Scoble’s Dead Wrong About Twitter

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.

Twitter 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

  • Dave, Very thoughtful twitter post. It amazes me how much is bloged about twitter when each twitter post is only a maximum of 140 characters.

    I have to disagree with you about your “Talk with, not at” point and say it depends why you are using twitter. If you’re using it exclusively to share information that others find valuable such as news flashes or where to find the latest bargain, followers will find you and stick with you.

    It all comes down to the value you provide.

  • Eden — true – it does depend on what you’re out to provide. I’d suggest, though, that for the average person trying to make sense of Twitter, pushing out marketing messages isn’t the way to go.

  • Pingback: Fleet Thinks Scoble is ‘Dead Wrong’ About Twitter : Colin’s Blog()

  • Colin Fast

    I completely agree with you Dave. However, I think 600 people is also way too many to make the most effective use of Twitter.

    I’m probably being a bit stingy, but I currently only follow about 40 people. However, I feel like I’ve actually come to know many of them. I’m familiar with their interests, I trust their recommendations, I’ve had Twitter and non-Twitter conversations with them, I’ve linked with them on other social networks, and I’ve even done business with one of them. And none of these people were pre-Twitter relationships.

    I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call these people “friends”, but I’d definitely love to share a beer or six with a few of them.

    How you can have that same level of interaction with 600 people — or how Scoble could do it with 16,000 — is a bit beyond my comprehension.

    Then again, there’s no rulebook for any of this, so to each his own I suppose.

  • Being human.

  • I can’t believe I haven’t worked out or eaten yet and here I am reading and enjoying your twitter post.

    I have no idea how someone can connect or even read comments when following over 200 people let alone 5000.

    I so enjoy reading and learning on twitter but I’m a newbie so let’s see how my enjoyment will unfold.

    Thanks for post!

  • Any time you try to be definitive about something as slippery as a use-as-you-feel-like-it tool like Twitter, you’re going to overstate things.

    There’s no one way to play chess, be in a relationship, dress, dance, sing, etc. For some people, I’m sure it’s like an online diary. For others, a connection tool. For others, strictly a promotional tool.

    I like the connections, but I also find it useful for timely alerts about breaking news and interesting things.

  • Agreed 100% I try to communicate with people instead of sitting back being a voyeur

    Visit me @ http://www.momontherun.net

  • I’ve discovered many folks tweet way less than I do. I still follow them.
    One question – do you block followers who are spam?

  • Hi Dave.

    There is always overkill whenever a marketing concept hits the market. Because I’m promoting a blog that teaches the basics of Internet Marketing I have to be careful not to jump into things before making sure I don’t rub people the wrong way.

    I love Twitter for more than one reason and I feel it can be a powerful marketing tool, but more importantly an even bigger learning platform. I like things short and sweet because of time constraints, so reading and writing Tweets is perfect.

    I’m following about 73 people and I have 35 followers and I honestly don’t know at this point what my cutoff will be, but as my list grows I will eventually streamline who I follow to those who add value but I will have to step up my game to do the same.

    Great post.

    You got me thinking.

    Thanks.

  • Hi Kara,

    Yes, but I’m pretty narrow in what I call spam. If it’s someone who’s just getting started and is following a lot more people than are following them, I may follow back if we have similar interests. If it’s obviously spam – i.e. following thousands, followed by just a few and pumping out one-way messages, then I’ll often block.

    The beauty of Twitter, though, is that it’s opt-in. Everyone has their own preferences, so do what works for you.

  • When you read Scoble’s bit about following people, try changing your view of “follow.” Don’t think of it as the Twitter-centric verb meaning “opt to receive message from” someone. Think of it as actually noticing a person, reading some of what they say, responding every once in a while and perhaps having some shared interests.

    With change in perspective, is he still “dead wrong”? I really don’t like blanket statements about “this is the way Twitter (or anything else) works” because there’s rarely one way. But I follow (in the technical Twitter sense) just more than 1,000 people, and I follow (in the “actually kinda pay attention to them” sense) what must be a couple of hundred of them.

    That’s a low ratio, I suppose, but having a vibrant, active community is what makes Twitter interesting and valuable to me. I’m not following people for the sake of “boosting numbers.” I’m doing it because anybody could say something interesting at any time.

  • Colin Fast

    Mike, that’s the same perspective I use in approaching Twitter. That’s why I think Scoble is off his rocker. It’ impossible to have that kind of dialogue with 16,000 people.

    I also think you contradict yourself a bit. If you’re technically following 1,000, but only paying attention to 200, then why not cull your follow list? Don’t you think you’d be building a much more “vibrant, active community” if you got rid of the unnecessary noise?

  • Well written and informative . I’ll stop and think before I add a twitter follower .
    Thanks dave .

  • The way I’ve decided to use Twitter is as follows:
    – follow people I know or those on the A list I respect
    – I’ll turn you off, if you clog up my stream with stuff of no interest to me i.e. “I’m streaming live right now. Come chat.”
    – I don’t automatically add people who follow me
    – I do tend to follow people who @ me
    – I don’t have everyone’s tweets going to my BlackBerry…most, but not all

    It works for me.

  • You are dead on with this, Dave. I have many followers and I can’t read everything they say. For me it’s more of a stream where I pick out themes. But as a relationship tool for actually listening to individuals many tweets — which are all important to each person — it has lost its place for me.

  • Pingback: Liberate Media » Blog Archive » Best weekly social media and web 2.0 news round up for week ending 4th April 2008()

  • Pingback: Twittering « Bons mots()

  • Pingback: bencrowder (Ben Crowder)()

  • Pingback: Twittering()

  • Pingback: Your Twitter Policy: Who Will You Follow? « Social Media Dynamics()

  • Pingback: Twitter is About Engagement. Enrichment. Expansion of Horizons. What’s Your Following Policy? « Social Media Dynamics()