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February 01, 2010

Please Stop Automatically Equating Number of Twitter Followers With Real Influence

Ok... I've gotta blow a little steam off on this one. Last week I received the following tweet:

Unfollow threat tweet.jpg

This is a threat...an automated threat... from a guy I'll call WrongMind23... warning me that I will lose him as a follower if I do not come to my senses and follow him back. So instead of making WrongMind go through the arduous task of unfollowing me, I saved his Twitter automation tool the trouble and blocked him. Blocked him so fast I made Usain Bolt jealous.

Where WrongMind went wrong (Insane in the Brain by Cypress Hill comes to mind right now) is thinking that he could influence my decision to follow him by threatening to revoke his follow of me. I guess he thought I'd look less influential with the loss of a follow. I also guess he thought that would be important to me. Wrong on both counts.

Since I never spoke with WrongMind I really don't know what he thought. But I know he never tweeted to me directly. He never left a comment on my blog. He never sent me a link to something he thought I'd be interested in after reading a few of my tweets. And he never recommended I follow someone he felt I would benefit from connecting with.

If any of these kinds of interactions would have taken place chances are I would have started following him. But apparently the only thing WrongMind wanted from me was a follow, because he thought having high follow numbers would make him appear to be influential. Again, at least in my eyes WrongMind was, well...wrong.

He's not alone though. Just this week I was contacted via email by someone who introduced themselves by telling me his Twitter followership number right after saying his name. My reaction to this made Usain Bolt jealous again - email deleted with reckless abandon.

Once again someone has mistaken Twitter followership number with importance and influence. Or is it more of a popularity thing? The more followers I have the more people will like me? But then again that can't be it, since folks like WrongMind don't even seem to really care at all about the person - just that they follow him. So I'm back to thinking that there's a number of folks out there that want to appear to be influential, and pointing to the number of followers they have as proof.

It's not everybody that thinks the way WrongMind does. But there are those like him that are using Twitter Automation Systems (TAS) to grow their followership number. These tools are actually kind of impressive, as they use algorithms to figure out how to raise followership. They can find out the people who are most likely to follow you if you follow them, and then automate the process of following them. You can automate the process of following followers of those you follow (try saying that fast five times...). And there are a ton of other ways you can use TAS to gather a huge followership.

These tools can actually be good for helping to locate people of like interests, and accelerate the process of finding good people to follow. But folks like WrongMind these tools are used to pad numbers, not meaningful relationships. So you can use these tools to automate the appearance of influence, but you can't automate influence. Or maybe it can help build influence on Twitter, but influence on Twitter is a far cry from influence off of it, where the vast majority of people live.

According to this great post over on Social Media Today, there are roughly 75M people on Twitter, but only 10-15M are active. With 51% of active users living in the states, that narrows things down to 5-7.5M active users. That makes for a pretty limited group of people you're looking to impress. And even when you truly are influential on Twitter, it's still hard to influence people to act.

My friend and ecommerce expert John "Colderice" Lawson looked into this a bit. He points out that Mashable has approx 2.3 million followers according to the text posted on their home page. When you look at the amount of retweets on any given story (by the Tweet button) you see an average of about 500 tweets per entry. That is about a .000217 % rate of "actionable Twitter followers".

There's no doubting Mashable has created a great deal of influence, but it was built well before they were on Twitter. Just like Guy Kawasaki was influential for years before he became influential on Twitter. But it's safe to say that Twitter helped to expand and extend their influence quickly and inexpensively. And while Chris Brogan, Liz Strauss and other well known personalities leveraged Twitter and social media to become influential, they were at the forefront of the movement - they helped to make it popular. So their influence parallels the rise of social media. And they used Twitter and other tools to actually connect with people, not just to hit them up to become a follower. They've worked hard for years in building relationships with people they encountered using social media, which in turn made them influential.ShoelessJoeJackson.jpg

So can Twitter make you appear to look influential in a short amount of time? Apparently so, because people will give you the time of day if you have thousands of followers. Can you automate the process of appearing influential on Twitter? Absolutely - I've seen people's followership rise quickly.. people I've never heard of before (regular non celeb types), even when they weren't tweeting all that much...mostly through using some kind of service.

Look it's not all that surprising to see people gaming the system. And using tools that were primarily created to help speed up the relationship building/management, instead to stock pile a number of "followers" to drive up numbers. But people like WrongMind don't really care about anything other than the numbers - totally not getting that the appearance of influence is nothing compared to the real thing. And while you can use tools to help you automate the appearance of influence, it takes work to create real influence. It takes being interested in people beyond them signing up to be your follower. It takes creating interesting content on a consistent basis.

And now a special comment directly to "my boy" WrongMind:

I know you want to look like a big deal, but you should really want to be one as well. Looking like a big deal and being a big deal are two totally different things. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. In fact there are lots of folks out there who both look like and are big deals. But these folks worked hard to become big deals. They worked with people to become big deals. They treated other people like they were big deals. And while you can automate certain things to help on your way to becoming a big deal, you can't automate human emotions, feelings and sentiment. That comes from real interaction. And that interaction is what moves people...real people.

And if you want a great example of someone who moves people let me point you to my friend Paul Greenberg (@pgreenbe on Twitter). If you're not in the CRM industry you may not know him, and you Ben_Kenobi.jpgWrongMind wouldn't know him because he doesn't have 10,000 followers. But within a span of a couple of days (and a few tweets), he was able to move a group of highly influential people from around the world (and at their own expense) to attend his training event taking place next week in Virginia. And when I say from around the world I mean places like Canada, Columbia, France, India and The Netherlands - that's in addition to people coming from all over the States. 

WiseMind I would suggest you try to attend the training ('cuz you need it badly) but it's already totally sold out....

Now the fact that people are coming from all over is cool, because most of us can't get people to click on a link in a tweet, let alone get them to travel half way across the world from one. But Paul not only got people to do just that, he was able to get executives from the most influential companies in the industry to attend, including:

  • Oracle
  • Microsoft
  • SAP
  • Salesforce.com
  • Sage
  • SAS
  • RightNow

I couldn't list them all because it would take too long, but I'm sure you're getting the picture. Now all this activity didn't come from just a tweet. It came from years of great work, and from Paul's genuine interest in people. He takes time to know people - way beyond their name and number of followers. And so when he does tweet something to the smart people who follow him, they read it... and click on the links...and re-tweet it....and in some cases they book flights to come half way around the world - on their dime.

That, WrongMind, is the difference between the appearance of influence, and the real deal. The appearance of influence is fleeting - it may get your foot in the door for a minute. But if you don't have anything to back the appearance you'll quickly end up like Joe Jackson - Shoeless. So step up and put the work in to turn the appearance of influence in to the real thing. Use your automation tools for good, and stay away from the Dark Side. Yeah it will take some time and effort, but the benefits can be massive and long lasting. Just ask Paul, he'd probably tell you directly if you'd ask him. He is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of CRM.

So go ahead and take my advice WrongMind, but what am I talking about... you're not following me now anyway.

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