An Unkindness of Ravens: Thoughts on Twitter Communication

September 4th, 2013 | Holly Dawson | 35 Comments

An Unkindness of Ravens

Four thoughts came together recently that gave me one of those “bolt of lightning” insights it’s useful to get from time to time. Not only that, it helped me change my approach to communication.

Images: Woop Studio‘s Alphabet Flashcards, used with permission

Those of you who read my last post about being yourself online, could read this one as a bit of a second installment to that journey.

So, these were the four colliding thoughts:

1. How magnificently deafening the dawn chorus is (I live in the country and get up early).

2. The collective nouns for birds: an Unkindness of Ravens, a Murder of Crows, a Charm of Finches, A Gulp of Magpies, A Pandemonium of Parrots, An Ostentation of Peacocks, etc.

3.  The use of anthropomorphism in brand identity and marketing, whether to describe consumer characteristics (e.g. Orange’s animal tariffs) or to convey a desired spirit (mainly the cat family – lynx, puma, lion, tiger… never slug or lungfish).

4. Twitter. Building on plans mentioned in my last post here on WUL, I have been embracing an open, diverse, genuine approach to my tweeting.

I am using it because I want to – not because my boss told me to. I want connections, not follower numbers. It has been fun and rewarding, and I have met some wonderful people. But I have also been left unsatisfied by the volume of one-way communication. There’s a lot of shouting, and not a lot of listening. A lot of “me,” little “you” and hardly any “we.”

So #4 got me thinking about #3 – how “Twitter,” as an anthropomorphic name, perfectly describes that chaotic, disparate, competitive, showboating raucousness of #1. That early morning is the busiest time for tweeting – everyone competing for space and attention – further resonates with this idea of bird communication. Sometimes, it can be too loud, exhausting and ineffective.

A Pandemonium of Parrots

The collective nouns – thought #2 – seemed pertinent here. What group did I belong to?

• Ostentation of Peacocks
   …Me, me, me being amazing, look at my business, read my articles, here are some selfies, a bit more me
• Pandemonium of Parrots
  …Constant 24 hour activity, non-discerning, lots of interactions; not tweeting but squawking
• Gulp of Magpies
  …Taking shiny stuff from other people’s feeds and tweeting it as your own
• Charm of Finches
…A serial, people-pleasing re-tweeter with safe words like “lovely”
• Unkindness of Ravens
  …The smart guys, the clever strategic tweeters and superior communicators. The “unkindness” is a misnomer (keep reading!)
• Murder of Crows
  …’orrible, troll type mean-ness

I can find examples of each group in my own feed. You probably can, too.

But which group do you most fit into?

I think I am a chimera offspring of a magpie and a finch. A Finch-Pie. I get a huge amount of great info from Twitter, but I don’t always start conversations with the curators; when I do initiate chats, it often involves words like “lovely.” I don’t think I do much to be an authority on any subject, or inject much original thought into people’s feeds. I guess my diagnosis is “nice but not influential” – perhaps reflected in the fact that I get “favorited” more than re-tweeted.

An Ostentation of Peacocks

With that in mind, I developed an audit. As part of my ongoing effort to make KPIs out of relationship-building, each month I will print off my tweets from the last 4 weeks and evaluate :

Which number is higher – followers or follows?
What percentage of tweets contain an @?
Of those @s, how many are conversational?
How many of my follows have I met in real life?

My aim? To join the Unkindess of Ravens.

The name comes from an old legend that ravens push their young out the nest to test their survival. It does a disservice to a super-intelligent creature that is apparently the third-most skilled communicator after humans and monkeys. They make 30 different sounds and, although they do a lot of talking, they also possess highly developed hearing. They are adept at both solitary life and living in huge groups. Like any successful species, they learn from trial and error.

Talking and listening, diverse communication tailored to each situation, sociable but confident when alone, constantly adapting, learning and fine-tuning… now doesn’t that describe the kind of communicator you would like to be?

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Holly Dawson

Holly Dawson

Editorial Director at Ethical SEO
Holly Dawson is editorial director of Ethical SEO. Based in the heart of the English countryside, between London and Brighton, she spends her days supporting good people to do interesting things online and thrive in the connection economy. She enjoys exploring the parallels between the brain, human behavior, and the digital world, and she vastly over-uses the word 'relationship'. Her work is driven by, as Godin says, “creating ideas that spread, and connecting the disconnected” (although her main goal at the moment is to stop endlessly quoting Seth Godin).
Holly Dawson
Holly Dawson
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"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

34 comments
biggreenpen
biggreenpen

I love this! I read recently (in a tweet, appropriately enough!): Facebook is where you lie to your friends and Twitter is where you are honest with strangers. It's a huge overgeneralization but it does have some truth! I'll have to think about what "bird" I am but I really liked the various vocabulary/concept tie-ins here!

OrmusOwl
OrmusOwl

I like the tangential aspects, food for thought. Thank you

bdorman264
bdorman264

Whoa, I thought this was going to be a football post on the Baltimore Ravens and then you got all serious on us. 

Pretty creative indeed and well scripted; but then again @Shonali can spot talent like that. She even lets me drive her around Orlando.  

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

I guess I can't say "lovely," but this was a nice morning read. I feel like I woke up in a meadow! Thank you for this, and for your honesty. Question: do you just use the standard Twitter client to create the data (just printing your tweets) for your analysis or another platform?

rosemaryoneill
rosemaryoneill

This wins my favorite post of the day. It isn't often your read something so creative and original in this time of blah blah blah social media blah blah blah.  Thanks for the flutter of fresh air.  And I am going to steal the idea of the Tweet audit. That's pure genius.

Holly Dawson
Holly Dawson

@OrmusOwl Really glad you got something from it. Would be interested to hear what group you thought you were in, and which one you might aspire to move towards?


Holly Dawson
Holly Dawson

@bdorman264 It would have been extra-creative if it had been about the Baltimore Ravens! Hope you weren't disappointed!

Holly Dawson
Holly Dawson

@RobBiesenbach Thanks, Rob. I have just been taking a very DIY approach so far, printing and analysing (and telling myself off!). However, I have just switched to trying out Sprout Social and making use of the analytics there. Do you recommend anything else?

Holly Dawson
Holly Dawson

@rosemaryoneill Thanks a lot, Rosemary. I am so pleased you got something from it. I do tend to go on about birds too much, so it was nice to actually turn my naturey musings into something productive! Would be interested to find out how you get on with your Tweet audit...

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

@Holly Dawson Thank you, Holly. No, I haven't done a formal analysis, but am interested in doing so at some point, so I'll look at Sprout. I've used limited tools like JustUnfollow and I make use use of lists, but it would be nice to have some real analysis to work with.

hollyjdawson
hollyjdawson

@felsteadwaddell Well, I've always been a big fan of you guys (used to help Tara with Story Studio), so it seems there's love both ways...

shonali
shonali

@hollyjdawson @wittlake I used to do that too. It was really interesting, in part because there'd be a whole different group of people on.

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