If you’re a business owner or a traditional communicator looking for help incorporating Twitter, beware: your guru might know less than you do. That’s okay, because in this article I am going to arm you with the one question that will make the difference.
If you’re just now finding out about Twitter, or just now getting around to kicking the tires after the gazillionth reference on CNN, that’s okay too. You’re in great shape to learn. Not because there are so many people offering to help, mind you. They mean well, but they aren’t really in a position to do so.
Just look at the stats. According to the Twitter indexing service Twellow, you can find:
- 1,316 Internet marketers
- 457 marketing consultants
- 4,317 public relations practitioners
And those are just the people who have elected to be in that index. If you look at Tweepsearch, which has indexed a little more than a half-million profiles, you’ll find:
- 162 social media consultants
- 334 social media marketers
- 31 social media gurus
- 68 social media experts
- 3,548 Internet marketers
- 114 Internet marketing consultants
- 47 online marketing consultants
- 1,235 online marketers
- 1,128 public relations practitioners
As an early adopter, I’ve been fascinated with the growth of Twitter, as well as the way in which my use has evolved. Back when I started, I maintained a strict rule that I’d follow no more than 50 people. It’s hard to keep up with that many, but it was manageable. Then, as I found more people I found interesting, I eventually bumped my limit to 80. Then higher still. Your mileage may vary, but once you get more than 100 people, you’ll find yourself sorting out the really interesting from the marginally useful. There are only so many meaningful connections you can have at once.
That is, of course, unless you upgrade your tools.
If you’re one of those new-to-Twitter people I’ve been talking about – and you’ve done any research on the matter – you’ve no doubt seen a number of articles telling you why Tweetdeck is a necessity. It fills in the gaps for the Power User: real-time keyword search, group functions, retweets, URL shorteners baked in, notifications for replies… it’s the all-purpose gold standard for Twitter. Man, if you get cooking on Tweetdeck you’ll be WAY ahead of the game.
(Too far ahead, as you’ll soon see.)
According to Hubspot’s excellent “State of the Twittersphere” report for the 4th quarter of 2008, there are some 4-5 million users, with an additional 5-10 thousand people signing up every day. What’s more interesting is the level of engagement of the group.
More than 75 percent of Twitter’s users follow fewer than 50 people. Take that up to following 100 or less, and you’re at 88 percent. Eight out of 9 Twitter users are well within the limits of following their chosen streams with a simple web interface, mobile interface, or via SMS. They don’t need Tweetdeck. They are not brand managers or word-of-mouth monitors. They are average users. Simply put, the experience of interacting with your friends within a smaller setting is dependent on the size of your network, and those with networks ‘too big’ will have a much harder time steering you properly.
Leaders of the Pack
A little over a year ago, some very well-meaning individuals within the Social Media pioneers decided to make it easy for people to jump right into Twitter. The whole “What are you doing?” question was too vague for some to grasp. Also, Twitter is about other people, and if you aren’t following or being followed you’re invisible, right?
Twitter Packs were born as a way for you to kick-start your Twexperience (stupid word, I just made it up, but there were a lot of silly made-up words related to Twitter back then.) Chris Brogan, a guy who does get it and helps others understand this stuff, started touting it – and in less than a day was already on the defense.
Count me among the skeptics at the time who worried about how it would affect your experience – suddenly you’re following 200 people because there was a list that suggested it. I stand by that assessment, and sadly now confess that I didn’t see the bigger danger.
You see, when a normal person jumps in with 200 people from a Suggested list, a few things are bound to happen. They grow with the tools, they pare it back by eliminating people they are bored or annoyed with, or they leave the service. Some of them may find lots of new and interesting people with whom to connect, and graduate to needing Tweetdeck and the power-tools.
But then there’s that “State of the Twittersphere” report to tell us that nearly 90 percent of the user base is following fewer than 100 accounts. So we know those Packs aren’t really shaking things up… unless you are one of those Social Media Internet Marketing Guru Experts listed on Twellow and Tweepsearch. Go ahead; look at this Twitter Pack for “New Media, Social Media.” There are more than 1,200 individual Twitter profiles listed there.
If you’re hanging out a shingle as a Social Media Whizkid, it is incumbent upon you to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Jump straight into Tweetdeck, follow these 1,200+ people, and there’s a decent chance that at least 800 of them will follow you back. Play the mutual backscratch following game, and within a matter of three weeks you can be following 3,000 and followed by just as many. You can only manage all of that through something like Tweetdeck, of course!
Ergo: we have a glut of people selling their expertise on how you should handle “the Twitter community” who have zero experience using the service the way most people do. They hopped on board the Consultancy Express, went straight to the head of the line, and now want to tell you how to talk to people at all of the stops they skipped.
Don’t worry, though. I promised you a question that would help you separate the posers. Ask them:
“What is your experience using the web interface on Twitter?”
If they tell you they no longer do so, ask them questions about why they don’t, and when/if they ever did. If you don’t get a clear answer there, ask them how many people they followed before they made the jump to the heavy machinery. If their experience at http://twitter.com is less extensive than yours, then you might need a set of eyes that will help you engage people where they are technologically, instead of treating them like lemming recipients for your power-Twitter blasted messages.
Maybe some of the offended social media twitter gurus can be of some assistance to you after all – as long as they keep the real users in mind and work on truly understanding their experiences (and recognizing their own limitations).
Ike Pigott’s work with social media tools in times of crisis and disaster has been cited often as a case study within that field. A former journalist and Emmy-winning writer, Ike founded Positive Position Media Consulting through which he has coached hundreds of managers and executives for media interviews and crisis situations. He writes about communications at Occam’s RazR.