Before I continue on with my current series that I started here and here, I want to post an article I just wrote for Inspiren, which is the publication for the Christian Web Conference which I will be speaking at in September. I would love any feedback that you might have.

I have shared this story with many before, but my very first tweet from Twitter was on December 9, 2007, and it read something like this:

“working on my blog”

Not exactly life changing, is it? In fact, I must have thought about what to write for about 10 minutes. Using Twitter is an interesting experience and I have come to find that there are usually a few steps that one follows before they eventually come to their “sweet spot” in regards to getting the most benefit out of it. First, there is adoption of the tool itself. Convincing one to use Twitter was much more difficult in 2006-2008 before everyone jumped on board this last Spring. Before that time, Twitter was a small, but thriving online community that’s tipping point came in 2007 at SXSW in Austin, TX. I even wrote an article in March/April of this year for Collide Magazine, Why Tweet? Shaping Your Narrative One Tweet at a Time, telling pastors why they should be on Twitter. Second, there is the issue of popularity. This may not be the same for everyone, but once someone adopts the tool, well, they would like to have some followers and to know that others are reading what they write. But popularity and number of followers is only a temporary chasing, before one hopes to get to the third step (which actually may involve less, or more followers). Third, I like to use the term narrative leverage, which refers to the leverage one has to do good, implement action, create community and more through the use of their Twitter profile.

So once you have adopted, found an audience, the hope soon becomes how can I take this tool and use it to the benefit of others, and I think there are several ways that one goes about doing that through the use of narrative leverage.

In the article in Collide Magazine, I wrote:

We all have the privilege to sit with people on a daily basis as they share various snapshots of their life with us. In fact, some of my fondest memories of being a college ministry director involve sitting across from a student at a coffee shop as we engaged one another over a cup of coffee and conversation. Those were memorable times, but one coffee talk chat was hardly enough time to even begin to get a sense of who that student was. Instead, I needed multiple trips to the coffee shop with them. One standalone conversation was just a short chapter in the larger narrative of that student’s life. But when compiled, all the conversations began to paint a beautiful portrait of who they were and what kind of story they were living…

I have never understood how and why some people view Twitter as only an online tool without real world offline implications. Every time I tweet I am inviting others to see my life, to engage me, and to participate fully with me. In fact, I will argue that because of Twitter we often come to know people more fully than we sometimes do in our day-to-day, week-to-week encounters at work, school, and church. Twitter is a 24/7 engagement in the lives of others that affords us the opportunity to observe people in a unique way. We may see aspects of people’s lives and personalities through Twitter that we have not seen in person.

This is what Leisa Reichelt refers to as “ambient intimacy”, and what Clive Thompson refers to as “ambient awareness”. It’s this idea of being aware to all the sharing and talking from our friends and others that continually surrounds us. This is no more evident than on Twitter. Some may think that sharing what you ate for breakfast is trivial, but it’s not. Instead it’s just another brushstroke in the larger portrait that makes up someone’s identity.

To best use narrative leverage on Twitter involves a couple of simple steps. First, It involves you sharing your life online. A Twitter profile that is only links, quotes, agenda pushing, helps little in the way of sharing one’s personal narrative, and doesn’t invite others into your story. So add variety to your tweets, both personal and informal that can help others identify with you. In doing this, you are adding to the “ambient intimacy/awareness”. Second, listening is crucial to this concept of narrative leverage. Not only are you sharing your narrative, but so are others, and your job is to step into that “twitter stream” and listen to what others are saying. Where do you identify? What needs are out there? How can you help? What are you passionate about? When you combine these two things, the sharing of your narrative online, and the ability to listen to what others are saying, then you better leverage yourself to enter into Twitter and help make positive change in the communities and lives around you.

As I conclude this post, let me give you an example. My mother, grandmother and aunt have all died of breast cancer, so that is something that I have twittered about online. What I soon realized was that other cancer survivors, as well as those who have lost loved ones to cancer were now following me and corresponding. Through my sharing (narrative) and my listening (ambient awareness), I saw the opportunity to leverage my profile for social good. I contacted the local Susan G. Komen affiliate in Dallas about ways that I could raise money online through running two races (The Race for the Cure in October and the White Rock/Dallas Marathon in December). So now, because of my narrative, and because of listening, I will be raising money online through Twitter, Facebook and my blog to help the lives of those people around me who have been affected by breast cancer. This is the growth of my Twitter profile…from adoption, to popularity, to ultimately narrative leverage.

What can, or have you been sharing that impacts others? And are you listening in return? There is a world of good you can do with Twitter. I hope to see you at the Christian Web Conference, and I hope you can join me for my presentation and discussion, Twitter: Collaborate, Connect, and Resource via Your Story.