The Importance of Being Followed

March 2, 2009

In my typical heel dragging fashion I’ve waited a week to jump into a debate that is by now probably completely out of the minds of most who were involved.  Although really, that isn’t quite fair to myself.  The subject of the value of followers and their role in my twitter experience as a whole has been on my mind since my entry into the twitterverse on September 26th 2008.  I touched on it a bit on Nonpretentious actually.  In this most recent debate I threw in my 2 cents but i’m sure my words were lost in a maelstrom of @replies.  I’m not writing this out of some sort of need to have my specific tweets acknowledged, but because I’ve had a new personal experience that has changed my attitude on the matter.  

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.  I have been following Sean Bonner on twitter (I believe) since my first day using the service and have been really impressed with the consideration he has given it and the way people have come to interact with it and each other.  I’ve read his thoughts on qwitter and  find his ideas about making technology work for us instead of against us insightful and thought provoking.  So it was no surprise to me when I saw his tweet announcing a survey about twitter use and (this reveals a little too much about me) I was actually relatively excited at the chance to participate.  The survey’s structure confused me a little with it’s forced ranking system but that’s not really important.  I can get down with the theory that even if some issues had never come up before in real life use, the survey takers would naturally put them into a hierarchy of what would be most important in informing their twitter habits and usage style.  Or at least that the top and bottom ranges would all be accurately organized.

The most significant question, I felt, on the survey revolved around the issue of how and why people followed others.

#1: What is the reason you decide to begin following someone on Twitter?
45.3% – I know or have just met them in real life
41.0% – They make me laugh or provide useful information

This pretty much mirrors my reasons for following people on twitter, and it’s kind of what I expected, but one of the other options really caught my attention; “Hoping they will follow me back.”  Sean remarks that this scored very low on the survey but other tweets of his indicate that it does at least happen.  I couldn’t find this one to embed but he wrote something about blocking people/bots that unfollow and follow him repeatedly in the hopes of grabbing his attention.  I imagine this happens pretty frequently to high profile twitter users and I think Mr. Bonner would probably agree that there is a ton of this out there when it comes to celebrities on twitter; which, if i remember correctly, was a pretty hot topic back at the end of January.  If you read my initial thoughts on twitter you’ll see that I was grappling with the idea of followers myself and considered them an important part of twitter.  I found out pretty quickly though that followers didn’t really matter all that much as I just threw on my socially outgoing hat and jumped into other people’s tweets with what I think is a pretty generous while (hopefully) unobtrusive response rate.   And you know what, I have had a some great interactions on twitter.  I’ve found out some incredibly interesting things, heard about events I wouldn’t have otherwise and bumped into some stellar and hilarious personalities.  Almost entirely from people who don’t follow me back.  I’ve picked up some followers by now but it certainly isn’t anywhere near Sean Bonner’s 5,000+.  I don’t think I’ve even broken 80 at this point and who knows how many of those are companies, websites and the like.  I don’t envy Mr. Bonner his battalion of followers.  Up until the other day I would have agreed one hundred percent with his statement that

“There is 1000x more value in who you follow on twitter, who follows you is nothing but ego stroking.

which he clarified a little later saying

“I’m simply saying the people you follow are of more value, as that is where most of your twitter experience comes from.”

On the surface it does seem like gaining followers is a trivial pursuit, and i still think aspiring to gargantuan numbers is mainly just a silly point of pride, but surely there’s a practical side to being followed that veers away from some silly popularity-contest-like sense of satisfaction.  Sean’s equally twit-tastic wife Tara Brown replied with her thoughts on followers as part of her twitter experience,

“@seanbonner I know its your bday and all but I have to say its 50/50. I learn a shit ton of stuff from the ppl who follow me. Thanks peeps!”

which really got me thinking about followers as resources.

I’m a little uncomfortable categorizing the people I follow as “resources” because they’re human beings and I genuinely like them, or at least my impression of them based on their internet personalities.  That’s why I follow them.  But the fact is, I also like how freakin knowledgeable they are.  There is not a day that goes by where someone I follow doesn’t post something that I take a look at and say that’s so cool, I have to show it to someone else.  As an unfollowed admirer of sorts I have access to any information they are thinking about and feel like posting.  But what if, as a reciprocated follower, I had access to their thoughts on whatever I was thinking about and felt like posting.  Right now I am planning on taking trips to two cities that I know through tweets many of the people I follow have been to recently and have some sort of relationship with and I am dying to find out what type of advice they could offer me (especially when I’m on site and posting about my whereabouts/plans.)  So no, followers are not necessary for a good Twitter experience, but I find myself wondering more and more about how they could improve it.

Additional notes:

I have said this before but I would really appreciate the chance to answer any DM’s from people i follow but who don’t follow me with at least one freebie response DM so I can finish a more specific conversation without making anyone who looks at my stream wonder what the hell I’m going on about.

This is my first attempt at incorporating people’s tweets into a post like this and I obviously didn’t want to overuse it.  I feel that I’ve done a good job summing up people’s general opinions and putting them in context but I urge you to check Sean Bonner and Tara Brown’s twitter feeds (on the 24th specifically) to take a full look at the conversation.  I think that since both have such wide followings and these are publicly displayed messages I’m morally in the clear for incorporating them but it’s and interesting issue and I’d like to hear what you think about it.  P.S. In this specific case I just asked them and it worked out cool.

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5 Responses to “ The Importance of Being Followed ”

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