What do Twitter and Bartending have in common? 140 Characters
I spent most of today painting various rooms in my house. As often happens when I do this my mind starts to wander. I think about the past, the present and the future and challenges I need to solve in my life and times in my life that make me feel happy. Today, my mind wandered to two seemingly unrelated things: my present ambivalence toward Twitter and to the past when I was a bartender after graduating college. Amazingly, these two things connected together in my mind and made me less ambivalent toward Twitter.
Let me say that if you’ve never been a bartender, it is one of the oddest jobs out there. Or at least the oddest one I’ve had anyway. You work weird hours, you lift a lot of kegs, you make a ton of money and you make small talk with a lot of people. I loved it. Repeat: I loved it.
(The only reason I am not bartending today is because my parents wisely told me that I should probably find a way to use my liberal arts degree or I was going to end up living in my hometown for the rest of my life. That was enough motivation for me to find another job in a big city.)
When you’re bartending, you have less than 140 characters to earn a great tip. Really, that’s what it comes down to. You can go home with $300 tips in a night or $30; It is all about how you use those 140 characters to engage with a person. And, I’m not talking about the first drink order but every single time that person came up to order a drink. If you’re morose and uninteresting or uninterested in the person ordering their cocktail, forget about it. You’re going home with $30 in your pocket.
It didn’t take me long to get the 140 character exchanges perfected. I could talk about anything with anybody. Period. The result was that I developed a lot of great relationships with people on the other side of the bar and they became my regulars. They also became my best advocates to find another job. Several set me up with job interviews and connected me with other people I never would have had access to. I didn’t have much to offer in return except mixing them my special, super secret Bloody Mary recipe (its adding a bit of olive juice) or giving them a drink on the house but that was the way it worked. Later in life, as a market analyst and reporter, the ability to connect with people quickly was my greatest attribute. It still is, I think.
So, back to Twitter and how it connects to my time as a bartender. First of all, I’ve not been a huge fan of Twitter. But, today, as I was cutting into corners with a little paint brush, I started thinking about why I don’t like Twitter. What is it that has felt off to me about participating on Twitter?
I finally came to a conclusion: when I’ve posted or read something on Twitter, I’ve felt like I’m going home with $30 in my pocket. I’ve felt like I’m not really connecting to anyone in any meaningful way. I’ve felt like I have to censor who I am, such as my political opinions or the fact my kid is driving me crazy, because the whole world can see it and in my mind you can’t communicate the subtleties of an opinion or a feeling in 140 characters.
But then I flipped all those reasons in my head. I decided that I need to start thinking about Twitter in the same way I did in my job as a bartender. I need to use those 140 characters to engage, add value and make a lot of small talk with people. I need to just be who I am and not worry about being politically correct – literally and figuratively. I need to be real because I’ve not worried in the past what people think of me so why start now? I need to actively notice people who don’t have 100,000 followers and look for the gems in the rough. Maybe it will turn into something bigger, maybe not.
Yes, yes, people in the know have been giving this advice for awhile and I’ve signed many authors to write books on the subject. But, I think there are a lot of people out there like me - people who are lurkers, as Chris Brogan aptly calls them, and are unsure how to “be” on Twitter.
I’m going to figure that out and share my progress with you. What I’m not going to do is spend time trying to get 100 zillion people to follow me. I'm not going to update every 10 seconds. That’s not my goal. My personal goal in 2011 is to find and engage with people on Twitter who I find interesting and may find me interesting in return. My business goal is to discover really smart people who have something interesting to say about the business-tech market and could write a book for me.
In 2011, I hope to go home with $300 in my pocket. What about you? If you’re a lurker, what’s kept you from actively participating on Twitter? Do you want to change that? Comment below or write to me at email@example.com or you can check-in on my progress on Twitter at KatherineBull.