Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Fallacy of Twitter

I am a big fan of Twitter and other social media. I even wrote an article on the 8 Business Use Cases for Twitter a while ago. But I feel that there is now a social media bubble that might burst anytime soon. There are some overinflated expectations that people have on the amount of influence Twitter might have.

Thought leadership in 140 characters
The Twitter limit of 140 characters per message can be a challenge. Yes, it keeps us succinct and it makes the Twitter interactions very agile, but you won’t be able to convey a whole lot of deep thought into a Twitter message. So it’s no surprise that so many tweets include a link. Most of our ideas do require a little more space. You need to complement your Twitter presence with additional communication to share your thoughts.

More followers does not mean greater influence
Forget Ashton Kutcher, his 5 million followers are not looking for any thought leadership. They are virtual groupies. But when I see a social media guru with 100,000 followers, I get suspicious about the social aspects of those relationships. With 100,000 followers, there is not much social interaction happening – this person is broadcasting. There is nothing wrong with being able to communicate to 100,000 people but that kind of number usually suggests more breadth than depth of thought. If you are after a LOT of breadth, Ashton is your man!

Ignore the manipulators
Twitter is based on unilateral connections. That means that you are followed by people you don’t know and you don’t have to follow yourself and vice versa. I follow Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt and they are not following me back. And that’s OK. But some people expect reciprocity. They follow you and expect you to follow them. And if you don’t, darn you I will “unfollow” you within 48 hours! In fact, there are automated services that facilitate this kind of follower boosting. Don’t get fooled by it – these thousands of followers are worthless.

If you follow too many people, you are not following anyone
You shouldn’t expect to be able to follow everything the people you follow tweet about. But to stand any realistic chance to keep it social, you have to match your number of people you want to follow with the volume of updates they post. Just do the math. If you follow 3,000 people and each tweets 3 times daily, that’s 9,000 tweets per day that you would need to attempt to keep up with. That’s hardly realistic even if you spend your entire day in Twitter. Try to stay engaged and focused on who you really care about.

Twitter is an exciting tool that can really help you to get your message out, position yourself as a thought leader, and be an influencer. It allows you do things not possible before. But avoid the wrong expectations or you end up either disappointed or discredited.


  1. Hi Lubor,

    I like you post, great conversation starter - but I'd be cautious about being dismissive of folks that follow a lot of others as not listening.

    The number of people that I follow and listen to are really defined by the lists I manage - and whilst I admit I am not closely following everyone, it can't be said I am not following anyone.

    I treat some people I follow like e-mail, reading everything that they tweet and others it's like the radio and a tune in and out. I am sure that there are plenty who share that experience, who follow a lot more people than I do.

    Anyway - nice post, I'm sure it'll spark a conversation.


  2. With regards to following too many people...don't forget that there are tools that will help you mange who you are following. The use of Twitter lists will help you stay on topic and engaged with those you are following.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Ian and Bryan (and also ron_miller and cherylmckinnon via Twitter). You are of course right about filters and lists that allow you to manage the volume. That requires a certain degree of organization and discipline that the content management people usually have. I am not sure how widely are such filters used in general but they certainly give us the option to deal with the volume.

  4. Hi, Lubor.
    Funny, Ron Miller (@ron_miller) and I have had this conversation many times over the years, regarding many old and new technologies: I agree completely that Twitter engagement is much more than a numbers game. However, where the filter works for me here is in who I choose to follow *closely*. Like you, I don't follow a million people to get blind auto-follows, but those I follow are people-filters that are wonderfully efficient. And this is what I've always done, relied on a network of trusted people--this is a skill and a privilege extended here in Twitter to a much broader scope.

  5. Hi Lubor,

    Good post. I agree on many of your ideas here. In fact I only follow 17 people and I read every single one of their posts. I also use filters, search terms and use LinkedIn to read tweets from my contacts like you.

    I recently wrote a blog post in popularity versus influence http://bit.ly/aTMC9X hope you like it.

    Ping me next time you are in Austin.


  6. Lubor, another good post!

    I agree with some of the comments above. To use Twitter successfully, like any other information source, organization is key. For example, using Tweetdeck, monitor the key lists that you have created and hashtags or even individuals.

    The big question that people should ask is "What is my goal of using Twitter?". For private entertainment and education, a lot of what you say above applies.

    For business use, e.g. marketing, it's not any different from using email for marketing. You rent a large number of targeted names to send an email and it's a numbers game - a good list will return 2% response or so. Same for Twitter, the bigger your following, the higher the % of click throughs etc.(at least this is what small business users tell me).

    Last, I know a lot of the people who follow me and who I follow, as Twitter allows you to reach out to individuals directly and have an introductory conversation. I know many people only via Twitter but a certain percentage I set up phone calls with to engage.

    The first 2 years I used Twitter I really did not like or get it. Now, Twitter is a key tool for me for private and marketing communications.

    The question is where advertising is taking it -good or bad? The fact that you can pay $100,000 to have your brand listed under "trending topics" borders on fraud, if you ask me; definitely violates the whole idea of the demogracy of social media.



  7. I really think people should stops worrying about their number of followers and start paying attention to building quality relations.

  8. Hi Lubor, I agree with many of your points you have made in this post. I enjoy your tweets as well, they are meaningful, intelligent, and thought provoking. Of course I may not see your every tweet as they say, “Twitter is like a river. You can't drink it all but you can have a sip whenever you please”.
    Great post!