A Twittering (and Related Social Platforms) Update Part 2 – Watches

[Note: This is a repub of a post originally written in Aug 2012 on the version of this blog that died. We’re getting lots of requests for it so we’re republishing it here. Enjoy!]

This is the second post in a six part blog-arc about some recent research NextStage has done regarding Twitter and several other social platforms.

These posts will cover

  2. Watches
  3. “You don’t follow anybody”
  4. Twitter v LinkedIn v Facebook v FourSquare v Pinterest v …
  5. Private v Public Personae
  6. “You rarely point to someone else’s writing”

Onto it, then, shall we?


My twitterings start with guideposts that take the form “xWatch”: MundaneWatch, MascotWatch, ThanksWatch, ResearchWatch, MemberWatch, BlogWatch, ReadWatch, PresoWatch and others as they occur to me or the need arises. These Watches were introduced in They’re Following Me! (More on Twitter) and are based on what I wrote at the end of A Twitter Social Contract:

So here’s my Twitter Social Contract; I won’t twit unless I truly believe the information might be useful to you, which of course means whatever I twit will have use to me.

[And I note that here in 2016 that one’s gotten loose. Now the name of my account is “NextStageWatch”]

Some people may question the usefulness of a Mundane- or Mascot-Watches, except we learned in A Twittering (and Related Social Platforms) Update Part 1 – Followers that some followers find them more interesting than all else I may twit. Based on responses (and most people are still more comfortable interacting with me via email, phone or Skype, something that’s been true since I started publishing online in 2005), Mundane- and Mascot-Watches being my most popular twits is true.

Mundane- and Mascot-Watches being the most popular isn’t surprising. These are my forms of phatic information (something I cover in detail in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation). Psycho- and socio-linguists recognize phatic information as “low quality, high discovery” communication, something I wrote about in Usability Studies 101: The X Funnel :

The conversation doesn’t have any revealing information, or does it? There’s very little of psychological interest being communicated and there’s a great deal of emotional interest being communicated. Specifically, our two strangers are exchanging a great deal of “Can I trust you?” “Are you somebody I want to get to know better?” “How open can I be with this person?” information without ever using those words.

This part of the conversation is low quality but high discovery. The topics are low level but the purpose is very high level; to find out if another meeting will occur and to foreshadow what might occur at that meeting.

Low quality, high discovery, phatic information is what allows society to move along smoothly. It allows us to know the social hierarchy in groups without having to ask “Who’s in charge here?” or “Who reports to who here?”, what jokes we can tell to whom and about what, so on and so forth. Business deals may be signed in the boardroom but they are made in the bar, the gym, at cookouts, company gatherings, during hallway conversations, breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings. The boardroom conversation is “What is going to get done by whom when” but it won’t occur without the gym, cookout, etc. “Can we and how far can we trust each other as people?” conversation.

Let me give you an example of phatic information gone awry.

Long ago and far away, I had a serious relationship with a particular woman. She took me home to meet her family. At one point and after a wonderful dinner conversation with her, her parents and two older brothers, her father invited me downstairs for a game of pool and cigars.

I don’t know much about pool. I know more about mechanics and ballistics, things that pool is based on. At that time I didn’t smoke cigars so refused when one was offered.

First social cue missed – acceptance of a token to establish similarity.

I beat one brother in a close game. I was perfecting my calculations and skill during this game.

Her dad handily beat her other brother. It was no where near a close game.

I now played her dad while her brothers watched. All three were puffing on cigars. I made shot after shot after shot, not paying much attention to them, focusing on each shot and making ballistic calculations. I do remember that their puffing became more pronounced as I finished run after run after run.

At the end of the third game, my eyes still on the table, I said, “Rack them up again?”

The coldness of her father’s “No” made me look up. The three of them were staring at me from the other side of the table, father in the center, brother on either side, all three with a cue in their hands, white-knuckle grips on the shafts, bumpers on the floor and tips up around face level so they stared at me over the green of the tips.

They could have been wearing six-guns and saying “Get out of town.” The message was that clear.

Second social cue missed – recognition and acceptance of social hierarchy.

One brother stayed downstairs to clean up, the other brother and father marched me upstairs where the evening slid into a miasma of innuendo about my ethnicity, heritage, education, language skills, clothing, financial prowess and so on. The woman later told me that her parents didn’t like me and wouldn’t accept me into their family.

Lucky me, yes?

Compare that with my interactions with Susan’s (wife, partner, All Things Bright and Beautiful) father. During one visit to her parents’ home I noticed he was working on a presentation paper (he was Sr. VP, R&D for an international firm, and a PE) and asked if I could read it. Sure, go ahead. I made some corrections to his formulae and gave it back to him. “I think my suggestions will save time and development costs. Let me know what you think.”

He invited me down to his offices and opened several doors for me, often hiring me to review their work. My favorite anecdote about him is that, during my first visit to his offices, he asked what I’d charge for my consultations. Sitting across from his desk, him in silhouette and my back to the door, amazed by the panoramic view of a nearby lake from his top floor, corner office, I bid ridiculously low due to ignorance of the market.

He looked at me, got up, walked around his desk and closed his office door. He then sat on the edge of his desk next to me, leaned over and said sotto voce what I would charge him for my time (it was more than double what I suggested). He then told me when I would raise my rates for him. Next he told me that he would introduce me to his opposite numbers at conferences and what I would charge them (more than quadruple what I was charging him). He explained that they would pay that because he would let them know how much I’d saved him.

Then he smiled and said that I would always charge him less than his competitors because he’d made all these introductions for me and started me in this line of work.

Finally he stood up, opened his office door, resumed his seat across his desk from me and said, “Want to get some lunch?”

Gosh, I miss him.

And did I mention that Susan and I have been together going on 34 years? We’ve had our ups and downs, sure. We’re still together and now more than ever she’s the love of my life.

A Bit Too Much Phatic For You?

From “Let me give you an example of phatic information gone awry.” down to “A Bit Too Much Phatic For You?” is all phatic, low quality, high discovery information.


What it is is anecdotes. Anecdotes are one of the purest ways of conveying phatic information. They tend to detail social information about the protagonist (me, the storyteller) and often involve boons (as with Susan’s father) or busts (as with the nameless woman’s family). These tales of boons and busts are known worldwide as The Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell’s excellent book on this out of print or I’d provide a pointer).

But such anecdotes also go beyond pure phatic information because they’re also examples of personal mythologies. The stories we tell about ourselves are Rashomonic even when we’re the only person who knows them because our Core, Identity and Personality change them to suit each venue’s needs and whatever {C,B/e,M}s we’re working with at the time (audience, self, …). Read through the two provided anecdotes carefully and several aspects of my persona, beliefs, identity, self-concept, social awareness and willingness to tolerate fools become obvious (enter what you learn as comments. Everybody’s answers will be correct, just so you’ll know).

Personal Mythologies in 140 Characters or Fewer

So while Twitter is teaching us all to use active voice and direct address, its also tchng us tht vwls & pnctatn r meangls

This is how language evolves over time. The only time a given language consolidates to a “standard” form is when it’s written down and a large enough population understands what’s written. More so when that writing method becomes more dominant, such as print and now, the ‘net. The only reason a language consolidates is to increase audience. Very much like marketing, that.

But without language (more correctly, without semiotics), there’d be no marketing.

Back to Guideposts

Audience brings us all the way back to Twitter and my use of guideposts, the xWatches that preface my twits.

I do them for you, dear readers, so you’ll know whether this 140 character message is as important to you as that 140 character message. As one reader told me, “You’re self-categorizing your tweets and I appreciate that. So many of the things I read out there are a waste of my time. I can tell right at the start of yours if it’s going to be worth my time or not.” [I’ve since learned that people glance at the twit as a whole and perform an attentional valence decision based on the form of the twit, not necessarily the content. People who actually read the words are disappearing, it seems.]

Thank you, and you’re welcome.

My xWatches are because I value your time and mine.

The First Take-Away of this Research

I’ll admit this one is obvious after the fact.

Companies using Twitter for marketing have to understand that the best communications for 140 characters or less are phatic, high discovery, low quality messages. Consumers using Twitter don’t want the Gospel According to P&G, Toyota or any other brand. What they want is the juice that’ll interest, excite and engage them enough to go read your brand’s gospel.

This holds for Pinterest, too, by the way.

Next up, why don’t I follow anyone?

What’s with the “Watches”, Joseph?]]