Twittamentary, a documentary by Singaporean filmmaker, Tan Siok Siok, peels back the Twitter handles and avatars, and takes a long look at the characters behind them. Unlike The Social Network, which focused on Facebook’s founders, Twittamentary is all about the users. The film, which screened June 29th at an event hosted by Social Media Club NYC, succeeds because its focus isn’t technology, it’s humanity.
I first saw Twittamentary in Beijing at a Girls in Tech China event in May 2010, and the film has evolved considerably since then. Tan is currently on a ‘beta screening’ tour in the US and UK. Twittamentary itself was crowdsourced via Twitter: Tan traveled to the US in 2009, and with artist Geo Geller, rode the Greyhound across the US on the way to a Twitter conference, interacting with fellow Twitterati along the way. You won’t see many of Twitter’s suggested users in the film. Aston Kutchner isn’t in it and neither is Shaq. What you do get is an astonishing array of people: female truck drivers, the homeless woman that travels across the country with them to speak at the Twitter conference and who eventually find housing through Twitter, social media gurus, porn stars, actresses, activists, hungry customers and pizza franchise owners.
By focusing on users, the movie becomes an examination of the reasons people use Twitter. For many of them, it seems to be loneliness, and a longing to connect with others. The female trucker whose main companion is her dog (also on Twitter) uses it to keep touch with the world beyond the interstate, and campaigns through Twitter to end sexual abuse within that community. Porn star and sex worker Mika Tan is dating someone she met via Twitter (they first exchanged messages about shifts in the earth’s magnetic field and natural disasters) and hopes, rather wistfully, that he really is a nice guy. A woman whose close friend died suddenly just before they met keeps him in her life by using Twitter to communicate with his friends, family, and admirers of his artwork.
The Greyhound – perhaps the ultimate venue for surprising conversations with strangers before the advent of social media – is the perfect vehicle for the adventure. Stranded by a missed connection, a Twitter friend meets them at the bus station and offers to let them stay at his house (at the last minute the connection comes through). There’s a happenstance nature to the movie that reflects the tangential nature of the social web. People meet through friends, chance encounters create lasting bonds, and individuals who don’t at first glance seem to have much in common relate to each other.
There are lessons here for marketers as well. Social media users are all individuals with their own set of issues, hopes, and stories. People log on to Twitter because they want to interact, connect, and share. Listening and acknowledging goes a long way – forefront people’s stories, respond to their complaints. The movie features the famed Dominos franchise owner who crafted the video response to a hungry customer who complained via Twitter. The woman still speaks about it excitedly, not because it got her a free pizza (Dominos isn’t that good), but because her frustration was recognized. Which is a good reminder that your audience on Twitter isn’t just the users you interact with, it’s the vastly greater number of users who witness those interactions. At the end of the day, people log onto social networks for very human reasons – to share, to commiserate, to brag, and to feel part of something. Respect that, and make connection a core component of your Twitter strategy, whether it’s for marketing, CRM, or community management.
Twittamentary is worth watching even if you aren’t a heavy Twitter user. At the end of the day, internet marketing isn’t about certain tools or platforms, it’s about connecting with people. While some might see Twittamentary as a movie about a social network, it’s really a film about how people struggle to connect in the 21st century, and often succeed in surprising and wonderful ways.