Why We Overtweet

This morning I’m participating in a panel at SXSW Interactive in Austin called Tweeting on the Weekends. The panelist and audience will attempt to address the idea that our digital worlds are overtaking our physical worlds and perhaps threatening to invade our lives in ways that cause more damage than good.

opensourceway via Flickr

You’ve seen the ads, tweeting at the kids soccer games, having a text conversation with one friend rather than actually talking to the friend you went to lunch to be with.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, more like a phase that I’m seeing evidence is waning, but I do think there are some interesting dynamics to this dilemma and here’s what I plan to explore with the audience today.

Like swimming in Jell-O

I’ve actually never done this, but I’m guessing a couple of things – it’s one of those things you would do because a bunch of other people were doing it, and if you got lost you might just keep swimming.

The surest way to get drawn into any obsessive or useless behavior is to enter into it or anything around it with no plan. That doesn’t mean you know exactly what you’re going to tweet, but you might have an idea why and an even clearer idea of what you want the sum total of your tweeting to get you.

Yes, this is the strategy before tactics riff from me again, but there’s little sense jumping into any tactic, even the deep end of the Jell-O pool, unless you know how it’s going to integrate into your life or business plan.

I’m more important online

You’ve heard the saying; you can be anyone you want online. While I think that’s true to a degree, if it’s another way of saying you can be someone you’re not, than it’s a recipe for distraction, oversharing and addiction.

That’s part of the appeal of the online world though isn’t it? The halls of the Austin Convention Center are teaming with self-proclaimed geeks, the kind that spent some of their high school years getting stuffed in lockers, now sporting entourages and signing autographs for other social media obsessed wannabes.

I know that comes off a bit harsh, but it’s a well-witnessed phenomenon that’s led to some immature and silly behavior.

Here’s the positive. You can remake your persona online – but rather than make it what you want it to be, make it who you really are – but put emphasis the best you. So many people lose their way and their beliefs because people around them throughout their lives have told them they’re not something they want to be. Shed that part and meet and engage people and causes in ways that make you more you and you’ll probably rethink the silliness of it all.

Fusing two worlds

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year or so, including a chapter or two in The Referral Engine, talking about this idea of converging your online and offline worlds. When I was researching that book I was profoundly stuck by the correlation between companies that did a great job integrating their offline and online customer experiences and the amount of buzz and referrals they received.

I view my online persona and social media participation as a way to expand my reach and enhance the things I’m already doing, not as separate stream and form of communication.

Multiple context disorder

The area that trips so many up when it comes to overtweeting behavior is that they forget there are no contextual barriers in most social networks. Your boss, your clients, your mom and your employees may all see the same tweet or Facebook status update and are left to interpret it in their own view. (Rumor has it that Google has cooked up a new social network called Circles that is said to address this very flaw.)

When you ponder this idea of digital tactics creeping into your personal life remember this question and use it as your filter – Would I do that offline? See, just because you can do something that’s digitally enabled, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. Would you call a prospect at two in the morning? Would you talk about yourself and all the cool things you’ve done with someone you just met at a cocktail party? Would you respond to an RFP with the following – Will get U the preso in AM – LOL? If the answer is no, then there’s your filter.

Focus on the house

Facebook is not the house, Twitter is not the house, your social profiles spread far and wide are not the house.

Your hub, your blog, your web site – that’s the house. Build the house, fix the house, decorate the house and invite the party to the house because it’s the one thing you can own and control. (Unless you live in a country that controls your access to the Internet)

Your activity in social media is all about building a persona/brand that draws people to the house, whether you’re a plumbing contractor, consultant or someone that wants to create a path to a better career.

Build rich and engaging hubs wherever your prospects hang out, but remember your always going home.

That’s it, not that big of a deal really – now, I’m off to tweet what I had for lunch.

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  • http://www.mattaboutbusiness.com Matt Mansfield


    This is a really great message! It’s funny actually, I was just going through my Twitter followers and noticing how many either:

    a) Did not have a link in their bio leading anywhere, or

    b) Had a link but it went to a sales squeeze page instead of a full site. In your parlance, that would be like letting folks onto your front porch, but not inviting them into your home.

    Guess how many of either type I followed back?

    I’ve often compared social media to “Traffic Printing Presses”. I post and the traffic comes to my site. But THAT is my goal – traffic for my site, not the highest number of followers.

    The first leads to engagement and conversion; the second leads to nothing.


    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Simple integration fix I hope. I really think a great deal of the point of social media or at least social network participation for me is to get them to the porch – the payoff comes in the next few steps.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rain-Smith/100000263069098 Rain Smith

        Social media is exactly what would happen on your porch or on the bus or at the movies, except it takes places on the internet. I actually feel though that people are a lot more vocal on the internet then they normally would be in person. Perhaps a thought for a later discussion:)

  • Joe


    I actually believe the “house” is something much more than your website, or your blog. The house is the results business owners deliver to their clients/customers; the trusted relationships that are developed that build referral champions. If the inside (website, blogs, twitter, facebook) matches the outside or what is actually delivered or the results, then this is good, but this “invisible” world has allowed far too many people to operate in the shadows and preach things without delivering the results. (in my humble opinion)

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Sure it is Joe – we could call it brand if you like too. The use of the web site or blog as the marker works as a tangible comparison to the outposts that people are building in other spaces, but you could argue that the attributes of the house that you talk about can extend to these outposts as ambassadors too.

  • http://thatimthing.com Dahlia Valentine

    Hi John… I understand what you’re saying, but I also think these types of perceived ‘social media snafus’ also humanize the online experience – even in a business sense. Admittedly I am a relatively new tweeter, but in less than a month I’ve already noticed that I get a fair number of clicks and sales following informal and – dare I say – sometimes silly tweets. I know because I track everything, all the way down to real-time analytics.

    Now I wouldn’t go on a Blue Moon induced rant, or boo-hoo the loss of a boyfriend through Twitter. But I think a little real-life banter here and there is good for the social networking soul.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      I agree Dahiia – I wasn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t be human – that personal touch is what makes social media so endearing I think. It’s all about strategy – the fact that your tracking this means you can make a strategic decision to be “silly” because it’s all part of the plan – that’s the main point I was trying to make here.

  • http://www.colemanmg.com/ Antonio Coleman

    Keep life simple by doing simple stuff..just keep thing in order and on track..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://www.youbrandinc.com scottscanlon

    To me segmentation is the big elephant in the room with social media. As you mentioned above–until we can share with our individual sub groups of friends, families, acquaintances, and other people we know securely social communication will still be somewhat broken.

    Dahlia is spot on how the tweets or messages out there that you think wont build relationships really end up doing just that.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      I think that’s the next frontier, but it’s not black and white. I have lots of bleed over so it will be interesting to see how this gets addressed.

      On the Dahlia point, I agree – I don’t think you have to dehumanize, just know that it’s all part of the brand soup.

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    Hi John,

    Oddly enough, some of these issues were covered in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick in the 1970s.

    I won’t spoil it in case you’re going to read it. But it’s very perceptive.

    PS – Minority Report and Blade Runner were made from his books.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Thanks Ivan, I think I will have a look at that one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rustyjrobson Rusty Robson

    “I view my online persona and social media participation as a way to expand my reach and enhance the things I’m already doing, not as separate stream and form of communication.” I relate with John… Your on and offline activities should support one another. And by all means, start with an idea of what you’re building (strategy).

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Rusty – I do that now that some of the hype of social media has died down a bit and people are accepting it as an everyday behavior I’m seeing more people take this view.

  • Harry Beckwith

    Excellent thoughts. John. For several weeks I followed someone who Tweeted as often–I swear–as 64 times a day. I’m delirious if I feel I have three things worth sharing in a day.

    Again, excellent. Food for multimillions to munch on.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Hey Harry, always great to see you here – it’s a strange math I think. To be honest, if I had 64 smart things to say each day I might do that as well.

  • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

    You know how they say, “that person has a face for radio?” It makes me think of some of those social media geeks who are so popular online, and some times, well, a little disappointing in person – that they have a personality for social media. :)

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Sure I think that can certainly be the case, but my real point in that suggestion was to show how it’s easy for this kind of behavior to happen – better to focus on how to make it work for you individually.

  • JImSweeney

    Great post. I’d be curious to here how the panel session went. Though I’ve been “on” Twitter for a couple years I have only recently been an active participant. You bring up some interesting points, as usual. It never ceases to amaze me how some folks post online with no filter, much like they have no filter when engaging in real conversation. Ie, filter what they think vs what they type/say.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Jim you can search twitter for the tag #overtweeting and turn up some great comments and solutions people shared during and after the panel.

  • http://www.glprint.co.uk Gl Print

    This is a really interesting post – I think we can all be very guilty of this -the desire to be ‘seen’ online. Tweet less, but better?

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      I do thing that some people really have come to feel stress over not tweeting or doing whatever online enough each day and that leads to lower quality participation I think.

  • http://www.varietyevents.co.uk Variety Events

    At the end of the day, if we get a return from the activity, its worth it. Twitter like all social media is merely another new marketing channel. We get benefit from it in our business but we measure. As soon as it stops being effective, we’ll switch to another.

    My 10c – Debra

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      That’s actually my stance too – I don’t try to tell people how to tweet or participate in social media, but I do tell them to have a plan and understand how they participate and how it impacts the plan and the brand.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rain-Smith/100000263069098 Rain Smith

      I agree with you Debra, and with you as well ducttape. If people are responding to twitter interaction more than blog interaction, then keep doing what works.

  • http://blogbizbuzz.com/ Joan-BlogBizBuzz

    Hi John,

    Brilliant article and yes your behaviour both online and offline reflects who you really are. When interacting with people online, why should it be any different to actually meeting them for a cup of coffee.

    Your online ‘real-estate’ is exactly the same, give of your best and respect those with whom you come into contact with.

    Social Media, most are building a business, but it is totally unnecessary to blast out your ads on a permanent basis, get to know people and they become friends or return acquaintances.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      The filter problem should seem so obvious, but still seems to allude

  • www_BrianEZimmerman_com

    I’ve always looked at social media as being a link to what you’d call your house. Not a link from an SEO way, but a link that allows me to connect the dots like your talking about. I need to do a better job at it though.

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    Seriously good stuff here John. “Focus on the house” website, blog.. WORD. “Multiple context disorder” love that; it’s why I don’t mix business and personal networks too much, have a Twitter that’s purely personal, though of course plenty of my personality comes through on my ‘business’ account. I like the “would you do this IRL?” litmus test; just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Yes to the online and offline integration, one of my goals this year has been more real world networking along side the virtual. And HEH to tweeting about lunch, it’s one of the things I’ve tried not to do. 😉 FWIW.

  • http://www.tucsonproject.com Tuscon Project

    Great article! I would have to say that sometimes, these outlets are used just to increase “focus on the house,” especially from the point of view of a business owner or corporation.

  • Jlachaux

    I agree with you when you say people feel more important online. I also will agree that this is simply a phase. But the question becomes “what’s next?” If social media and text message conversations do fade out, it will be interesting to observe which new vice will come into play. However, if they don’t fade out it will also be interesting to note how the media and communication devices have changed and how much more they are affecting us. Soon we will have our iPods surgically implanted into our brains in a procedure that is as simple as lasik eye surgery…

  • http://www.internationalpatentservice.com Patent Attorney

    Here is a similar story

    The internet was a-buzz today over an article written in Mother Jones about comments made by an Indiana Deputy Attorney General.

    Jeff Cox, a deputy attorney general in the Indiana Attorney General’s office, made a comment about riot police clearing out protestors in Wisconsin. Cox tweeted, “Use live ammunition.”

    The Attorney General’s office released the following statement about the incident, and said Cox is no longer employed by the agency:

    “Civility and courtesy toward all members of the public are very important to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. We respect individuals’ First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility.”

  • GJudy

    Very good and applicable information…expect to find yourself in blog posts. I tweet for clients and have a routine that seems to work. 1. posts at times which have shown best response, 15 min apart (ala Guy Kawasaki). 2. Polite responses to interaction as soon as I see it. 3. Posts about outside/shared interests…less than 10%, but some. 4. Retweets of applicable posts. 2,3,&4 bring relationship to the party; 1 is the billboard/classified, whatever.

    I get the ‘wink’ about the lunch; I first thought Twitter would be nothing but “Omg, I swallowed my gum.”. Users should remember the point of low to no contextual barriers you mentioned and that their tweets will show up in a google search. If you wouldn’t say that to the queen, think twice about posting it on social media.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Good advice all around Judy

    • http://twitter.com/MoxieMarketing Rick L’Amie

      Great insight Judy, and I think John’s post is spot on.

      I have seen an “other world” of tweets from services (I won’t name the offending company here) that churn out social media content, every 15 minutes for their clients on topics that really amount to nothing more than regurgitated information “in their space.” It’s not only clutter. It’s white noise, and probably will result in a loss of followers who see right through it. Meanwhile, their client is complaining that nothing is happening.

      So, Judy, what is the key to being an authentic voice for your client?

      Rick (full disclosure, I’m a Duct Tape Marketing Consultant)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rain-Smith/100000263069098 Rain Smith

    “Your hub, your blog, your web site – that’s the house. Build the house, fix the house, decorate the house and invite the party to the house because it’s the one thing you can own and control.” Great visual! I too have succumb to over tweeting. But I have found the more I tweet the more my followers go up. Thoughts?

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Overtweeting is not about volume – if your followers are going up in a meaningful way than you probably aren’t overtweeting, although follower numbers might not be the best measure. The real point of this is the notion of having a plan and sticking to the plan in ways that allow you meet your overall objectives.

    • Buzzdc

      I’ll be blunt with my answer to this question. Nothings anoyes me more about Twitter than an individual or compansy that spews out an unnecessary number of tweets each day. They may feel as though all of their content is important, relevant or interesting (and it might be) however most people are following a plethora of others. Don’t hog the conversation and let others get a word in.

      YES…I realize you can unfollow, filter or ignore you, however I actually might be interested in what you have to say. Can you just tone it down a little?

      • buzzdc

        Oh yeah..I totally lost my original train of thought while ranting about overreacting. Opps my ADD.

        Ducttape-I just recently started following you through your RSS feed at the suggestion of a friend. Social media marketing news and discussion fascinate me for some reason. This article was well written with a humerous twist. I like your suggestions on rethinking about ones tweet strategy. Really, really good stuff. I am going to need to quote some of this and share with friends.

        Looking forward to reading more from you.

        • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

          Ranting can do that to a person :) Feel free to quote often and come back anytime!

  • http://ideagirlmedia.com/ Keri at Idea Girl Media

    Thank you for the post. I’ve been following you on Twitter, John, for about a year or so.

    The timing is great, because I’ve been talking with clients about engagement, and how their house isn’t Facebook, but their site – owned and controlled by them.

    I suppose I’m guilty of over-tweeting from time to time. I’ve actually been tweeting less lately. And, as Dahlia said, it’s been the tweets I didn’t think mattered that have led to some interesting relationships.

    Thanks again! :)


  • http://www.odysen.com/ Matt

    Nice article about keeping things in their proper perspective. Also, a lot of this might be more similar to grown up kids with new toys.

    But, just like that toy after awhile, it becomes stale, repetitive, a distraction, at least compared to actually communicating with that person sitting across from you.

  • Aurelius_Tjin

    Awesome information! Twitter at first glance does not seem to make any logical sense, you join, make a profile, post a short tweet message, maybe follow a couple of people, after reading some profiles, and then think, well now what ? The strange thing is that it is just a very simple idea, based around sending snap shots about your personal thoughts, life, ideas, or just fun stuff, and before you know what is happening, you have attracted the attention and a follower who likes your tweet comments, then more and more seem to follow, i still don’t understand it today, but after only a short time trying it, it seems to work, which to be fair is great, as the main post describes here, it is a tool now used by main stream business.

  • http://twitter.com/44blocks_gina Gina Witucki

    Such a great article! I agree with you on every point you make! The online world should be an extension of yourself and like you said if you wouldn’t say something in real life, why say it online. Facebook and Twitter should incorporate your post into their best practices :)

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Thanks Gina, the good news is I think people are coming around to this seemingly logical conclusion.

  • http://www.fingerprintdoorlocks.com/ Logan

    I really enjoyed reading this and I agree with a lot of what you said. There are many people that just let tweeting take over their life. Also I liked your comments on filtering what you do. You are completely right that if you wouldn’t do it in person don’t do it online.

  • http://san-diego-marketing.com/ Jerry Hilburn

    I really enjoyed reading your post and I totally agree with you. It has become a trend to Tweet about everything. It’s not only about what the significant things anymore but…just everything. Sometimes I think it’s getting annoying but who could stop people from doing it, right? It ahs become the rage and a lot of people are continuing to do it and there are more that will eventually and surely follow.