Friday, February 27, 2009

Twitter Followers

Twitter Followers.

This is probably the 4th installment in my series on Twitter. Before you go looking for the first 3, don't bother. They are all in my head and have never been published. Sorry about that. But, it is not so different than most people's experience with Twitter.

For the new Twitter users, initially it makes perfect sense. It really is a simple service that appears easy to grasp. You sign up on Twitter and that makes us a Twitter User. You have other Twitter users that you follow and there are Twitter users that follow you.

By follow, I mean that followers get to see what the person they follow posts. Once you get that concept down, you pretty much get 80% of how it works. But the other 20% is the part that confuses, irritates, or generally just does not make sense to them.

I think that much of this confusion all comes down to what initially seemed like the simple concept of "Followers". How complicated can this really be, you think. If I follow someone, I see what they post. If someone follows me, they see what I post. But, right after you sign up for the service, you find yourself in this strange and uncomfortable positions of not following anyone yet, not having any followers, and no idea of how to change any of those situations.

Now, I submit that you have probably been in a situation like this before, in real life. I will come back to this parallel to real life again. Most of the questions that come up as to why or how things happen in twitter they way the do, can usually find a similar parallel in real life. And when you find yourself asking why interactions are the way they are on Twitter, just ask yourself why they wouldn't be.

So, you just started and you have no followers and you are following no one. Come on, you've been there before. First day at a new school. First day in a new job. At a party where you know no one.

I recommend following the same rules on Twitter in this situation that you would in real life. Don't walk up to everyone and share intimate and possibly bizarre quirks about your personality. If you know someone there. Find out their username and start following them. This gives you the opportunity to get the lay of the land. See what other people do, and not do. And probably find others to follow.

Now, just like in real life there are 3 different rolls you can play in social interactions and information flow. There are producers, consumers and relayers. These are people who say or provide interesting things, people who like to hear interesting things, and people who hear interesting things and just pass it on to others. You can be any one of these type of people, but you will probably find that your style is some proportion of all three.

As time goes on, people that you follow will relay (retweet) information you find interesting, and you may begin following their source for the content. Things you find interesting, you may retweet yourself to anyone following you. And you will probably feel comfortable enough to tweet original content you find interesting.

Now we have the question of how you choose followers and how people choose to follow you. And there are different schools of thought here.

One type of Twitter users will automatically follow everyone who follows them. When you start following one of these people, you will soon get the message that they have begun following you. It makes you feel important that this person feels what you have to say is important to them. That feeling quickly fades when you see that they are also following 2000 other people.

Another set of Twitter users only follow a hand full of people and they have hundreds or thousands of followers. These are generally the content providers. They say things that are interesting to large groups of people but they don't feel compelled to blindly follow everyone.

A third set of twitterers have a modest number of followers and people they follow. And many times, only a fraction of the people that follow them, they actually reciprocate. This set of users makes the most sense to me and most closely relates to the way our regular social lives work. We have friends that we mutually enjoy each others company. We find others interesting who may not know us well. And there are people who find us interesting but we don't really know them yet.

Most of the complaints you hear about Twitter as a service is that you get all these messages about stupid activities people are doing that you have no desire to hear about. That is easy to fix. Don't follow those people. If you had a friend that would just call you up all the time to tell you he is just petting his dog or taking a shower, you would probably stop taking his calls. Why would you follow him on Twitter? Feel free to remove them from the list of people you follow.

You will find your comfort zone. You may choose to just be a consumer of the intelligent streams of consciousness. Before you add anyone to follow, you can go to their list of tweets (called a time line) and see what they have been saying. If it seems like it would improve the mix of tweets you see, add them.

Does that make sense? Do you have a different strategy?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @tbeauchamp
but down feel bad if I don't immediately choose to reciprocate.