Robert Scoble wrote a post a few days ago saying that the secret to Twitter is following a lot of people:
I've gone through stages with Twitter. At some point I thought it was important to get lots of followers. But lately I've been telling people that the secret to Twitter isn't how many followers you have, but how many people you are following.
Sorry Robert, but I think you're dead wrong.
Following a lot of people doesn't guarantee you're going to get any more out of Twitter.
What does following a lot of people mean?
- Your Twitter stream moves very, very fast. I follow just under 600 people at the moment. My Twitter screen, at 10:30pm on a weekday, covers about 2 minutes worth of messages. If you like the idea of reading every message that people write, rather than dipping in and out, then following lots of people is not for you.
- Following lots of people doesn't guarantee meaningful conversations. If you don't give back to the community, people won't follow you. If people don't follow you, you might as well go out alone into a forest and shout your messages there. It'll have the same effect.
- Following loads of people may actually discourage people from following you. Why? Because you look like a spammer. Some companies are starting to use automated programs to follow thousands of people but never engage with them. According to Scoble's criteria, they've found 'the secret' of Twitter.
I won't argue that aiming solely for lots of followers is "the secret" either. There's still no guarantee that it will generate conversation or value for you or them. I've seen lots of people on ego trips trying to increase their follower numbers while not engaging with them. Yuck.
Here are a few not-so-novel, but not-frequently-expressed ideas. I think they make sense.
Follow interesting people
Follow people you find interesting and who talk about whatever interests you. Don't follow people who don't.
The noise-to-signal ratio is high enough already; don't dilute it further.
Think before adding people
As you follow more and more people, you'll have to change how you use Twitter. I was ok with that. If you're not, don't do it.
Followers are a good sign but large numbers aren't critical
Lots of followers is a good indication that you're adding value for other people, but only if those followers occur naturally. They're not the end of the world, though. If you're into niche topics, you have a smaller number of people who are likely to follow you. Nothing wrong with that.
Talk with, not at
Having lots of followers won't get you anything if you don't talk with them, rather than at them. Unless you're well known, you'll find that those followers won't hang around in that case anyway.
Quality, Not Quantity.
I'd rather follow 10 people that know and care about the same things as me than 2,000 people that I have nothing in common with. Numbers aren't everything.
Don't try to 'game' an opt-in system like Twitter. You'll fail.
Instead, write about what interests you. Post interesting links (not just to your stuff). Ask interesting questions. Communicate. Don't believe the crap about following lots of people, or the importance of having the most followers.
There's a lesson for companies here, too. The mass marketing approach doesn't work in this medium. Following thousands of people in the hope that a few hundred follow back and you can push out the same old tired messages is pathetic. Instead, try speaking in a human voice and engaging with people, and see what happens. Dell is doing this effectively. Other companies aren't.
Be genuine, add value, and you'll get value out.
What's your "secret" to Twitter?
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