Don’t be fooled.
If somebody that’s following you on Twitter follows 10,000 other people, don’t expect to have a meaningful tete-a-tete with them. And if you’re following 1,000 people on Twitter, don’t even pretend that you will notice half the stuff they are saying.
Social media is full of misconceptions, confusion and unexamined clichés. That social media is about conversations is one of these. Yes, conversations are part of social media, but this fixation with conversation misses the one core element that makes it truly different from other media.
In truth, the basic rules of media and messaging have not changed at all.
- It’s still perfectly possible for one media outlet to speak to thousands of people;
- We also know that people have a limited attention span;
- And we know that we can’t have a two way conversation with many people at the same time. When I worked for Lycos for instance, celebrities like Natalie Imbruglia were invited to do chats with fans. These chats never really took off. The stars could only reply to one person at a time, leaving many chatters frustrated.
None of these things have been altered by social media.
What has changed is that technologies have dropped the entry-level for publishing or talking. The barriers have dropped so low, that everybody can potentially be a media outlet of both the conversational and broadcast kind. Often whether they become conversationalists or broadcasters depend on their talent.
As we explained in a previous post social media is not new. In the past we also had forms of so called interactive or two-way media; your phone is a good example of two-way media.
Still, conference calls, with its potential for multi-way communication, only form a minute part of telecommunications. That’s because conversations don’t scale well.
But why then the success of Facebook, who just surpassed Google in the US in terms of usage? Because conversations are only a part of Facebook’s picture.
Technology has allowed companies like Flickr, Facebook and Youtube to provide services where users can share stuff. Facebook has been particularly good in turning even the smallest bit of activity on its platform into content, i.e. its Personal News Feed. I ‘friend’ somebody, you find out about it because you’re my friend.
Jeff Jarvis calls it ‘the wisdom of my crowd’. Sam Leith calls it ‘the Reuters of inanity’. Fact is that the stronger the bonds of friendship, the more likely I am to engage with your ‘content’. And like conversations, friendships don’t scale.
Still, everybody has friends – and the most inane thing a friend has done is often more interesting to them than Gordon Brown’s bullying.
This is one of the key differences between Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is asymmetrical. There is no requirement of mutual friending. And the result is that Twitter allows for broadcasting, on top of ‘conversations’. Facebook is now trying to change its feed to be more Twitter-like, with mixed success.
This difference explains why Twitter is not as big as Facebook. Like with blogs, only a small percentage of the population have the drive to say something ánd make it so interesting that it goes down with a faceless audience. As Tom Anderson, founder of MySpace said, if you have a thousand friends, you’re broadcasting, you’re an entertainer.
The problem for broadcasters, and with I mean all broadcasters, is that, unless we’re talking mass live events, their ‘content’ will rarely match a person’s love to natter with their buddies. AT&T is still a much larger company than Google or Time Warner in terms of revenue. The world’s big telco companies dwarf the media, computer and entertainment companies in terms of revenue. Simply because people spend a huge amount of money on their phones.
Which brings me back to my original point. I rarely follow people on Facebook I don’t know or want to know. I don’t normally expect people I follow on Twitter to follow me back. I rarely follow people on Twitter that follow more people than they have following them (I immediately think they don’t have much of interest to say). I don’t get excited if somebody follows me on Twitter that follows a 1000+ other people? What’s the chance they’ll see what I’m Tweeting? What’s the chance I’ll be retweeted?
That’s why for me, the perfect follower follows 300 people while 10,000 follows them. I.e. they get little input but puts out to a lot of people.
There are a number of tools that measure your value on Twitter, like Edelman’s Tweetlevel. Tweetlevel says it measures an individual’s importance on:
- Influence – what you say is interesting and many people listen to it. This is the primary ranking metric.
- Popularity – how many people follow you
- Engagement – you actively participate within your community
- Trust – people believe what you say
Note: It does not take into account the difference between your input and output. Klout is in my opinion the superior tool for discovering valuable Twitter users because it uses the principles I explain above.
Klout says it looks for:
- True Reach – our count of the number of followers we believe actually read and are impacted by the majority of your tweets.
- Network score – Measurement of the weighted influence of the people who have retweeted, @ mentioned, followed and listed your account.
- The Amplification Score – a 0 to 100 number representing a person’s ability to generate actions like retweets, @ replies, clicks, etc from their content.
Take this Twitter user. He has more followers than me (1,662 Following 1,819 Followers), yet his Klout score is 26. Mine is 37, I follow 308 and am followed by 540. This Twitter user almost beats me with a score of 35 but as is the habit with the conversation tribe, she is following 6,963 and has 6,867 followers. Jeff Jarvis’s Klout is 74.
Now Klout might not be perfect in its determination of Twitter influence, but it seems to be a lot closer to those that blindly count followers.
Posted by Wessel van Rensburg