On the first day, Twitter gave us the power to communicate with each other. We could express, thank, praise, laugh, criticize, or otherwise respond in up to 140 characters. Twitter empowered us to say something — whatever we choose — to someone, something, or the wide world.
One of its signature features was the retweet: share someone else’s tweet with the click of a mouse — thus, showing them and your followers you thought it was worth sharing. There was also the favorite, which was used as a bookmark, an informal polling device (i.e. RT for X, FAV for Y), and eventually as a liking tool similar to Facebook’s thumbs-up like button.
Along the way, retweeting and favoriting (now liking) became conflated with the concept of engagement. With minimal effort, we could “engage” each other. An original, perfectly-crafted tweeted might garner the same favorite as the boilerplate “LOL.” A thoughtful reply? Favorite. A provocative headline and link? Retweet. How often do we — and I am asking myself here, too — settle for, and hide behind, these simplified tools of “engagement”?
The challenge in life, and especially on social media, is to make the effort to do more than the bare minimum. Instead of a courtesy “like” (or “favorite”), we should seek meaningful engagement.
In its announcement, Twitter noted that the heart “is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people.” Perhaps it is more universal and aligns more closely with its intended purpose than a star.
Using words to communicate with each other, however, is always going to trump the mere clicking of a symbol, whatever that symbol may be.
What is worse than saying, “That’s funny!” or “Thanks for sharing!” or “I totally disagree!”? Clicking a star or a heart or a thumbs-up and moving on.
Think about your highest moments on Twitter. When did you feel particularly witty or insightful? When did you feel like you were most enjoying the medium? Was it when you received a notification that someone had favorited a tweet or was it when someone said something to you? When have you felt most engaged: when someone retweeted you or when they paid you a compliment with words?
Twitter is a business — my favorite, as it turns out. Whatever I read about stagnant user growth, layoffs, and stock woes, I still value its role in my professional and personal life. Yes, I will continue to retweet and heart with the rest of you, but I will strive to use it for meaningful engagement above all else.