Please tell me what you had for lunch

tubular tacoTwitter often gets dismissed as “people with no life tweeting what they had for lunch.” I’ve been on Twitter since 2007 and have come to value the what-I-had-for-lunch tweet. Knowing what you had for lunch helps me get to know you a little better. And if you post what you had for lunch, you’re probably also posting about the sound your cat makes when she snores or the latest funny thing your kid said. (I am guilty on all counts.)

And this is okay.

Last year I attended a talk by Guy Kawasaki on “How to Use Twitter as a Marketing Weapon.” “I don’t read your tweets,” he said. “I only read the ones that mention me.” If you follow @guykawasaki you’ll see that all he does is broadcast links back to his own website. There’s no right way or wrong way to use Twitter, but his method only applies if you have a business model like his, that is, a link-bait website with lots of advertisements.

For most people on Twitter, tweeting what you had for lunch makes sense. It creates a connection to a human being. And in the aggregate, a few million “lunch tweets” can reveal all sorts of things. For example, Twitter is now being used to make stock-market projections (by tracking consumer sentiment), and to track allergy and influenza outbreaks. These trends would not be trackable if the mundane, everyday tweets were replaced by marketing weapons.

By the way, I had a spinach-and-shrimp tubular taco at Hula Hut today.

Austin is Grupthink-Powered

I moved to Austin in summer 2009, but I’ve felt it was my destiny to live here since 1986, when the Dead Milkmen’s Eat Your Paisley! was released. On “Six Days” the band sings about all the crappy cities they’ve visited. But the final verse is about Austin:

paisley.jpgI loved it in Austin
I wanted to stay
Cheap rent and Lone Star beer
Lots o’ places to stay

(Complete lyrics here.)

Cheap rent is a thing of the past but we still have the beer, and so much more. In 2003 I married a Texan (and Austinite of 10+ years), then lived in Seguin, TX for a bit (escaping to ATX every chance we got), spent four years back east, and now we’re finally where we belong.

I realize I’m a complete interloper here, but thanks in large part to Twitter and, more recently, membership in the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association, I’m beginning to feel part of the community. And since I’m a (mostly) silent partner in Grupthink, I felt it was appropriate to build a Grupthink community for my fellow Austinites.

Visit austinites.grupthink.com.

In Grupthink communities you ask open-ended question (i.e. not yes/no) and then allow the community to add, vote upon, and rank answers. Newspapers are beginning to use Grupthink to power their “Best of (City)” issues. It’s all a great deal of fun once the community reaches critical mass.

Anyway, if you’re in Austin, or if you like Austin, or if you’re at least pretty sure you can find Austin on a map, please join in. If you don’t want to create yet another user ID you can log in with Facebook Connect.

Thanks. I love you, Austin!  

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Why Twitter?

When Sarah and I worked at a small-town newspaper, we ran a column that asked local citizens to name five guests, living or dead, whom they would invite to a dinner party. Jesus, Elvis, and George W. Bush were the most popular choices.

What does this have to do with Twitter? When people complain that they don’t “get” Twitter, that’s it’s all noise and what-I-had-for-lunch minutia, I describe the way I use Twitter: I treat it like a party with carefully handpicked guests—like Truman Capote’s Black & White Ball.

Here’s how I do it:

First of all, I limit the number of people I follow to 100. By being picky about whom I follow, I force myself to seek a diverse group of interesting human beings from different walks of life. I might one day follow 200 or maybe 500, but I will never follow thousands of people. I’m pretty sure the only reason to follow thousands of people is to try to get thousands of people to follow you back. Today I have only 72 followers. While I would like to have more, I want people to follow me on the merits of what I post, not just because I am following them.

Back to the party metaphor: What is different about Twitter, compared to most parties I’ve been to, is that with Twitter it is easy to eject boring, unwanted guests and replace them with more interesting ones.

The other nice thing about Twitter is that it’s okay to be a wallflower—or better yet, a fly on the wall. I often go days without tweeting, but I check Twitter constantly just to see how the conversation is going. Because my “guests” are people I know personally and/or they are interesting and/or useful to me, there is always something worth eavesdropping.

So whom do I follow? Right now I am making the transition from full-time employee to self-employed contractor, so my tweetstream is dominated by people in my field and city who provide job leads, tips for freelancers and the like. But I also follow tennis players (@andyroddick, @clijsterskim), politicians (@billwhitefortx, @BarackObama), entertainers (@SarahKSilverman, @geneweingarten, @pennjillette), bloggers (@anildash, @dooce), and a few who have made a name for themselves via Twitter alone (@shitmydadsays, @sween@mktgdouchebag). And of course, friends and family (for as long as they stay interesting anyway).

In the last couple months my austere Twitter approach has netted me one job interview, one brunch meetup, two or three web services I now consider essential, loads of entertainment and the occasional belly laugh. Could I do it better? Of course I could. My follow list is constantly evolving with the goal of finding the 100 (or 200 or 500) most interesting human beings in the world. This will only get harder—and more fun—as more people sign on.


You can view everyone I’m following here. I’ll attempt to sort these out into lists one of these days. And don’t forget to follow me!