My week on ScotVoices

As I mentioned on my blog a few weeks ago, I did a recent spell as the tweeter on the ScotVoices account. That is, of course, one of many “national” Twitter accounts where someone from the country tweets about their life, their country, and indeed anything (within reason) they fancy.

I’ve now had a couple of weeks or so to mull over my experience, and feel I should blog a wee report on how it went.

Before I do, though, I had every intention – thanks to a suggestion from my opposite number on the Pakistan account – to “storify” my week’s conversations. Storify is a handy little tool that searches, records and presents tweets (or indeed emanations on other social media platforms) in the form of a conversation that you can later easily read through and present to others. To do a whole week of tweets was admittedly a little vain, but I felt it would be a nice way to remember the week as well as pick out highlights when it came to writing it up.

It was also, however, an enormously fiddly process to transfer several thousand tweets at once, and – long story short – she couldn’t handle it, Captain. I emailed Storify and – to my enormous surprise – a friendly, fluent English-speaking human being wrote back to apologise. Basically, he explained, the system is not designed for the capturing of many hundreds of tweets at once, but saw that there was great potential in it being used by “national” accounts like ScotVoices, and he said he would pass the idea on to colleagues.

So that aside, you’ll have to cope with my memory.

And in a nutshell, being ScotVoices was a blast.

The first thing I noticed was that the experience was very different from my own Twitter account. I was tweeting more often than I would for my personal account, and there was a huge level of interaction, with anything I tweeted rendering a number of replies or retweets and indeed often generating long conversations between various users.

That was nothing to do with the quality or nature of anything I said, but simply to do with the numbers of people following the account. I think my personal account had, at the start of my ScotVoices week, around 400 followers (though its grown since as a result). ScotVoices, however, had something like 2,500, and I was totally unused to this level of interest and interaction. Trying to be polite and engaged as possible, I replied to as much as I could. While it was all fascinating, it was at times exhausting in a way to keep up with everything.

It was fun, though, and that was because I tried as much as possible to ask questions and generate discussion. The account after all is about reflecting the country, and life is as much about questions as pronouncements. In any case, asking a question then sitting back is sometimes easier than trying to spout forth on something in a balanced way.

So I posed a number of questions over the week: about the nature of Scotland, the relationship between the cities and the rest of the country, or (and this was a popular one) people’s best photos of Scotland.

My favourite discussion, though, was when I turned the independence referendum debate on its head. Rather than asking people’s views (which had been done by previous custodians of the account), I instead asked people who subscribed strongly to either yes or no to share what they thought the opposite side’s strongest argument was. There’s too much polarisation in politics, not least these days in Scotland, and so it was fun to get everyone thinking as objectively as they could about the views of the “other side”.

I wasn’t passive in all the discussions, however, and did “lead” at other points. I went on an admittedly predictable evangelical rant about the merits of Esperanto, and to be fair did get a lot of positive interest from it. I also, on a day off, went on a couple of hours’ “photo walk” around Inverness, tweeting photographs of various parts of the city, going into bits of local history where I knew it, and generally sharing a flavour the city I live in. Judging by the responses, this was probably one of the best received parts of my week on the account, and was certainly one of my favourites to do.

When I visited Edinburgh for work at the start of my week, I even attempted to convene a face to face gathering in a pub for whoever was in the area. After 30 minutes of waiting, nobody had turned up so I headed to my hotel… only to receive a tweet a wee while later asking where I was. It was from none other than an MSP who was an old comrade in arms from our days in the SNP Students at Aberdeen University. I set followers on a fun guessing game as to which MSP it was that I’d inadvertently stood up, and the first correct guess won a copy of my book (as did the MSP himself for his trouble).

I learned a lot, too, over the course of the week. I learned, for instance, that there’s a huge amount of international interest in Scotland. Many of the account’s followers, judging by those who interacted with me, are from European and North American countries. While awareness of the independence referendum was surprisingly low (it was a question I specifically asked), there was a huge general interest in and love of Scottish people, culture, scenery and history.

I also learned a lot from other countries – not only those people who replied who were following the account, but also the the many other foreign accounts that ScotVoices was already following. I had good chats with my equivalent tweeters on the Pakistan, Egypt, Sweden and Netherlands accounts, and it was nice to have a brief crossing of paths with people from so many different countries – like a sort of “citizen’s United Nations”.

Finally, from a discussion I sparked about Scottish food, I learned that porridge made with banana-flavoured Yazoo is something I really must try some time.

My experience on ScotVoices convinced me that social media really does have a place. It doesn’t have to be all about trolls, abuse, mudslinging and endless pictures of cats. It can be a place where windows are opened to other parts of the world, jokes and ideas can cross cultural boundaries, and we can give real voices to real people.

It was an exciting week. Though I’m rather glad to be back to just the one Twitter account.

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