Apr '09

On the topic of Twitter followers…

At the risk of offending some, and as a follow-on to my previous post… Stephanie and I were just discussing the topic of Twitter followers and the significance attributed to the number of followers one has. In fact, the Washington Post posted an article about the same thing.

As suggested in the Post’s article, some people (such as Guy Kawasaki) seem to think that a measure of a person’s worth is the number of followers they have. But with all due respect to Guy, Ashton, and probably Oprah herself very soon, for me and many of the people that I know, Twitter is about something much different. I think it needs to be understood that some of us use Twitter to keep in touch and communicate with people that we actually know (or, at least, pretend to know – in the virtual sense).

In the “olden days” we wrote letters to the people “in our circle of friends/family” – remember dreading the Christmas card ritual every year? Then along came the web and we began to email the aforementioned circle – and we expanded it to include those which wouldn’t have gotten a Christmas card, but with whom we had a cursory relationship. We would “touch base” every so often – but most importantly, no longer just at holidays. Instant Messaging moved the needle again – but rarely would I share my IM name with someone that I had just met at a tradeshow or conference. With Twitter, the game changed completely. As a case in point, I literally just saw a billboard on the side of the highway with NO web address! Instead it simply stated that you could contact the company “@TheCompany’sNameWasHere”.

The fact that Twitter allows literally anyone to follow my every 140 characters (unless I protect my updates which seems to defeat the purpose of Twitter), means that I regularly awake to find that I have gained 10, 20, 30 or more followers while I slept. (I hope they didn’t hear me snoring…!)

Therefore, when I get a new follower, I routinely check their “stream”. The first thing that I do is look at how many followers they have, and how many they follow – as well as to read their Bio. If you’re in my industry (web design/development, web standards, Ajax), I’ll probably follow you back. If I’ve met you in person, or you are someone who “knows someone that I know”, you’re probably gonna be on my follow list. And finally, even if I don’t know you, you’re not in my “circle”, but you’re hilarious – you’ll definitely get a follow. (I’d send a shout-out to several of those that I follow for that reason, but they might be embarrased…). However, if you are up in the thousands (in terms of people you follow), it’s VERY unlikely that I will follow you back. Why? Because you won’t ever see/hear me.

For me, Twitter is about my friends/acquaintances. The list of people that I follow is a list of the people that I would like to invite to a special party or event – or that I, at the very least, have a professional connection with. They may not be my “best” friends or closest colleagues, but they are significant enough in my world that I actually want to hear how their day went or what their significant other did, or what the dog decided to chew on today. That’s not to say that I “don’t care” if I don’t follow you back. It’s just that I want to make sure that I can hear what my “friends” have to say – and anyone following more than 500 people can’t tell me that that is possible (unless they have people who tweet for them – like Guy).


10 Responses to “On the topic of Twitter followers…”

  1. Hillary Hartley Says:

    Hear, hear! I especially agree with the last paragraph, as that’s my philosophy, too.

    Everything on the internet will be gamed at some point, so I’m just happy with the little world I’ve created on Twitter.

    Not sure if it’s true, but saw from another friend’s tweets that this guy ( got 300,000 followers in 24 hours. Not even Oprah can do that (she’s sitting just shy of 60,000 as I type this). If there’s a script that makes it that easy, then the network may soon be of no use.

    Until then, I’ll remain content in my little world. :)

  2. Stephanie Sullivan Says:

    Obviously, you know my thoughts. ;) I keep wanting to do a big blog post about it — but I have about 5 other ideas in front of it and I keep twittering instead of blogging, so… heh.

    That said, I find that for me, twitter is a fabulous tool. One that keeps me in touch with people I’ve met, introduces me to new, interesting folks in my industry (that I might meet later IRL), and gives me an instant water cooler/cocktail party outlet for my dweebie comments. (That’s what happens when you work in a home office for too long. ;)

    Meanwhile, I’m with you — if people follow TOO many people, I don’t follow them. I know with about 450 I follow that it’s hard to keep up. Get into the thousands and “good luck!” If they don’t have a picture or bio, I don’t follow them back. But if they’re relevant, don’t fill their page with retweets (RT) and incessant @replies (don’t let me hit my page and find 17 of the 20 replies are YOU), and look like they’ll add value and humor to my life, I’ll follow back.

    That said, even if I don’t follow people immediately (Twitter believes that none of my 6 email addresses work and so I get no follow or DM notices — FOR MONTHS. Yes, I’ve filled out a support ticket!), I DO read all my @replies — so if you engage me a couple times on a relevant level, I’m happy to follow you. I just don’t want my friends to get lost in the masses of folks here selling real estate, SEO services and other products.

    Twitter needs to be what it is FOR YOU. If you want to use it for business like Guy Kawasaki, go for it. I won’t follow you, but many will. If you are looking for a little niche of people with similar interests, do a search and find those folks. Many fear that Oprah coming on board and bringing along the masses will “ruin Twitter.” But the beauty of Twitter (if the servers can keep up) is that you don’t “hear” all the noise unless you follow the people. So follow those you’re interested in, read your @replies to find new folks and relax. Twitter is what you make it. :)

  3. Cyril Hanquez Says:

    Can only agree with you, and you forgot to mention that stupid race to the 1,000,000th follower! What’s exactly the point?

    I can understand that CNN breaking News get million of followers because they don’t really need to “interact” with their followers. But me, when i follow someone, it’s because I met him/her or I read on one of his tweet (via twitter search or public timeline) and reacted on it.

    I’m also using a twitter client (tweetdeck) to follow some topics I’m interested in. By doing this, i don’t have an unreadable “Followers timeline” but can still read tweets on certain subjects. I know people have multiple accounts also for “close friends”, “work contact” etc… hard to manage IMO.

    Everything is said I think… talk to you on twitter :-)


  4. Greg Says:

    @stefsull – Since you’re sitting next to me, you already know this, but I totally agree. And thanks for reminding me of the RT criterion. Retweeting is a useful thing – especially when we’re talking about expanding a message to a larger audience. The problem is when you hit a person’s page and that’s ALL that they’ve done. I’m sorry, if you’re RT’ing 20 times without an original thought, then what does that say to me about “why” I should follow you.

    Just ask yourself if you would stand in a group at a cocktail party (which is the perfect analogy about Twitter) and listen to one person tell you what everyone else in the room was saying?

  5. Greg Says:

    @Fitzchev – Absolutely! I forgot to mention how great TweetDeck is for that exact purpose. The only issue that I have with TweetDeck is that it’s ADDICTIVE!!! :-) Of course, I am also a huge fan since it’s also a great example of an Adobe AIR application. (Have you noticed that almost every desktop Twitter app is written in AIR?!)

  6. Márcio Guerra Says:

    Hi! I completely feel the same you describe, but, for me, now, it got a bit out of control… I am currently following over 1000 people. Well, first of all, I started using twitter a few months ago, not sure when, perhaps 2009, don’t know, doesn’t matter that much… But like some other networks, like Hi5, which I don’t use, despite having an account there, just for the sake, I can honestly say that twitter got me deeper than Hi5! Hi5 meant to me to get some of my old contacts back, people from school, etc., but twitter opened me a new world where I can now follow someone like you! I have seen your videos at Adobe TV, enjoyed them very much, didn’t seen any from CS4 yet, but allows me, not only to follow what you can say, or suggest, but better, to interact with you in almost real time.
    I can argue, about my followers, and whom I am following, that they are divided by country, or so, but, in fact, despite being difficult to keep up without a proper software to notice when someone replies to you, I feel honored to follow people that know so much from what I want to know, that it is completely priceless to me… I usually use TweetDeck to keep up with tweets, read the bios of the people that start following me, follow them in 90% of the cases you mention you do, I just had a bit of other two components, news and poker, but that is just me, and mostly use them, the contacts, as a special link to ones door, like you. You can say that I could have came already to your site/blog, but I didn’t even knew you had it, just discovered you from someone line of followers.
    So, to end up… I tend to feel the same about the ones I follow, but can’t be that strict about the rules I impose to follow someone back. I understand that you can’t follow back every guy like me from all over the planet, although, at least, don’t close your door to us, in case we follow you, and engage a conversation, either about a doubt of something at some software, something you tweet about and we want to share our point of view…
    At least that’s my feeling! Hope not to have annoyed you very much! And hope you follow me back on twitter, it would be a honor!

    Márcio Guerra

    P.s.- Please consider, before following me back, that if you do, you do it at your own risk because I can be too annoying for people, with questions, and stuff… Mostly questions!!! Eehhehe ;) Just about design, and design processes and developing… I don’t like to bother, just kidding, but like to feel that people answer me when I ask… Just a tip! Thank you!
    P.p.s.- Will came to see some answers to this!

  7. Márcio Guerra Says:

    Forgot to mention my twitter…

    Thanks again!

  8. Márcio Guerra Says:

    I just finished reading the other comments in the end of my previous comments, but I add a question… What about if I feel that I am more of a reader than a tweeter?
    I mean, what about if I rather prefer to receive than to give? I got so amazed with all the new stuff I read every day, like tutorials, news, stories from people… I feel myself more of a leecher or leacher, don’t know, rather then a seeder… I tend to take more than I offer. I like the sensation of the new, the sensation of meeting in real (virtual) the real people I admire. What about that?
    Is it a motive to not following me back? What about those that sit on the couch and tweet «on couch turning tv on?», «going to freeze get beer»… Is that what twitter is about? Not for me… For fun I can add ONE line of those if I am completely bored, which I am never… All sort of things to do in the web. I don’t like to follow those people, and now, apparently, also, there is a new movement on twitter, some fridays, I believe, are unfollow fridays, to unfollow people that you don’t longer want.
    I will clean my followers, but, what about those «intangible» people? Should I loose them? Like Andy Warhol said, my 15 minutes of fame… They might be there, right?
    Don’t know… Really… Just feel that it is yet too early to establish some hard parameters about that, that sociology is yet to study tweeter and other social networks…
    I just feel, also, to finish here, that contacts that I may do now can be good in the future, yet, with some reservations, to be in my area of interests, to feel it interesting by itself, well, this is just me!

    Thanks for reading me!

    Márcio Guerra

    P.s.- See? This is the kind of stuff that I say that I am annoying… I got carried over the line of thought and tweet 20 tweets to finish the thought… Sorry! Like I said… Feel free to follow me or not! I already follow you, and now that is even more important than the pleasure of having you following me back! Which really is a pleasure! Thanks!

  9. steve(@greekfoodjunkie) Says:

    I like your website header. Very nice design.

    I agree with you on your “following guidelines”, and will probably even drop a lot of my current followers.

    As a fun hobby, I already had used the Twitter Api to write an addFollowers() script that just follows everyone that is following me, but when I nowgo to twitter or go to my own custom twitter client, I see only spam, or links with subject matter I have no interest in.

    I’m now thinking I only want to exchange tweets with maybe a couple hundred people, if that, and on my interests such as programming (django/php/jquery)

    I’m also thinking of having a separate account where I can talk about metaphysical-theme topics I enjoy.

    I’m going to remove the auto-follow script from my cron job, only only follow back those have the same interests, or with interesting industry news updates. ..and of course @djangotips and @csstips.

    The beauty of not feeling like you have to try get more followers just for the sake of a number, is:

    With those particular 100.000+ People/companies that never interact with you, or don’t follow you, but do have interesting updates, you will now be able to see their tweets, instead of having them lost among the noise.

    There are other benefits of course, as well.

  10. DaveN Says:

    don’t get me started on this, I would rather have 10,000 real followers than 1 million clones….


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