Can Twitter be “Nice”?

When we’re all overwhelmed by awful headlines, does Twitter, started in 2006, still matter? Can social media be used for good? Maybe it can.

Cesspool.

Hellscape.

Party.

Those are a few of the terms people use to describe Twitter. I prefer the last one, by Amy-Willard Cross, an entrepreneur and a former journalist (@amy2pt0), at a book launch party I organized (yes, it was online).

Let’s leave aside the topic of the Twitter-Musk tussle, now playing out in court in the Delaware Court of Chancery, and address a few questions about the service itself.

Can social media be used for good? Is it too late? At a time when battling billionaires are all over the headlines, there’s a war in Ukraine, fires are burning, temperatures are rising, does this app, started in 2006, matter?

I say yes. Voices matter. Indeed, Techonomy (@techonomy) isn’t afraid to ask the big questions – the theme for the November conference is, after all, Innovation Must save the World. If you believe that’s a necessary mindset, what tools are at our disposal today?

The OpEd Project (@TheOpEdProject), which trains women and other underrepresented people how to write persuasive op-eds, says, “We believe the best ideas, regardless of where they come from, should have a chance to be heard and to change the world.”

There’s more variety on the bird app, as some call Twitter, than might be apparent from all the headlines and noise. I have my own preference, for an approach to using the app that some call “nice Twitter.”  If you work at it, you can avoid the unsavory and the ill-informed. You can find and follow business leaders, teachers, professors, scientists, astronauts, political candidates, lawyers, TV writers, news junkies, recreational gardeners, authors, historians (some call themselves #twitterstorians) and many others.

If you attend conferences, write blog posts, appear on podcasts, hold webinars, use audio apps, teach a class, publish a newsletter, or even start to think about writing a book, I would urge you to invest time using Twitter. It is a place to “find your people” and share news with those who are most interested.

Keep in mind that certain people want to know your thoughts. If you’re the head of HR at a tech company, for example, prospective employees and new managers will be plenty curious about the ins and outs of your company and industry. Credit Karma’s Chief People Officer Colleen McCreary, who tweets as @chiefpplofficer, posted a link to a podcast interview in which she described herself as a “product manager for the systems and tools that run the company.” That is an interesting insight for any fellow HR person or job hunter.

And I love this sentiment, especially for shy people: Who are you not to share your ideas? Other people might find your insights impactful and useful.

Also, a positive spin helps, whenever possible. As Jane Coaston, (@JaneCoaston), an opinion writer for the New York Times notes, “If you want people to do something, they need to be motivated — and impending doom doesn’t seem to do it.”

Twitter, at its best, is a CliffsNotes of people. Or if you prefer acronyms, it helps us all avoid TLDR (“too long, didn’t read”–a phrase that explains much about our frenzied moment). What exactly does a company or person do? Glance at their Twitter bio to see what they’ve chosen to say in 160 characters. (I recommend looking, for example, at the bios of Aaron Levie (@Levie) of Box and Tim Cook (@Tim_Cook) of Apple, for starters.)

At a time when people go to sometimes painfully-great lengths to promote themselves on LinkedIn and elsewhere, succinctness is refreshing.

And Twitter is the fastest place, handily beating radio and TV, when an earthquake or other natural disaster strikes, to hear from verified sources, such as the U.S. Geological Survey (@USGSted) distributing notifications for major earthquakes worldwide, seismologists and people on the ground. (“Nice” if you like accurate information.)

Twitter, of course, isn’t the only app connecting people. A nonprofit called Atma Connect (@atmaconnect, a client of mine), for example, created a low-bandwidth mobile app called AtmaGo to connect people in vulnerable communities, starting with disaster resilience and recovery from disasters in Indonesia. The app is also used in Puerto Rico in formerly-ignored grassroots communities and is launching in Ukraine.

Atma’s CEO, Meena Palaniappan, a civil engineer by training, believes that talent is everywhere, while opportunity is not. Her thoughts about her own NGO are equally relevant to Twitter. “Listen to the people that you’re building something for,” she says. “Build with them. The people who are most harmed by our economic system are often the ones who have the solutions. And we really need to build all of our systems to solve climate change and environmental problems and inequality all at once, and these people have the solutions.”

A report conducted by the independent Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (@icipg) found that 79% of AtmaGo users said they found the mobile app helpful or very helpful in connecting them with their community, and some 68% reported sharing information from AtmaGo. Each user, on average, shared AtmaGo posts with over 28 other people. Wouldn’t it be nice if more people could use Twitter like that?

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Center for Humane Tech, co-founded by Tristan Harris (@tristanharris), a past speaker at Techonomy, has launched a course to help people learn to shape technology “that serves humanity’s best interests.”

On Twitter you can see what all these groups are saying, decide which ones you want to learn more about or amplify – and share your perspectives, too.

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