The Levels of Twitter Proficiency

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got spurred on recently to publicly share my thinking around the typical evolution of a Twitter user (call them a tweeter, or twitterer, or whatever else you want to label them as). I’ll be interested to hear what other people’s take on this will be, seeing as I’ve come to these conclusions through watching my own evolutionary use of Twitter, but also in observing how people have adapted and learnt to use Twitter with the occasional prompting and guidance from me, where I’ve introduced them to Twitter in the first place. For each level of Twitter proficiency I’ve also suggested remedial actions and next steps to help get comfortable with that level of Twitter usage before attempting to progress to the next levels.

Level 1 – The Twitter Newbie
The Twitter newbie is generally the first stage when it comes to developing Twitter proficiency. At this stage the person has little or no clue as to why they would even be using Twitter, but nonetheless they’ve joined in, or signed up, to join the conversation, generally because someone they trust or respect has urged them to do so. Either that or they’ve decided that Twitter is important enough that they should be on it, but they’re not quite sure of what it does or how it works, and don’t really know what value it could possibly have for them. But everyone keeps harping on about it, or they’ve become curious enough to want to know more about it that they finally decided to sign upto the service.

Now that they’ve signed up, they don’t know what to do next? At this stage the most important thing to do is to find interesting people to follow, and start to see your Twitter stream filling up with tweets that are interesting to you. The tweets that interest you could be educational or informative or entertaining or be any kind of news that’s of interest to you. It could even just be people that you admire, respect, or look upto. Whoever it is that you choose to follow, it has to be of interest, and of use to you personally, otherwise it’s just going to be a waste of your time and attention.

I remember what Twitter was like without following anyone, and even though I first heard about the service and signed upto it in 2007, the fact that back then no-one in my address book was on Twitter meant that I never logged in again until about a year later, when I finally met people that were actively using Twitter. Until I was following people that I was interested in listening to, I just didn’t understand, or see what the point of Twitter was, and trust me an empty Twitter page, with no tweets on it, none of your real friends or anyone you even remotely know on it, and no way of figuring out where you might find anyone interesting or useful was a real wasteland of a Twitter. Fortunately Twitter have realised how important it is when you set up your account to have someone to follow, and so, they’re starting to create a bunch of suggested people you can follow based on your interests, etc; over time I’m sure that will improve and get better. But back in 2008 the only way I found myself getting any use from Twitter was after I had ‘real life’ friends that were all using it, and so I accomplished Level 1 of my Twitter training and had learnt enough to officially become a Twitter Newbie, and follow some cool/interesting people on Twitter.

Level 2 – The Twitter Novice
Once you’ve been listening to other people on Twitter for a while you start to get a flavour of what Twitter is like. Through being a spectator, you’ll have started to figure out some of the Twitter conventions like @TwitterName is one person talking to another, you may see the occasional ‘old school’ RT ( the retweeting convention that was used by most folks on Twitter before ‘retweets’ were built into the system). You may also have started to develop a ‘listening’ habit, clocking onto Twitter just often enough that you can see what everyone said since the last time you logged on. You may however still be a little wet behind the ears and whilst it’s all well and good everyone else sharing and listening, you’re kinda unsure, possibly even a little afraid of tweeting out anything, just in case you say the wrong thing or you say it in the wrong way. My suggestion to you, just start tweeting. Get you’re first tweet out the way, whatever that might be, and just get comfortable with ‘broadcasting’ yourself. Start out by sharing things that you are comfortable with sharing. Be it links to articles you found interesting, what you’re upto, where you are, what you’re thinking. At this point anything you say or share doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you get comfortable expressing yourself, and publishing tweets out into the Twittersphere. Inevitably, you may get prompts of support, encouragement from your friends, and perhaps even the occasional retweet from others. But whilst you’re a Twitter novice, the only thing you need to focus on is tweeting something out regularly, on a consistent basis. Part of this is to help you to practice expressing yourself in 140 characters, and part of it is to help you start to find your ‘twitter voice’. As generally we’re not used to expressing ourselves in 140 characters and it does take a bit of time, and some practice to start to be able to condense our thoughts and distill them down to bite sized expressions. With practice and regular usage you’ll start to get an intuitive feel for what’s right for you, and that’s something that will only develop the more you practice and use it, so continue to listen to the people you follow, but also start to throw your own tweets into the conversation, regardless of how self conscious you are.

Level 3 – The ‘Twitterer’
Once you’ve gotten used to absorbing bite sized chunks of information on a regular basis, and you’ve developed the skill and ability to condense your thoughts, ideas, and generally what you’re upto into cogent expressions of 140 characters, then comes an ‘evolutionary’ leap in your Twitter proficiency. It’s not something that happens overnight, but it is a transition that gradually occurs over time, in such a way that you don’t even realise it’s happened. Suddenly Twitter has become part of your regular ritual. It’s become ‘conversational’. You’re flowing effortlessly between reading tweets, and tweeting out yourself. When you come to Twitter it’s almost like the place where you find your ‘chums’ and buddies all hanging out. There is no longer, in your mind any distinction between the tweets you’re reading from others, and your own tweets, as they’re all part of the same organic fluid conversation and banter that’s flowing between you and your Twitter community. You may even start to know and recognize certain ‘characters’ within your community and their individualistic and unique traits, that in your mind make them who they are for you.

At this stage, you have ‘arrived’ so to speak to the basic competency level of Twitter where people get that personal satisfaction out of using Twitter and perceive immense value in their Twitter community as a whole. The experience is now intrinsically a personal experience to you as you begin to feel yourself becoming a member of your community. You may or may not have met the people you tweet with in person, but you will definitely feel like there are some folks you would just love to meet in person. If you have started to meet some of the people you tweet with in person, then you’ll have had a really really good time, discovering even more of the many awesome things you have in common, beyond your conversations online through Twitter. A kinship starts to develop with other people who tweet, and when you say you use Twitter, it’s usually with pride and a confidence that you share that information. This is where most people aspire to get to, and once they get here, it all starts to make sense, and Twitter just becomes so much more important and valuable than it seemed back when they first started their sceptical first steps into the world of Twitter.

The only way to get to this stage is through practice, and regular use. The more time you can put into this, the quicker you’ll see the rewards. But like with developing any other skill, or learning a language, if you just keep on practicing it, you will eventually become proficient in it.

Level 4 – The ‘Twitterati’
Once someone has become a ‘Twitterer’, they may comfortably stay at that stage of Twitter usage, and feel content, and complete and get all the value they need from Twitter and never know any different. They may not need to grow beyond that level of competence consciously, and they may not realise or be able to understand just how ingrained Twitter has become to them. However, there is, I believe, a subtle distinction and difference that develops over time, between someone who’s comfortably using Twitter on a day to day basis ‘conversationally’ with their community and someone who uses Twitter for more than just the ‘community’ conversations. These are the people that use Twitter in all of the previous ways mentioned before, but also now start to use Twitter as a filter. They turn to their community before turning to Google if they want any help, or suggestions, or want to find something or some information. They spend less time reading RSS feeds directly, and more time reading what people are sharing or talking about. They dip in and out of Twitter as they need to, and can afford to, time permitting. They genuinely value and appreciate the people in their community. They consciously use Twitter, selectively ignoring and filtering out people that no longer interest them. They’re comfortable enough with themselves that they no longer care about who follows them and who doesn’t. They’re only focussed on the value they’re receiving from their community on Twitter and the value that they can share with their community on Twitter. There will naturally be more people following them than they can or care to follow back, but not because it’s a numbers game, but because people genuinely find them useful, and interesting. These people are relatively respected for the topics they regularly share their thoughts on. And most importantly they’re some of the humblest, most down to earth people you could ever meet. They don’t consider themselves authorities, but their peers and community do. They don’t profess to be or try to be anything but themselves and in doing so their natural talents and gifts just shine through effortlessly. The ‘Twitterati’ is not something you join, but it is the natural evolution of any ‘Twitterer’ who through a process of time and experience naturally emerges from the shell of their ‘Twitter’ self, into themselves online. They tend only to emerge when the person is working where their passions and talents are, and they are naturally ‘joyously content’ with their lives personally, as that then filters through into their Tweets). The stage of ‘Twitterati’ is perceptibly different from the ‘Twitterer’ because you’ve become as comfortable being on Twitter as being off it, and have the confidence to dip in and dip out as you need to.

Level 5 – The Twitter ‘Pro’
Whilst becoming a Twitterati is ultimately the highest stage of Twitter, that I can comment on, through my personal observations, there is one more ‘stage’ or level of Twitter competency that I could only really place, independently of the ‘Twitterati’, but clearly is more complex and evolved.

That is the stage of the Twitter ‘Pro’.

This is the stage at which you have started to manage multiple Twitter accounts, to manage multiple conversations. At this stage, you’ve saturated your personal twitter account, with all the conversations that you’re interested in being a part of, and following, and you’ve decided to create a separate twitter account for a dedicated topic of discussion, or a specific product/brand/identity or persona that you represent, or that represents you.

This stage or usage of twitter is generally only reached or arrived at by people that are intensively interested in very distinct or different conversational contexts. Alternatively it’s a skill level that agencies, corporates or brand spokespeople need to develop in order to competently represent their finders and to genuinely be of value to the community.

In conclusion, I just want to be really clear, there’s no short cuts to jumping from one level of proficiency to the other.  the only sure fire way is to practice, practice, practice.  Unfortunately, anything less, and you will be sussed out by more learned members of the community.  The good news is that once you’ve skilled yourself up, you’ll start to discover these subtle differences between different levels of Twitter usage experientially, and you’ll appreciate just how much progress you’ve made yourself.

I’ll be interested to hear what you all think? Where are you in your twitter proficiency?  Do you think it’s all a bunch of hocus, and that there aren’t clear, defined levels or stages of twitter expertise, or skill?  Thoughts, comments, suggestsions, feedback, all welcome in the comments below ;)  I look forward to further refining these thoughts and ideas, with your input.

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