Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Twitter year

By the end of 2013 I had posted 43,800 Tweets in total since my first some three years ago. Assuming an average number of characters of 120 and six characters/spaces per word that amounts to 876,000 words. That is roughly as many words as there are in three of the novels of Charles Dickens. Am I mad? How do I find the time?

The thing about Twitter is that you mostly do it in “downtime” when you have nothing else to do. Of course you could be reading an improving book or, if you are a writer like me, you could be doing “proper” writing. But Twitter is addictive and it is also informative and entertaining. Regular users of Twitter don't really need to have the benefits explained to them and those who don't use it can only really find out by giving it a trial. I have never succeeded in explaining to a Twitter sceptic why I like it. You have to try it.

A Tweeter of the Year

2013 brought some personal highlights and a few low points. Lets get the main highlight out of the way first. The Conservative broadcaster and journalist Iain Dale named me as one of his “Top 100 tweeters of the year”. He placed me in the “Bloggers” category. I was very pleased about this as Iain is a master of social media and one of the best bloggers around in his day. I was also chuffed because I am emphatically not a Conservative – so Iain was not leaning towards a political kindred spirit!

Going Viral

Towards the end of the year I had my first personal experience of a Tweet going viral. I saw a tweet on my timeline with a picture of a blonde woman grinning at the camera and holding the dead body of a leopard she had shot. I then tweeted the picture with my own caption like this:


Well the effect of this was astonishing. The tweet went viral and by today it has had nearly 2700 retweets. For those unfamiliar with Twitter a “retweet” is when someone posts your tweet, often with a comment, under their own twitter ID. This doesn't not necessarily mean they agree with your tweet (thought usually they do) but just that they want their followers to see it. I think that the largest number of retweets I have ever had before for any tweet was less than 100. There is a correlation between the number of followers you have and the number of retweets you get. So the football pundit Gary Lineker, with over 2m followers, would get 500-1000 retweets for most of his tweets and more for special ones. But for an ordinary non-Celeb, like me, to get approaching 3000 retweets is unusual.

The Power of Twitter

What have I learned from this. Well obviously the power of Twitter. Every retweet leads to many more retweets in such a situation – rather like a digital chain letter! When this happens you cannot look at all the retweets – the sheer volume is difficult to handle. It also dominates your “Connect” line so you may miss some of the more usual responses to your other tweets. But you can handle that! It also increases your followers – mine went up by 300 in the space of a couple of weeks. You also have to be very careful – particularly on a subject like Animal Rights.

But be very careful…

I care very mush about protecting the world’s wildlife and I deplore hunting. But I am not an animal rights activist and some of the actions of some of those who are troubles me. I would describe myself as mildly militant on the subject and not against affirmative action – in the protection of Badgers for example or in combating the killing of dolphins in Japan. But some activists go too far and some of these people responded to my Tweet with some rather nasty threats at the leopard-killing woman. As the instigator of the original tweet I feel some vicarious responsibility here, but obviously you cannot reply to all of the tweets you receive given the scale of the matter.

…there’s lowlife waiting to ambush you!

Twitter is a free-for-all and that is a key part of its appeal. In the past I have tried to be accurate and honest in what I say and since the Sally Bercow affair I have been particularly careful – as I am sure have many other regular and responsible tweeters. But in the past I have occasionally used bad language for effect. This caused one of the low moments for me this year. During the Trent Bridge test match I was contacted by a Daily Mail sports writer who was, or so he said, interested in the work I was doing as part of the “MCC Reform Group”. I gave him a twenty minute interview and passed him one or two titbits about our campaign. A few days later the following brief piece appeared in the Daily Mail:


The writer who perpetrated this is a particularly noisome character who had previously insulted much more famous people than me (Brian Moore and Jonathan Agnew amongst them). And he is a poor journalist as well as he completely ignored the information I have him during the interview to make instead a personal attack on me. But what he said, though cruelly selective, was true. So I immediately made a resolution never to swear on Twitter again on the grounds that there is low life around who may use it against you!

A Year to remember

So that's my 2013 Twitter year. The very good, the occasionally bad and once very ugly. What I have left to last to say is how many friends you make on Twitter. I have, I think, become close to dozens of people via the medium. Some are kindred spirits on sport or politics but many are not. We exchange views – and above all use Twitter as a link to other things. The link to this blog will be tweeted and drive traffic as a result to the blog. I feel better informed by following links on Twitter to blogs and other pieces in the public domain that I would otherwise not have seen. And, as we have seen with the leopard Tweet, you can if you are lucky start a campaign of awareness about something you feel strongly about that might just make a difference. So if you are not on twitter why not give it a try – you might surprise yourself. But keep it clean!


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