Well, that was some rollercoaster ride! Months ago on Twitter Mark O’Toole suggested in a tweet to Darragh Doyle that I might be a good bet as curator of the @ireland account.
For the benefit of those who don’t know what that means, the curator – a different person every week – takes the helm and tweets about what tickles their fancy, and usually has a special interest. With over 33,000 followers it was an opportunity for me to talk about facial disfigurement and my interests to an audience who mostly didn’t know me. When Darragh Doyle asked me to formally apply I thought why not? What could possibly go wrong?
For various reasons events moved slowly, and finding the right dates to slot in became a bit tricky, what with me being away on a few trips, but the call came finally. I was presented with the dos and don’ts, given a previous curator’s schedule of topics to keep people engaged, and advised to have some tweets prepared and a few extra topics in case my schedule failed to elicit the right response. Self-promotion is out, as is anything rude or libellous. But of course. Roy Keane’s words were in my brain: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Ok, they’re someone else’s I think, but when he spoke I listened. Roy’s the King!
The new curator starts tweeting from 8am on the Monday until 8-10pm on the following Sunday and you can decide how and when to tweet. I hardly slept the night before, so that when I did start tweeting I was running on adrenaline and coffee – lots of it. So I started off talking about my accident. Silence. I was getting uneasy. A few people ‘liked’ some of the tweets but hardly anyone was tweeting anything in my direction. God, was there anyone out there?
I soldiered on, got some retweets, a few people asked some questions. I relaxed a little, but I was forgetting the pearls of wisdom from Darragh and others – think of the gig as if you were a busker on a street: some people stop while many passed by. Not feeling too confident, I was beginning to think my curation might be the biggest disaster in @ireland’s short life.
I changed my schedule a little, hoping news topics would engage, and then took a welcome break for a long lunch. I was in a mild state of panic, but a couple of very positive tweets and messages emboldened me. Midway through the afternoon the response was better, but I was ready for bed! Still, I ploughed on like an actor wishing the curtain would come down quickly and hide his discomfort.
The evening session was a different matter. Ireland were playing the second leg of the play-off for the Euro16 football finals, so I played it for laughs and had a ball. The engagement was great and I finally got to bed that night a bit more confident.
Days 2 and 3 were less spectacular. Sometimes it could be hard to gauge the reaction. I might tweet about something, but get a question relating to it 5 minutes later when I had moved onto something else. Someone might also ask me about a topic I had addressed in detail a day earlier. I thought the best thing was to answer whenever that happened, because I had sometimes done that myself when looking through my personal timeline. Also, there were some really thoughtful questions.
I try to be respectful on Twitter, never taking someone on no matter how much they trolled. Happily, only a couple of people were negative and I either ignored them, or explained they could mute or unfollow if they so wished. It was my week, after all!
I sensed, though, that my tone wasn’t alway right. I sometimes came across as too serious, and too focussed on facial disfigurement. There’s more to me than that, and in the latter half of the week I tried to talk about my interests and inject a little humour. I also ensured I replied to practically all tweets even if it meant losing my train of thought on the topic under discussion. It didn’t matter whether you had 50 or 15,000 followers, I tried to connect and reply as honestly as I could.
As the week went on I grew a lot more confident and wasn’t phased if people didn’t instantly engage. A lot of people did watch the timeline as I found out later. The number of people who urged others to follow the @ireland account was truly gratifying. I was asked to appear on Clare FM (which I did), offered a couple of speaking engagements, etc. That was nice, but better was connecting with a young English girl with facial disfigurement who was looking to talk to someone. Being able to steer her in the right direction was very gratifying. Others also opened up about their own or family members’ disfigurements, and that gave me a real thrill.
By Sunday evening when my week was up and my reign as ‘king’ of @ireland was over I was exhausted but happy. If I had the time over again I would have focused on more non-facial disfigurement topics, and been less troubled about the reaction. Another lesson I learned was not to pay too much attention to unfollowers. People dip in and out of the @ireland account all the time so don’t take it personally. By the last few days I had stopped looking!
On balance it was a great opportunity to talk to a new audience. I would encourage those who think they have something to contribute to email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the link on the @ireland Twitter profile.