(T)wittering on – 17 January 2016

We’ve invited RED Talent people to contribute to the blog and here’s our first from Mr JP:

“You should be on Twitter,” they said. ‘They’ in this context being my sister, various of my friends, my esteemed agent (the name escapes me) and a couple of people who advise quite august bodies on the benefits thereof.

But, I protested, I already am; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I’m there, on all of them.

Lurking, I was told, doesn’t count.

Still I resisted. How I resisted. Why, I kept asking, would anybody be interested in hearing about what I had for lunch, or my toilet habits, or the fact that I was somewhere more interesting than they were?

“But you’re funny,” they said.

That’s a real killer. Being introduced as ‘funny’ is deathly: the terrible look of expectation on people’s faces as you struggle to form even a simple greeting, let alone a sparkling bon mot. Worse still, of course, is ‘eccentric’ – had that done to me more than once. “Oh terrific,” I managed on one occasion, “probably expect me to turn up with a flowerpot on my head.”

Twitter imbues folk with the deeply misguided belief that other people give a damn about their opinions

It’s a curious beast, social media. It does wonderful things, provokes debate, introduces you to new ideas and funny signs, shows you how cute kittens are, connects people in ways that were simply never possible before. Now you can have a quick word with Stephen Fry, or Barack Obama, or erm, me. Equally it imbues folk with the deeply misguided belief that other people give a damn about their opinions and, worse still, that their opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s.

I recently heard a professor of philosophy saying that the first thing he told his students was that they were emphatically NOT ‘entitled to an opinion’ unless they could justify it. I nearly applauded. Given that I was on a train at the time, perhaps just as well I didn’t.

The final thing which bothers me is the blurring of the lines between the public and the private. Now whilst the press is not in the least interested in my personal life – probably mercifully so – there is a prevailing sense that people are somehow entitled to know things. Viz headlines about David Bowie’s ‘secret’ cancer and ‘secret’ funeral – the word is ‘private’, it’s not a secret it’s just actually none of our business. But then the moment we start making the private public we do rather all play into that. When we broadcast things to the world how much of our privacy do we surrender? If you announce your engagement on Twitter can you complain when someone else announces your divorce?

But I witter.

So I talked with my friend Ben (@likeaword). Ben knows about social media – and much else  – so I listened. His advice was fascinating. The essence of which was: think about what you say and who you are trying to reach. If all you tweet is a torrent of trivia, or half-formed opinions, unsurprisingly people will quickly stop listening. Helps if you are funny but a lack of content will soon show through.

The other danger of course is stirring up a Twitter tsunami. One ill-judged comment, one hastily penned tweet and the world can explode around you. And that’s the other side of Twitter that troubles me. Not only is everyone entitled to your opinion, all too many people seem to feel that they are equally entitled to be staggeringly abusive, mean, cruel, and threatening.

Let’s face it one of the grimmer parts of this business is the relentless need for self-promotion

That aside Twitter is a useful networking tool, a means of being more visible, popping yourself onto people’s radars, making a noise about what you’re doing. Let’s face it one of the grimmer parts of this business is the relentless need for self-promotion. It just all feels so, well, un-British. This jumping up and down and waving arms and saying ‘hey look at me’, glad-handing people at gatherings in a painfully naked attempt to push your way into their consciousness, just not the sort of thing one does. Twitter somehow makes it all that little bit less ghastly.

But his most pertinent piece of advice was identify who you are trying to reach and target them. The danger with Twitter (as many in the political world seem to have failed to realise) is that all you end up doing is talking to other people like you, with similar opinions, who just all sort of nod along. If you’re not just using Twitter to scatter ‘your view’ around willy-nilly then use it for something. Speak to someone and about something.

So I’m now on Twitter (@j_parsons_). Promoting work, making the odd wry comment, occasionally indulging in out and out silliness, and mostly just larking about. Yes there’s a serious purpose behind it all: raise profile, be visible, perhaps even on occasion get noticed, but in the meantime have fun. After all if you’re not having fun in this bizarre business what on earth are you doing it for?

James Parsons

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