital presence.

@Whoisgregg says it allows him reach to the "long tail'' of self-identified niche markets in his many online business ventures. In pre-social media economics, it just didn't make sense to bear the cost of reaching those highly specialized target markets, however, it's feasible now because they self-identify (via their profiles, and the publicly available content they share), and it's free to interact with them.

As an example, @Whoisgregg describes a business that sells products that might interest the Boy Scouts of America. Now, traditionally you might try to reach that highly fragmented group of consumers by buying ad space in a magazine targeted toward scouting. The social media approach to this business is to connect to sources of information that are interesting/useful for those involved in scouting, and then to tweet out links to that content. Once you've got followers who trust the scouting content that you are putting out on the web, they may also appreciate your perspective on goods and services that are commonly required for scouting (camping equipment, uniforms, etc.).

Having a link to your e-tail store on your Twitter profile and occasionally posting a link to goods that are timely, relevant and priced-right pretty much ensures that some folks will click on it (especially if you've been engaging and transparent over time) and you will likely convert some percentage of those visitors into sales. #touchdown!

@whoisgregg doesn't just work niche markets, he also creates automated twitter bots. Now, depending on whom you ask, there may be significant pushback on the concept of non-human Twitter accounts – just ask @MissDestructo(!) who feels quite strongly on the subject. However, there seem to be instances when interactive bots may be useful. After all, they exist for the purposes of auto-engagement due to scale issues, which means that there is demand there that humans can't process.

Q: Would you rather tweet a customer service concern to an auto-engaging Twitter account (if it could produce the correct reply), or negotiate a touch-tone phone operator system with a voice of a "person'' that sounds entirely too happy to actually work in customer service? I vote tweet. If it's accurate, then it's faster and much less annoying.

Another example of a useful automation account is movie times/locations.

An example of interplanetary proportions is the cleverness that is @twisst – which sends you a tweet when the international space station (ISS) will be visible at your location. That's just plain fun.

Polling Tampa Bay's Twitterati on the topic of: "What are some of the most clever and or interesting applications of Twitter that you’ve seen?,'' I receive the following:

@MissDestructo: Here's a feel good story for ya: @MitchNeff's house was robbed and at the time he was a single parent raising three kids. The crooks stole everything, including the Christmas presents. It was the worst possible time for it to happen, so @MissDestructo and the #usguys community raised over $1,000 in less than 12 hrs for Mitch and his family.

Fundraising makes complete sense on Twitter, for the same reason that @whoisgregg can reach his self-identifying niche markets.  Fundraising is all about aligning donors’ interests (and their bank accounts) with an appropriate cause. What better way to identify and engage potential donors than to say hello via Twitter? It's public, so they get to feel good, and because it's so public, the donor can feel somewhat protected from thieves who would have a hard time illegitimately representing another organization/cause. Twitter allows for crowds to become activated.

I had the good fortune of listening to @knowinnovation CEO Andy Burnett describe a situation in the United Kingdom where the government spent millions of dollars to get a weather satellite into orbit in order to measure things such as precipitation. After a snow storm, a web developer sat down and wrote a lightweight application using Twitter's API (application programming interface) that simply required that individuals be willing to go outside and measure the amount of snow on the ground at their home, and then to post that data in a tweet that included their location. The software application layered those aggregate messages on top of a Google (I believe) map that ended up being more accurate in measuring snowfall amounts than the multimillion dollar satellite!

Another example comes for @whoisgregg: It's very important for governments to monitor flu trends. Whether we like to think about it or not, a slight modification to a particularly viral strain of the flu -- say, avian flu -- could result in an epidemic rather quickly, and therefore, good information is worth its weight in gold. Prior to the digital revolution, the CDC kept those records (in Atlanta), and it took a while for the government to have any idea what was really going on. All of a sudden, Google was able to use aggregate search information to determine who was getting sick. This data is impressively accurate and significantly faster than the CDC was capable of processing on its own. It turns out Twitter and its associated "fire hose'' of information, can even beat Google by a full 12 hours! It might not seem like a lot, but if there is ever an outbreak of something nasty, it's mildly reassuring to know that statisticians will be analyzing sentiment info via Twitter, and helping response organizations make informed decisions based on that data.

Twitter Love (What Do You Love About Twitter?)

@AubreyGoodman: I love that it is a volunteer medium. I also love that the user controls the level of connectedness they want; you can choose to read every tweet in your stream and follow up on the links and images (say goodbye to your sanity!), or perhaps you simply choose to dip your toe in from time to time, and use it to strategically search for time-sensitive, topically-relevant information that you are looking for (like traffic updates).

@MissDestructo: I love being able to make new friends -- to establish rapport with someone whom I've never met; the fact that it connects people that could never have been connected before. Also, I get excited by the idea of connecting businesses with consumers like never before, and I think that's important because companies need to be building relationships beyond just selling people stuff. The curtain is being pulled back, and socially savvy companies are incorporating their Twitter followers into their corporate culture -- and I think that's awesome.

@thatgirlallie: I love that it's instant. Also, 95% of my real-life friends I met on Twitter [especially surprising because she is a Tampa native].

This is an interesting approach to friend selection, because it supports the idea that Twitter can filter your potential friends in a faster way than real-life. Welcome to optimized friend selection as determined by way of what you share and how you behave. I hadn't thought about it, but every time someone asks me to help water their digital crops, or win points in some bejeweled version of Tetris, I think slightly less of their taste(s). I hide them digitally from my feed, and I would suspect that the act of hiding a person digitally decreases the likelihood of spending more time together in the future (in person).

Twitter Hate (What Do You Hate About Twitter?)

@NBrown10: I hate all the people that think, act, and exclaim to be Twitter experts. The platform is evolving too quickly for anyone to be an expert.

@MissDestructo: I hate bots. There's research out there to show that about 1 out of every 10 accounts is a bot. I also hate their automated responses.

@AubreyGoodman: The 140 character limit is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it forces concision, which can be a good thing. However, there just isn't enough intellectual space to explore complex phenomena in an efficient/effective manner -- reminiscent of Noam Chomsky's stance on television interviews, which tend to seek out catchy controversial sound bites instead of exploring the essence of the matter at hand. [For the record, Chomsky doesn't tweet.]

What's Next For Twitter?

That's tough to say, but the common stance is that it is the real thing and it's got staying power. Avid users found out about the death of Osama Bin Laden via Twitter, followed by the network news, and then officially by the White House.

Expect this trend to continue – especially if the platform continues to enable the disruption of injustice [see: Iran (2009-2010); Egypt (2011); Tunisia (2010-2011); and Moldova (2009)] and doesn’t become overly regulated by governments and/or monitored by intelligence agencies, and/or manipulated by data aggregation schemes that tie your personal identity to unflattering observations of people and behaviors exhibited by people "similar'' to you.

With the Republican National Convention coming to Tampa in August of 2012, it's hard to believe that Twitter will not be front and center in both the positive portrayal of the city, region, and our opportunity for greatness, as well as inflammatory political commentary that has been on display since the beginning of the primary efforts.

@Whoisgregg prefers to remove the message from the medium. "As with the communication technology infrastructures that have preceded it, Twitter will simply sink to the level of background noise.'' You will pay as much attention to it as you do the Pony Express, Bell Telephone, or Brighthouse (customer service, installation issues, and bill pay concerns, aside).

Nathan Schwagler is a freelance journalist, creativity researcher and visiting instructor of entrepreneurship at USF St. Petersburg who will buy you a cup of coffee or a delicious pint if you promise to tell him something interesting and on the record. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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