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How I Follow Back on Twitter

April 11, 2015

come in, we follow back

I like to follow back Twitter users who follow me. While some follow back everyone, I utilize a “quick scan” method to decide.

In all, it takes 5-10 seconds per user. So in a sense, it’s like the phenomenon Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book “Blink.” Here’s what I’m processing during those few seconds.

1) Scan the bio

The Twitter bio is the first thing I scan. Claiming to get me new followers or Facebook Likes at low or no cost? Sorry, but you’re ruled out. Next, I look for the following:

  1. You’re doing something interesting (launching a new business, writing a new book, etc.).
  2. We have shared interests (content marketing, social media, sports, etc.).
  3. You use humor. A creative one-liner tends to hook me.
  4. You have an interesting profile photo or background image.

2) Quick check of tweet count, followers, following

I prefer real people who gained a following organically (i.e. by sharing useful information). Some profiles make me suspicious. When a user has 50 tweets, follows 100,000 people and has 109,000 followers, I wonder.

I still may follow that user, but the rest of my scan happens with “suspicion filter activated.” Side note with a twist of vanity: if a user has lots of followers, follows few, but decides to follow me, that makes me feel useful.

3) Quick check of Favorites and Lists

comparing Twitter profiles

Some brands (and some people) use Twitter as a megaphone: they’re here to share their content in a one-way manner. They don’t RT, favorite tweets, reply to tweets or curate Twitter Lists. I like to follow people who use Twitter in a two-way fashion. People who will banter back and forth with me.

4) Scan recent tweets

This one carries far higher weight than all the others. I scan the most recent 10+ tweets to see if they interest me. I want to see some original content and commentary, so users who RT 100% of the time are a turn-off (sorry).

I ask myself, “If I saw this user’s tweets in my stream, would I click on some of these links?” If I get a few “yes” answers, I’ll tend to follow back.

How About You?

What is your Twitter “follow style?” Are you:

  1. Exclusive: you follow back very few users
  2. Joy to All: you follow back everyone
  3. None of the Above: you have a unique style to following back

Share your style in the Comments section below.

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Engage Influencers on Twitter in 8 Easy Steps

February 23, 2014

Your Guide to Engaging Influencers on Twitter

Twitter user

Photo source: User mdgovpics on flickr.

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.

Recently, I presented a webinar with Leadtail titled “How Top Marketers at Mid-Size Companies Engage on Social Media.” The webinar related to a Social Insights Report that DNN and Leadtail collaborated on.

In the report, we provided insights on how marketers at mid-size companies use Twitter: the links they share, the brands they retweet, the users they mention and more. Among the lists included in the report are the “Top 50 People Most Retweeted” and the “Top 50 People Most Mentioned” (on Twitter).

Prior to the webinar, I was reviewing the slides with Karri and Carter of Leadtail. We were looking at some of the “actionable insights” we included, on how brands (and people) can engage influencers on Twitter.

The Light Bulb Moment

As long as we’re including tips on how to engage influencers on Twitter, we thought, why not practice what we preach? We thought we’d reach out to the Top 50 List (on Twitter) and ask them how they like to be engaged by others.

We were able to hear back from these influencers quickly. As a result, we inserted a number of their tweets into the webinar slides. So we considered it a successful exercise in influencer engagement. From that exercise comes this eight step guide for doing your own influencer engagement on Twitter.

1) Build Relationships Before You Need Them

[tweet https://twitter.com/annhandley/statuses/435981257277968384]

Credit goes to Ann Handley (@annhandley) for these words of wisdom (thanks, Ann!). The first step is quite easy: follow influencers on Twitter. The follow gives influencers an indication that you exist. Even influencers with 100,000 followers will check to see the “new followers” they’re getting. Some influencers “follow back” liberally, while others are more selective. Don’t expect an immediate “follow back.”

In the meantime, observe the sorts of content the influencers are sharing and publishing, as well as the nature of their interactions with other users. Occasionally retweet some of their tweets. Don’t retweet everything they tweet, as that can border on creepy. Look at the articles or blog posts they’re publishing. Tweet a link to the article, include some of your thoughts and be sure to “mention” their Twitter handle in the tweet.

Also, focus on sharing useful and relevant content on Twitter. As an influencer gets mentioned by you, they’re likely to “check out” your Twitter profile. In addition to your photo and bio, they’ll probably view your most recent tweets. If you can interest them with your tweets, they may decide to follow you back.

If you do receive a follow back, that’s great. Now, you can “direct message” (DM) the influencer and s/he can DM you back. This gives you a communications channel to the influencer, but I would not rely on that channel, as many Twitter users ignore DM’s (due to volume, spam, unsolicited offers, etc.).

Instead, take the follow back as a good sign, but keep doing useful things: sharing useful articles, sharing their content, replying to some of their tweets, etc.

2) Partner Up to Widen Your Reach

We used the “power of three” in our influencer outreach: Karri, Carter and myself. Each of us built relationships with some influencers. Now, it was an opportunity to make use of them. By pooling together our outreach, we tripled our combined reach. We took the Top 50 lists and divvied up the outreach across the three of us. But we didn’t seek to engage the entire Top 50 lists.

3) Identify the Influencers Most Likely to Engage

President Barack Obama

Photo source: User vox_efx on flickr.

If you’re looking to curry favor with U.S. President Barack Obama, you’re unlikely to do so via Twitter. By checking the President’s Twitter feed, you’ll see a lot of content sharing, a few retweets (mainly of the White House) and very few interactions with other users.

Now look at some of your target influencers. If they interacted with you before (e.g. retweet or mention), there’s a chance they’ll do so again. Check how often they interact with other users (count how many of their tweets begin with a Twitter user handle). Also, look at how quickly they respond. Some influencers are on Twitter all the time. They receive a mention and reply back within minutes. If you find a user like this who’s also interacted with you before, they’re likely to engage with you again.

Of course, if you “know” the influencer (perhaps you met them at a conference and connected with them on LinkedIn), that’s a good sign, too. With our outreach, we looked at a Top 50 list and determined the 10-15 people who were the most likely to engage with us.

Once you identify your “most likely” list, throw in a few “reach for the stars” attempts, because you could get lucky. While he didn’t respond, we did tweet out to Jimmy Fallon.

4) Define Your “Ask”

With few exceptions, you won’t facilitate business or transactions via influencers on Twitter. It’s challenging to get influencers to provide an action that directly benefits you. Instead, you need an arrangement that benefits both of you.

Often, that’s about inviting influencers into a conversation. Choose a conversation topic that interests them (or, if you have a pre-defined topic, use that topic to identify relevant influencers). In our case, the “ask” was pretty simple: share some tips with us.

5) Communicate Your “Ask”

Get this step wrong and your entire plan may backfire. To start, be open and transparent. That means explaining (in your tweet) what you’re looking to get and why. The “why” is important, since it provides influencers with the right context.

Next, communicate how you’ll use what they provide and whether there are any next steps. In our outreach, we communicated to influencers that we were compiling quotes to use in a webinar. For them, that signaled where their tweet may end up. This gives them the chance to decline the opportunity or, tweet back, but ask you NOT to include the tweet in the webinar.

Be sure to address the what, why, how and where.

[tweet https://twitter.com/dshiao/statuses/435898076461408256]

Bonus Tip: If the first word of your tweet is a Twitter handle, insert a period (“.”) at the beginning, like I did in this tweet to Ian Gertler. If I did NOT preface the tweet with a period, the only people who’d see my tweet are Ian, plus my followers who also follow Ian (though I bet many of them do just that). By sharing your tweet with a wider audience, you may draw others into the conversation, such as Don Power, who’s influential in his own right.

6) Make “Digital Eye Contact”

When we ask for something in person, we always make eye contact with the person we’re asking. In the online world, I call it “digital eye contact” — looking directly at the person means being present and available. Don’t auto-tweet your “ask” at a scheduled time. Make sure you’re ready, willing and able to respond (quickly!) to any question or comment from the influencer.

If influencers respond and it takes you a day to get back to them, they’re less likely to take action. But if you reply back minutes later, they’re more inclined to give you what you want, on the spot.

7) Follow Up to Close the Loop

[tweet https://twitter.com/Leadtail/statuses/435846858934456320]

Circle back with the influencers (who participated) to show them how you used their contributions. When we uploaded the webinar slides to SlideShare, we tweeted to our contributors, pointing them to the slides in which their tweet was listed. In addition, we created a “story” of tweets using Storify and tweeted the Storify link to the influencers.

8) Continue the Conversation

The Twitter engagement could (and should) be the beginning of a long term relationship. Continue to read influencers’ blog posts and tweets and engage with them when appropriate. If you continue to provide value, there may come a day when the influencers come to you to ask for a favor.

Conclusion

Following this list will give you a strong chance of engaging with influencers in your target market:

  1. Build Relationships Before You Need Them
  2. Partner Up to Widen Your Reach
  3. Identify the Influencers Most Likely to Engage
  4. Define Your “Ask”
  5. Communicate Your “Ask”
  6. Make “Digital Eye Contact”
  7. Follow Up to Close the Loop
  8. Continue the Conversation

View the Slides

Feel free to view our webinar slides. The tweets from influencers can be found on Slides 30 and 31.


10 Reasons Professional Athletes Love Twitter

September 8, 2013

Bumper sticker: I heart Twitter

Photo credit: Flickr user “…love Maegan” via photopin cc

Introduction

After a big game, with reporters huddled around in a semi-circle, professional athletes are provided with a “platform” to talk about the game, the team and themselves. At other times, athletes are given a platform when they appear on ESPN’s Sunday Conversation, Late Show with David Letterman or The Today Show.

While those interviews and programs still give professional athletes an outlet, today, that “platform” has become Twitter. Just about every well-known athlete uses Twitter’s 140 characters to share thoughts, updates, photos and videos. The athletes love it, as do their adoring fans.

Let’s cover ten reasons professional athletes love Twitter.

1) Their fans love it.

It’s often said that we operate in a 24-hour news cycle. Like New York, Twitter is the “city that never sleeps.” Everything is in real-time and there’s a constant stream of activity, no matter the time of day (or night). In a world where content is produced by the second, fans seemingly thirst for more.

Twitter helps fill that need, as fans check Twitter for updates from their favorite players. Fans also benefit from an extended ecosystem: teams, coaches, general managers, owners, sportswriters and commentators all actively use Twitter to share information.

2) 140 characters suit them.

Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots

Photo source: the Wikipedia page for Bill Belichick.

Sure, there are athletes who can write long-form articles. But for the most part, the brevity of Twitter suits athletes well. It’s kind of like the Bill Belichick school of interviewing: some coaches, like Belichick, already instruct athletes to answer in 140 characters or less.

3) Twitter fuels their competitive nature.

Twitter’s followers and following count naturally leads to “count watching” and competition. Who has the most followers on a given team? Who’s the most followed NBA player? Whose tweets get the most retweets? You can be sure most athletes on Twitter are aware of this stuff.

4) It’s the new and easy way to break news.

Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter. Alex Rodriguez (of the New York Yankees) announced that he’s ready to return to the field. No need to schedule a press conference any more. Use 140 characters (or less) and you’re on Sportscenter a few hours (or minutes) later.

5) They can conveniently follow other athletes.

The “network effect” is in effect on Twitter. Athletes sign up for the service because their teammates are already using it. Athletes enjoy interacting with other athletes as much as they like to share information with the world. They also get to keep in touch and get updates from other athletes.

6) It’s great for engaging with fans.

Today’s Twitter “Interactions” (mentions) are yesterday’s fan mail. Before Twitter, athletes interacted with their fans in person. Today, they interact with fans any day, any time, in short spurts of 140 characters (and often less).

7) It’s great for “gamesmanship.”

Athletes will do whatever they can to get a leg up. During game play, they’ll taunt other players and try to get inside the opponent’s head. On Twitter, they can do those sorts of things well before the game. Of course, this tactic may not be effective, as it often provides heightened motivation for the opponent.

8) Get quoted.

Sportscenter, the 11 o’clock news, CNN and many other news outlets now use athletes’ tweets as primary news sources. 140 characters can bring athletes fame, fortune, applause, respect, shame and embarrassment. The last two aren’t appealing for most athletes, but they’ll take their chances!

9) The RT is the new autograph.

Pen and paper are so antiquated, right? Today, parents no longer wait in line to ask athletes for their autograph. They’ll get on Twitter and ask for an RT. The single click of the “retweet” button has replaced the signing of a ball, cap or piece of paper.

10) It’s a platform for causes, opinions and political views.

Many athletes have interests, passions and causes beyond the world of sports. Their involvement in professional sports gives them recognition and Twitter gives them a platform. Twitter is a great vehicle for branching beyond sports to advance a cause, support a movement or make the world a better place.


10 Ways Your Tweets Continue to Be Seen

June 30, 2013

Tweets can stick around for a while

Photo credit: Flickr user mkhmarketing via photopin cc

Introduction

Conventional wisdom is that Twitter is the essence of the real-time web: a here and now, in the moment medium. If you’re tweeting when your followers aren’t online, then they won’t see those tweets. That’s how the thinking goes.

In May, I tweeted about the San Jose Sharks. A few times this week, users have “favorited” that tweet. The NHL season is long over. In fact, what’s getting “favorited” was a tweet from May 19th, well over a month ago.

The conclusion? Your tweets can live on for far longer than you think. Let’s consider ten ways that can happen.

1) “Activity” on your tweet from other users.

When you access the “Activity” area on Twitter.com (Home -> Discover -> Activity), you see activities taken by the people you follow: whom they just followed, what tweets they favorited, what tweets they retweeted, etc.

If someone came across your “old” tweet and favorited it, that becomes a form of “re-promotion,” as that activity can be seen by many others. Because of hash tags, search, etc. the “favorite” (and all of the subsequent favorites) may come from users who don’t even follow you.

2) Views of tweets on your profile page.

Active tweeters get noticed, which leads to “views” of their Twitter profile pages. On my Twitter profile page, you can see all of my recent tweets.

When you scroll to the very bottom of the page, you’ll notice an “endless scroll” feature, where the page updates with the next set of tweets – and this continues on and on, the more you scroll. So in this manner, you can find my San Jose Sharks tweets from May, if you’re willing to scroll that much.

3) Twitter Cards.

See what I did (above)? I used a Twitter Card to embed a tweet in this blog post. These cards make it super convenient for writers, bloggers, etc. to re-publish tweet content. And the card makes it easy to reply, retweet, etc., directly from it.

4) Getting a Retweet (RT).

Users who retweet (RT) re-surface your tweet to all of their followers. While the RT will preserve the timestamp of your original tweet, the tweet will appear in timelines based on the time of the retweet. The tweet from last week that you thought was forgotten? It could gain a new life via an RT.

5) Search (and hash tags).

Following the eventprofs hash tag is done via Twitter search

Twitter users will often perform searches. They might be looking for something specific – or, they may like to “follow” a hash tag. To follow the popular #eventprofs hash tag (for meeting and event professionals), you’re actually performing a Twitter search. And people checking out #eventprofs activity may see your tweet from one week ago (or perhaps one month ago).

6) Twitter Ads.

Promoted Tweet from Samsung Mobile

Users (and brands) can buy a form of Twitter Ads called Promoted Tweets. They select from existing tweets and mark them for promotion (advertising). In this way, they’re able to take “old” tweets and can keep them “top of mind” by advertising that tweet. As you can see above, the tweet promoted by Samsung Mobile was posted over a month ago.

7) Screen shots.

Celebrities have been receiving a lot of notoriety lately with their use of Twitter. When a celebrity tweets something controversial or inappropriate, they’ll often delete the tweet or shut down their account altogether.

The “undo button” doesn’t entirely work on Twitter, however, as users can take screen shots of the tweets (for posterity). See this Huffington Post article on Alec Baldwin, which mentions his inappropriate tweets (including a screen shot of them).

8) Being seen in a Twitter List.

You’ve probably been added to one or more Twitter Lists. I have a Twitter List of people I’ve met in real life. As users discover new Lists and peruse the related tweets, they may find tweets (of your’s ) from weeks or months earlier.

9) Being seen in a user’s Interactions list.

If you “mention” other users on Twitter, you’ll appear in their “Interactions” area. Twitter users LOVE to see mentions and interactions. So a tweet you consider old may live on in another user’s “Interactions” area. Don’t be surprised if you receive a reply today from your tweet from last month.

10) The Library of Congress.

Via a partnership with Twitter, the Library of Congress is building a digital archive of tweets. In January 2013, the Library of Congress announced that they had archived 170 billion tweets! So behave yourself: your tweets are now a matter of public record in the annals of the Federal government.


How to Be a Twitter Rock Star at Conferences and Events

April 13, 2013

Introduction

With its 140 character payload and ability to follow hash tags, it seems Twitter was designed for events. For me and many others, participating in Twitter conversations significantly enhances my event experience. I find more, learn more and meet many more people than I otherwise would have. Let’s consider tips that can transform you from a conference tweeter to a Twitter rock star.

How to Gain Visibility

ALWAYS include the conference hash tag.

Do this before you pick up your badge: determine the conference hash tag. It’s usually on the event page or printed on signage at the event. If not, simply ask staffers for it. Include the hash tag in ALL of your tweets. If you don’t, your tweets will not be seen. And if the conference doesn’t have a hash tag, create one yourself and encourage others to use it.

Temporarily place the hash tag in your Twitter profile.

If the hash tag is “#conference2013,” then consider adding something like this in your Twitter profile: “Attending #conference2013 this week. Tweet me if you’re there!” Now, when attendees see your tweets and check out your profile, they’ll be more inclined to follow and interact with you.

Share photos.

Take photos of the keynote session, exhibit floor, signage – basically, anything interesting. Users love them.

Engage with influencers.

Influencers include session speakers, along with knowledgeable and well-followed attendees. Follow them and engage with them. If they reply back to you or RT you, others will be sure to take notice.

How to Gain Followers

Liberally follow others.

I use the Twitterific iPhone app at conferences

Pictured: The Twitterific app for iPhone. I scan for users, view their profiles and follow liberally.

Fellow attendees have at least one thing in common with you (after all, you went to the same event). So wouldn’t they be good people to follow? Follow the folks who are actively tweeting. The follow helps promote your existence. They may miss your insightful conference tweets, but when you follow them, chances are they’ll check out you (and follow back).

Retweet and Interact with others.

Let’s face it, sometimes at a conference, you really just need to focus on the conference itself. You’re sitting in a captivating session and learning a ton of things. You can’t afford to compose a thoughtful tweet. What you can do, however, is quickly scan the tweet stream for others’ insights. Retweet (“RT”) those insights and share your thoughts by replying to some users. Now, quick! Get back to that awesome session.

Quote interesting nuggets from sessions.

Just like you curate (and share) great content on Twitter, your “job” at a conference session is to curate interesting nuggets and quotes. Did the presenter just say something that made the audience go, “Oooh”? If so, quote the presenter via a tweet. You’re likely to get RT’s and follows.

Give shout-outs to exhibitors.

If you visit an exhibitor booth or have lunch with an exhibitor rep, give a shout-out to them (on Twitter). They’ll love it! And they’ll likely tweet you back, follow you, RT you and offer you some nifty conference swag.

General Tips

Always tweet IN CONTEXT.

I once took a photo as I walked into the keynote session. It was a humorous image, tied to the theme of the event and I really wanted to share it. However, once the keynote kicked off, everyone was tweeting about what the presenter was saying. If I tweeted the photo then, it would have been entirely out of context. So I waited. I tweeted the photo during the break, so it could get more visibility.

Facilitate face-to-face meet-ups with other Twitter users.

Another attendee and I tweeted quite frequently at a conference. When I rode the same elevator as her, I recognized her via her Twitter profile photo. I introduced myself and we chatted about the conference (for as long as an elevator ride would permit). “Upgrading” from a Twitter connection to a face-to-face meet-up is a great thing.

Take a break.

This won’t make you a Twitter rock star, but make sure you take adequate breaks from Twitter and enjoy the conference. For highly active Twitter users, there’s a delicate balance that must be managed. You don’t want to be so active on Twitter that you miss out on the great things the conference has to offer (kind of like visiting the Grand Canyon, tweeting too much and missing the view).

For Exhibitors: tweet in context with the sessions.

Let’s say there’s a breakout session on social media marketing and you’re an exhibitor that provides social media marketing software.

The session is scheduled for 2pm. At 2:15pm, issue a tweet such as, “Want a dashboard to manage social media marketing for your entire team? Visit us in booth #127 after the session.” Bonus points if the presenter is talking about dashboards precisely at 2:15pm.

For presenters: share your slides as you go on stage.

Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) was the first (that I’ve seen) to establish this practice. Some presenters provide their slides after their session. Jeremiah provides his slides before or during the session.

Some presenters will schedule a tweet to share their slides as they’re taking the stage (and then mention the fact during their opening segment). Attendees always request the slides, so proactively sharing them is a good practice.

Addendum: Jeremiah provides additional details:

Conclusion

So there you have it. Follow these tips to gain visibility, gain new followers and make new connections at your next conference. Be sure, though, that you’re getting the most out of the conference. Twitter is fantastic, but it can also consume your attention and time and create missed opportunities. Find the right balance and you’ll be rocking the conference in full Twitter style.


10 Reasons to Skip the Web Site in Favor of Twitter (When Researching a Company)

March 25, 2013

The profile page for Twitter

Exception to the rule: when researching Twitter, you’re more than welcome to visit Twitter.com.

Introduction

Let’s say you’ve never heard of a company before, but want to learn more. You land on the company’s home page and need to answer some rudimentary questions:

  1. What does the company do?
  2. Where are they headquartered?
  3. What’s been going on lately?

You’d typically look for pages such as “Contact,” “About Us,” and “News” and perhaps you’d get some answers. Lately, I skip those pages and simply look for the Twitter icon (which 90+% of companies have). Visiting their Twitter profile tells me everything I need to know.

Let’s consider ten reasons to skip the web site in favor of a company’s Twitter profile.

1) Character limit increases clarity.

What does a company do? On an “About Us” page, they have an unlimited amount of space. The description on your Twitter profile has a limit of 160 characters. As with tweets, the economy of characters forces you to be simple and efficient. The description on a company’s Twitter profile is far better than the text on their “About Us” page.

2) A picture is worth a thousand words.

Photos posted to Twitter by @VirginAmerica

Photo source: the profile page of @VirginAmerica.

Twitter’s profile page displays six of the company’s most recently posted photos (in thumbnail size). These images helps paint a picture of the company and are more personal (i.e. “real”) compared to what they might post on their web site.

3) Find out where they’re based (right away).

I like to know where a company is based. On some web sites, you’ll get a “Contact Us” page, but no physical address. You might have to navigate to the Press Releases page and find out where the releases were issued from. It’s all too hard. The Twitter profile asks for “Location” and most companies list their headquarters’ location. Just what I need.

4) Find related Twitter accounts.

Other Twitter handles from Constant Contact

Photo source: the profile page of @ConstantContact.

Companies will use separate Twitter accounts for assorted functions (e.g. customer support). Sometimes, knowing about these additional accounts can be useful.

5) Now what do you REALLY do?

McAfee's Twitter profile

Companies that sell complex products can lose us when they begin to describe just what it is they do. The first instance of jargon brings with it the potential for confusion. The description (above) by McAfee doesn’t go into detail on products or solutions. But it’s an elegant and simple statement that we can all understand.

6) What have you been up to lately?

Read a company’s five most recent tweets. More often than not, you’ll have your answer. Here’s an example of a recent tweet from @Bunchball:

7) What’s your “social persona”?

A company’s Twitter profile can tell a lot about their approach to social. Consider these questions you can ask:

  1. Do they follow back?
  2. Do they retweet others?
  3. Do they interact with other users via “@ mentions”?
  4. Do they post photos?
  5. Do they share others’ content, in addition to their own?

8) View creative images you won’t see on the web site.

I love seeing the creativity used by some companies in their Twitter profiles. When Twitter launched header images (to complement your photo), it unleashed a torrent of creativity. Check out the image combination from @Ford:

Ford's Twitter profile - love that steering wheel

9) What’s your personality and culture like?

A company’s tweets tell us about their employees and their culture. In addition, the Twitter account embodies an answer to the question, “hey company, what’s on your mind?” And that’s something social media provides that a web site cannot.

10) Are you following me?

OK, I had to add this one as a form of “Twitter vanity.” If you’re checking out a company and they’re already following you, make sure you follow them back (if you’re not already doing so)!


Twitter on The Real-Time Web: There is #NothingBetter

November 5, 2012

Image source: User “thecampbells” on flickr.

Introduction

It’s a Sunday afternoon and the New York Giants are visiting the Dallas Cowboys. The game is being shown locally (in the Bay Area), but I’m at an outlet mall in Napa, CA. I search the stores and the food court, but no one is showing the game.

So I do the next best thing. With the battery on my phone running low, I make my way to the mall’s management office. It’s closed, but there’s an air conditioned hallway and bingo! An available outlet. So I charge my phone and make myself comfortable on the floor. From that spot, I take in the second half of this exciting game … via ESPN Gamecast.

ESPN Gamecast

If you can't watch on TV, using ESPN Gamecast on the web is the next best thing

ESPN Gamecast, delivered via your browser, is quite good. I’ve been using it to “watch” MLB and NFL games. It provides near real-time, play-by-play updates on the game, all without having to refresh the page.

In NFL games, Gamecast provides you with the result (e.g. “10 yard pass to the NYG 40 yard line”) and a few seconds later, updates the play with more details (e.g. “10 yard pass to the NYG 40 yard line. On a CROSSING PATTERN”).

Occasionally, I’ll get antsy when no update has been posted for 10 seconds. I’ll refresh the page to see if that pulls in the latest play. Sometimes that works. Other times, the game may have gone to a TV timeout without me realizing it.

An Endless Wait on a Key Play

And then it happened. Late in the fourth quarter, Gamecast posted an update that Dez Bryant of the Cowboys had caught a go-ahead touchdown. I was quite bummed. But then I noticed that no further updates (e.g. extra point, kickoff, etc.) were posted for close to a minute.

I then saw Gamecast post an update that the play was under review. A few minutes turned into a few more minutes. I nervously anticipated the replay result, but no news as of yet. So I turned to Twitter.

Real-Time Updates on Twitter

On checking my Twitter stream, I immediately saw tweets like these:

Twitter users provide insight about a key play in the game

And that’s when I realized:

On the real-time web, there is nothing more real-time than Twitter.

As it turned out, the call was reversed and the Giants held on to win the game.

It's official: the play was overturned

If you weren’t watching on TV, then Twitter was the place where you’d get the replay result first (it beat Gamecast by a few minutes). Twitter can be even quicker than real-time in some instances – it can serve as a leading indicator of what’s about to happen (e.g. sports, stocks, box office receipts, elections, etc.).

How Twitter Facilitates Real-Time So Well

The User Adoption and the Follow Model

Let’s face it, Twitter is the place where athletes, coaches, sports writers, general managers and owners choose to provide their updates, thoughts and musings to the world.

When I watch a big game, I can always turn to Twitter to get real-time scoring updates – and importantly, real-time commentary on what’s happening. And it’s all because the “right” people are active on Twitter – and, I’ve chosen to follow them there.

#WorldSeries was a popular hash tag during the Fall Classic

Additionally, beyond the athletes and the “experts,” millions of fans (like me) are active on Twitter as well. And while I may not follow them all, I can experience their tweets via event or team-specific hash tags, such as #Giants, #Postseason, #WorldSeries and #SuperBowl.

The Efficiency of 140 Characters

Twitter would be an entirely different animal if it permitted 280, 560 or 1,400 characters. The 140 character limit results in short bursts of updates and the smaller “payload” means that information can be distributed, read and processed quicker. For real-time updates, after all, we don’t want essays, we want snippets.

Accessibility Any Time, Anywhere

When watching sports at home, we’re likely on our laptop or tablet. Outside of home, however, we’re probably on our smartphone. And that makes it convenient to share real-time information with others – and to consume it as well.

That’s why Twitter has been effective in providing real-time information during natural disasters. A Mercury News article about the Tohoku Earthquake (in Japan) noted that the Internet (and Twitter) was used to communicate information when the phone system was unavailable.

To quote a member of Cisco Systems’ emergency response operations, “text data uses a relatively smaller portion of bandwidth than voice data does.”

Conclusion

In the big picture, an NFL game is trivial compared to other real-world events. But like those other events, things unfold in real-time.

And experiencing this NFL game via Twitter helped me fully grasp how effective it is for real-time communications. In fact, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s presidential election here in the United States, during which Twitter will provide me with updates. In real-time, of course.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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