Last weekend I added a search on “@robcottingham” to TweetDeck so that I could track the comments on Rob’s Northern Voice keynote. (BTW, if you aren’t using TweetDeck to keep track of your Twitter pals, I highly recommend it; like many people I know, Tweetdeck has transformed Twitter from being a tool I use occasionally to a vital part of my workflow and community.)

Searching on @robcottingham shows me Lee’s tweet to Rob.

Tweetdeck for robcottingham

Searching on robcottingham (no “@”) lets me see the tweet from Rob that Lee was replying to.

Now that robcottingham is up and running as one of my columns on TweetDeck, I’m conscious of how it changes my perspective on Rob’s day. Of course, I was already following Rob on Twitter, so it had become part of our one-to-one and team communications, and I frequently catch his various tweets when I’m checking my Twitter stream.

But having Rob as a dedicated column means that I get a sense of the overall pace, nature and extent of twittering. If you can momentarily set aside the fact that we’re also married, which makes this feel more like spousal surveillance than collegial curiosity, I can offer some insights and suggestions about when, how and why you might find it useful to track the Twitter feeds of specific colleagues in a focused way:

  • Leave out the @. Set up your Tweetdeck search on username, not @username. @username means you’ll only see how people are twittering to your colleage; searching on the username will give you both your colleague’s tweets, and the responses.
  • Get closer to colleagues. Instead of focusing just on the communications that are directed at you, watching the Twitter feed of a close colleague lets you understand the kinds of things they are interested in, engaged on, or offering to others.
  • Track your team. If you have a supervisory relationship to people who are also on Twitter, watching their Tweets can help you develop the insights to support their work more effectively. Watch what they Twitter to discover their unknown passions, talents and strengths — or challenges. You may even discover that your team members are building extra value for you or your brand through their online networking and outreach. Just be sure to be direct and transparent about how their Twittering factors into their performance expectations and evaluations, and make room for them to have additional personal Twitter streams that you aren’t invited to follow.
  • Support your coworkers. Seeing the requests Rob gets for info and advice on Twitter has inspired fresh thinking about how I can support his work more effectively by making sure he has access to the information, files and materials that would help him respond quickly.
  • Check your brand. The suggestions and questions Rob receive give me a fresh perspective on how Social Signal’s brand and services are perceived. People talk to him a little differently than they talk to me; seeing how your colleagues are approach on Twitter may give you new insights into your team and brand positioning.
  • A window on your network. LinkedIn is all well and good, but observing who your closest colleagues are in frequent contact with gives you a sense of which contacts and networks are most ripe for you to connect with yourself.
  • Watch out for uncanny valley. Robotics pros use the term “uncanny valley” to refer to the way people relate to robots: the more a robot seems like a person, the more human beings accept them…up to a point, at which their humanness becomes creepy. But then if the robot gets more human still, people like them again. The creepiness zone is “uncanny valley”, and the same thing can happen with Twitter monitoring. The colleague who appreciates you chatting about the work she was doing last week around VOIP implementation may not appreciate you commenting on how wild a time she had at that party she twittered about last night.
  • Fall in love all over again.

    He's so geeky!

    If you have a special someone in your Twitter network, monitoring their feed is a lot like going to a party with your sweetie: watching them interact with other people can remind you why you fell in love in the first place.