There’s been much a discussion lately about the value of having hordes of twitter followers, sparkled mainly by the Twitter‘s Suggested Users List. Jason Calacanis came to the point to offer Twitter $250K to be one of the top 20 Suggested Users for two years.
The argument is simple: the more followers you have, the more people receive your message, the more power you have to market you ideas, products, services, or even yourself.
This sounds like good old marketing. Is it, really?
My personal experience of twitter and all the other social media is that the social experience does not scale. You cannot actively follow more than a few dozens of people. You cannot subscribe and read more than a few hundred feeds. You cannot subscribe to hundreds of youtube channels and watch even half of them.
By actively following, I mean, paying attention regularly or even occasionally to the message ‘broadcasted’. I will not delve into the territory of the entailing ‘conversations‘ because it is even less scalable.
It doesn’t take to0 much brains to agree to this observation. Even if you are paid to follow other people’s updates, there is only so much you can take and do.
So why people like Jason glorify a practice that can bring little back?
Because it can bring back more than a little but only if two conditions are met:
- 50% of twitter users follow only 10 people or so. If you happen to be one of those they follow, their attention is guaranteed.
- Not all twitter users are equal. There are people that had a big audience before joining twitter, Calacanis being one of them. And others that have a bigger audience, who are not even active twitter users (:think Madonna) . These celebrities will receive preferential treatment in people’s attention, even if they are crammed among hundreds of others.
Besides, there is little trick that lots of people play, that adjusts their social experience to their true capabilities: twitter clients like tweetdeck allow segmenting and grouping those you follow. If out of the thousands you follow, you are indeed interested in just fifty, you only have to include these fifty in a special group and interact/follow only with them.
In this way, you can follow back without hesitation every single one who follows you, and ignore him for ever after that.
To summarize, a big crowd of followers is valuable if the crowd’s attention is more or less guaranteed, and this applies only to those of your followers that follow a small number of people or were actively following before twitter.
And here starts the fallacy: actively seeking thousands of followers regardless of their profiles or regardless who you are does not bring back any profit. It does only pollute the twitter experience with daily twitter spam, driving gradually people away from this medium.
You might argue back that the twitter growth does not concede with my statement. I can only argue back that a tanker starts turning from the προς and it takes quite a distance before the turn becomes observable.
Update 24/3/2009: Just saw a somewhat related post here.