Friday, May 29, 2009
My Private Parts: Twitter
Some folks have recently asked me why the heck I keep my Twitter account private and my follower number low if I'm so into social media. I've considered making my account public many times, but so far have had no compelling reason to do so.
Still, the question begs an answer, so I'd like to share my thoughts with you. Everybody has different uses for Twitter; there's no wrong or right way. Below is what simply has worked for me.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There isn't necessarily any strength in numbers. Quality is much better than quantity.
Having a bazillion followers I can't interact with does me no good whatsoever. Many follower requests are from spammers or people who just want me to follow them back. There is no rhyme or reason behind their follow requests. They don't know my blog. They don't know who I am. They don't give a rat's ass about what I have to say.
Following a bazillion people also does me no good whatsoever. Twitter is about interacting and it would be logistically impossible to interact with so many people on a regular basis, even if it was my full-time job. If I follow a bazillion people, my tweet stream will be flooded and I'll miss the tweets of those people I actually care about. Even if I use a program to separate my streams into different groups, what's the point if I'm going to ignore most of them?
THE POWER OF THE RETWEET
I currently have 597 followers, most of whom probably care about what I have to say and who actually retweet my messages. Why do I need a bazillion followers when even ONE retweeted message can reach thousands?
A core, stable and steady group of followers who also interact with each other is far more effective, I think, then talking to a bazillion people who are not genuinely engaging me. The latter is like talking to a packed house of people who paid to come see me, as opposed to the former, which would be like mouthing-off to theater full of empty seats.
I don't want my Twitter account to be a soapbox. Let's care about what we have to say, to each other.
GET OVER IT
Twitter isn't a freakin' high school popularity contest. I don't care if your milkshake is better than mine. Just because you have a bazillion followers doesn't mean you necessarily provide quality tweet.
If your self-esteem is wrapped up in high Twitter rankings and your inner child throws a tantrum when you lose followers, seek therapy. Always make sure your Twitter ego is smaller than your ass, if you want to get over this rankings bullshit.
I don't put my dirty laundry out on twitter, but I do say things that I don't want the whole world to know, and by whole world, I'm including family, clients or potential clients who might not understand my exaggerated and comedic voices, my raunchy comments, etc; the kind of thing you're used to hearing here from Manola and company. However, once I know you're ok with my brand of humor and Twitter-talk, you're in. Once you get that I'm tongue-in-cheek, it's cool. Still, my Twitter stream is not for wusses or prudes. I want to be me, and all shades of me, without having to censor my voice.
I realize this is a sensitive issue, considering that many people are fans of this blog. In keeping my account private, I'm not holding court over some exclusive Twitter cabal. I'm not being a snob. The truth is, when I get a follower request, I don't know who that person is from Adam, unless I have actually met that person, or someone I already know on Twitter has referred that person to me.
How do I know Joe Blow isn't going to sabotage my online presence somehow? How do I know Joe Blow isn't some creep? How do I know Joe Blow isn't impersonating someone who wants to spy on me? I know that sounds crazy, but shit does happen online. There is a real issue of TRUST in online social networks, heck, even sometimes with people you thought you knew and could trust. So letting people follow you blindly and in droves means that you are being blind to your audience, unless you take the time to get to know them, one by one.
AND WHO HAS THE TIME?
I get hundreds of follower requests. If I had to research each and everyone, I'd be poor and living under a bridge. People with public Twitter accounts face the same problem, too. Having to sort through all your followers to see if you want to follow them back is a Herculean task.
Again, most of them do not give a shit about my Twitter stream. They only follow me because they want me to follow them back. There is no common interest, no professional affiliation, nada.
REAL FOLLOWERS KNOW HOW TO FIND ME
I have been blogging for nearly four years. My real strength is in my blog. My Twitter account is not a substitute, although I do say a lot of funny shit on Twitter. That being said, I recently had a fan of Sex and the Beach email me, saying she'd love to follow me on Twitter. This was clearly not a random follower request from someone who doesn't know jack about my work, so I accepted her request. Oh, and I was really flattered, too.
(If you go to my Twitter account page @vicequeenmaria, you'll see a link to my writer's site, Wily Wordsmith. So if you can't follow my twitter stream right away, you can certainly get to know me and my work. All my other accounts, Youtube, Seesmic, Flickr, etc; are public and accessible from my writer's site, as well as this blog.)
TELL ME WHY
And speaking of finding ... unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn't give potential followers the option to contact me directly via Twitter. So really, let's be honest: out of 38 requests I currently have pending (I've turned down hundreds), I want to know why a husband and father of four from Wyoming who works in a completely unrelated field wants to follow me. How did you find me? What's the point? What's the quality of my interaction with you, when I already follow 369 people and actively engage dozens of people on a daily basis?
Even if Twitter made contact an option, it would certainly be abused by spammers, creeps and trolls. And so it is.
YOU GOTTA HAVE TWEETUPS
Social media is SOCIAL! I recently attended a couple of tweetups in Broward and Boca Raton. I made several new Twitter friends in the process, and also connected with existing Twitter contacts I had never met in person. As a result, I now have REAL, meaningful Twitter conversations with a whole group of people north of the Miami-Dade county line.
Twitter doesn't mean a thing for me if it's not followed up by real, person-to-person, face-to-face contact. Having a bazillion strangers follow me on Twitter does not a strong social media presence make. I have to back all this up by showing my face at events. I need to be a connector in real life, too, not just in writing. For social media like Twitter to really work (at least for me), I need to build my relationships slowly and organically. Nothing can be forced. Fewer, but stronger, relationships go a long way. The mob mentality simply doesn't work.
MY LIVING ROOM
I see Twitter as a place to socialize, network and share information. For me, it's like having people I care about come over and hang out in my living room. Throw a bazillion followers into the equation and it's a rock concert. A rock concert is fine, but not everyday. My daily Twitter experience truly enriches my life on a social and professional level. Having a bazillion followers will not enrich my life.
SPHERE OF INFLUENCE
On the flip side, here's another amazing reason for fine-tuning my Twitter stream, which I can only really do if I moderate the number of people who follow me: quality sphere of influence. Yes, ironically, I can guarantee you my first born that if I shout "TWEETUP!" in any major U.S. city, there will be face-to-face connections with people I at least trust meeting in person. A follower number of 597 may seem small on Twitter, but my influence is way broader in scope.
So far, my strategy has worked for me. I keep my account private because I don't want to be some vapid celebrity with lots of followers. I really, truly care about connecting and interacting. I'm passionate about engaging my audience, not to mention having a good time with my friends. I want to give good tweet and get good tweet back.
Also, I make people knock on my door because it's not a perfect world. The system is flawed, full of spammers and assholes.
Yet, in spite of my private account, I have a very successful social media life, both personally and professionally. I am not a closed book, by any means. I regularly add people to my Twitter stream, I just do so mindfully.
Again, there's no right or wrong way to use Twitter. Twitter is really all about context and I encourage everyone to use it in ways that works for them. It takes time and practice to figure that out.
Some people hate Twitter and find it useless. That's ok, too.
I'll happily adapt and make my account public if I need to, and I may very well do so in the future, but until I have some compelling reason, I'll keep it private.