Why I Tweet--10,000 Times
In the beginning, it was peer pressure that nudged me onto Twitter. I'd heard buzz about it, and my curiosity was piqued when I heard mention that many Members of Congress and commentators were Tweeting around that year's State of the Union. But what really got me to focus on it was when Lindsay Hyde, founder of Strong Women Strong Girls, asked at an event if we were Tweeting yet at SCI. When I answered no, she said she could really see how it could apply to our mission of promoting local civic engagement. Not wanting to be too much of a Luddite, I didn't ask too many questions about how exactly she saw Twitter's relevance to our mission. I did sign up for my Twitter account a few days later, determined to figure out what it was about.
After some SCI colleagues and I dabbled for a few months, I first started to glimpse Twitter's potential when it ALMOST helped us connect a lost pet bird with its owner. I was meeting with a new AmeriCorps member who was getting ready to take over the reigns of our SCI Woburn Twitter account. Looking for an example of something to Tweet, I recalled having seen something in a local listserve about an exotic bird flying around Lowell Street that clearly did not belong in the woods of Woburn
I Tweeted something like "Looking for your pet bird? Colorful bird (parrot?) seen around Lowell St. #Woburn. Contact me for more info". Example sent, I returned to the conversation with Mike for about 10 or 15 more minutes. Then I casually checked my Twitter feed, and saw that two people in the Lowell St. area of Woburn had replied to me having recently lost their pet birds. Now this one isn't a true Twitter success story...after exchanging several Tweets, we determined the bird in question did not belong to the Tweeters. But the speed with which I could make a connection around a local problem prompted me to redouble my engagement with Twitter.
Fast forward two years later to this September. My wife Jodi called just before lunch to relay an urgent message. There has been a shooting during a jewelry store robbery in West Woburn, and she and everyone else at the YMCA was ordered by the police into lockdown mode. The heavily armed suspects were believed to be fleeing through the woods in the direction of Horn Pond--and our home! We were worried about our six year old son who was home with a young baby sitter from the neighborhood. I quickly spent about 10 minutes on Twitter, reading the #Woburn hashtag stream and posing a few questions, to determine what route I could take home given the police roadblocks in place.
I made it home via a circuitous route. Following the safety tips I read online, I made sure all the doors and windows were locked downstairs. Then I headed upstairs with my son. Fortunately he had a new Lego set to keep himself busy while I monitored the situation on Twitter, Facebook and cell phone. My parents were heading back from Cape Cod that day, and were trying to figure out if they could safely make it back to their neighborhood. They'd not been able to reach either of the two neighbors for whom they had a number in their cell phones. So I Tweeted a query about the status of Hiawatha Rd., and within two minutes, someone on the street we didn't know reported the SWAT team had just been through and checked the homes on the street, and that it should be safe to return.
Shortly thereafter, I was able to return the favor of updating a previously unknown neighbor about the status of things on our street. "Waterborn" lives down the street from me. I was able to keep him posted on things in our neighborhood, including letting him know when the street was no longer blocked off by the police. Our schedules are pretty different, so Twitter continues to be the main way I keep in touch with this neighbor.
A lively exchange of breaking info continued on Twitter throughout the day of the manhunt. Friend and local Lutheran Pastor Keith Anderson added a sense of comfort as he "Prayed the Manhunt on Twitter". Finally, by bedtime that day it was assumed that the suspects had gotten out of the immediate area, and the lockdown state of things was listed. Fortunately, the suspects were later caught and the police officer that was shot is recovering. Shortly afterward, Pastor Anderson and I organized the Woburn Unites Vigil following this episode, but that is another story.
This is what social capital is all about: connecting with people around a common concern, and working together to take action. Twitter is a very helpful platform for fostering and leveraging such social capital, particularly when embedded in the context of local, placed based relationships (i.e. I've met a lot of the people I exchange Tweets with). It's usually not as dramatic as the lockdown day, of course. More often, it's friendly exchange of interesting and actionable info. I've seen how Twitter can boost attendance at local events, connect local people who share an interest that wouldn't otherwise know each other, generate hundreds of additional click-throughs for fundraising activities, serve as a platform for sharing local food recipe ideas, and much more. I keep in touch with a number of our AmeriCorps alumni via Twitter; in fact, I was able to connect one alum to a great job I saw Tweeted by Judy Salerno at the Foundation MetroWest.
So 10,000 Tweets, that's a lot. Not nearly as many as Eric Andersen, who just crossed the 100,000 Tweet threshold! I've learned a lot about Tweeting from Eric, and I was motivated by his thoughtful 100,000 Tweet post to do something myself to mark this more modest milestone. But anyway, here's Tweet number 10,000, issued outside our local polling station a few minutes ag0: @socialcap: I just voted...what better subject could I choose for Tweet 10,000! #10000tweets #vote #mapoli That's me in the photo, getting ready to vote and Tweet the big 10,000!
I was initially going to include a list of things I like about Twitter in addition to sharing a few stories; but I will hold that part for a follow-up post. Before I sign-off, I will make one quick commercial plea: we are celebrating our 10th anniversary of building social capital here at SCI. I'm hoping to get at least 10 people to donate $10 or more this week to honor our 10th anniversary--and 10,000 Tweets. Any support you can provide will help us keep doing the good work for another 10 years--and boost us on the way to another 10,000 Tweets that help build community! Our 10 x 10 Campaign page has the details and donate link.
Thanks for reading this far! By the way, if you're not following me yet on Twitter but would like to, my main SCI tweets come from @socialcap. Local Woburn focused Tweets (and my Foursquare checkins) are @DC_Woburn; and if it's my cooking tips you're after, that would be @cookingchat. My multifaceted Twitter identity is also another story!