The Twitter Popularity Contest

Twitter has changedI’ve been wondering what’s next after Twitter. Where are all the cool kids heading these days?

After all, it has become so mainstream now that the inevitable transformation from intimate community to marketing broadcast is all but complete. The vibe on Twitter has changed.

Yes I know, that’s what the Un-follow option is for, but that doesn’t stop the fact that Twitter has changed. And for me, I guess I’ve become a little disillusioned of late. Here’s a few thoughts.

Warning: tongue-in-cheek *analysis* follows:

People follow you to be followed back

Can you spot our next contestant?Has this been going on for a while, or has it just started in the last few weeks?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to say it is a shame to see that some of the ‘interaction’ on Twitter has changed to promotion and micro popularity contests. I realised this recently when I started getting followed by a lot more people than normal. Strange, I thought. Perhaps I’ve got something useful to say :) Think again.

The giveaway is when you get a whole bunch of new followers each day, and yet you finish the day with less followers than you started. Why is that?

Here’s another giveaway: you get followed by someone, and then they follow you again a few days later. Yep, you were quickly un-followed, and then they’ve had another go, not realising that you were a previous attempt.

I suspect that a fair proportion of my new followers are simply following me in order to get a follow back. Why? Because… if you have a lot of followers you must have something important to say, right? And if you have a whole bunch more followers that you follow, then you must be particularly important. And (so the logic goes) if you’re important then people are more likely to buy your stuff.

Now, a few months ago this was probably true. In my usual circle (technology), if you had a lot of followers you probably did have something worth hearing. But since moving into additional circles recently (SEO, social networking, small business, media, etc) I’ve seen much different behaviour. It seems as though ‘conversation’ has been replaced with ‘competition’.

Gee, I’m starting to feel a little left out in this competition…

How to feel more popular

Take my profile as an example. I’m always following new people, as well as following back probably 70% of people who follow me (the interesting ones). As such, here’s my profile as of Thursday 12 March.

Craig Bailey Twitter profile 

You’ll notice I follow more people than follow me. Ooops. This represents a major no-no in the popularity stakes. Fun little tools like Twittergrader will help me see the light. For example, here’s how Twittergrader grades me:

Craig Bailey Twitter Grader

Time to make amends. I need to improve my followers-to-following ratio.

No problem, I’ll just go through and un-follow a bunch of people. Here’s the results after some purging.

Craig Bailey Twitter profile 

Let’s see how Twittergrader rewards me:

Craig Bailey Twitter Grader

Awesome. I’m now ranked 2,000 positions higher and my grade has improved slightly. See, ranking higher is as simple as cutting back on the conversations you engage in! My online engagement experience is poorer, but I have the warm fuzzy feeling of being just a little bit more popular.

With a bit more purging I reckon I can improve my grade into the 99 percentile and fool myself into thinking I’m actually interesting!

(btw: wouldn’t it be good if Twittergrader added some categorisations too: <80 = you’re boring, >90 = scintillating, >99 = The sun shines from your…, etc)

How to be popular

A quick start guide for the newbies – here’s how to fool yourself into feeling really popular:

  1. Find someone that actually is popular (example)
  2. Go through their followers list and start following
  3. Wait 24-48 hours – you can probably expect at least a 20% follow back response
  4. Un-follow just about everyone
  5. Inspect updated Twitter grade
  6. Enjoy warm fuzzy feeling
  7. Find someone else that is really popular and repeat

Advanced strategies

Here’s a few advanced tips for newbies, particularly those working in marketing departments or small businesses, who have just heard about this new ‘Twitter phenomenon’:

  • Do: buy in to the whole ‘Twitter is an un-tapped market’ philosophy
  • Do: treat every follower as a potential sale (as opposed to a conversation)
  • Do: send out marketing messages almost straight away (hey, people can’t wait to buy your stuff)
  • Do: assume that you are one of the first to discover this Twitter thing, and that you have a wonderful window of opportunity to do nothing else but promote your products
  • Do: promote yourself as a social media strategist/expert even though you’ve only just joined Twitter this week

 

Don’t underestimate the change

Hey, look, obviously I’m just having a bit of a light-hearted look at things here, so don’t take it too seriously. Sure, promotion and marketing are important – don’t get me wrong – of all people I’m especially aware of this as I build a new business with my wife.

And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having lots of followers, or a good ratio.

The problem is when the pursuit of followers changes behaviour, conversations and engagement on what has been a wonderful, intimate, ego-less ecosystem so far. It’s a subtle change, but one that’s growing.

Am I over-reacting? Perhaps. And yes, quite possibly this is just a case of sour grapes because I’m not very popular :-)

But here’s my prediction: give it a few months and the release of soon-to-be revealed Twitter monetization strategies and I think many of the foundational Twitter members will be moving on.

And thus my opening question: Given that Twitter has changed, where are all the cool kids heading to now? Any thoughts?

[This post was originally published on my personal blog]

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