The worst question in social media

Chris Walker, on Twitter, asked a question I get often: “Any advice on getting followers?”

It’s the worst question in social media. Sorry Chris for picking on your question.

It’s actually a question lots of people wonder, but it’s the kind of thing that no one really can answer.

Why?

Because we’re not in control of who follows us.

So, I’d rather not think about it.

I rather think about things I CAN control. What are those?

1. What I write about.
2. Who I follow.
3. Who I hang out with.
4. The lists I follow and steal from.

See, the people I follow will inform my opinion. I find I use what I’m learning on Twitter all the time. So, if I follow smarter technologists, I will probably become more informed. At least I’ll be able to @reply to the best thinkers in the business.

Wait a second, did I just discover a way to get followers? Why, yes! See, if you have something smart to say back to people who are smart they just might follow you.

But, really, followers don’t matter anymore. Here’s proof. I just created a new Twitter account to display only my RSS feed (this blog will be on that new account shortly). I told everyone that I would add the first 500 people who followed that account to a list. Guess what? I didn’t need to follow them back. Here’s the list.

This list is useful to me. Why? It gives me a look into what the people reading me (and who are online on Friday afternoon) are thinking about. I might never have followed many of these people. But now I get to see them. I wish I had a list of ALL of my followers but Twitter is lame and only lets 500 people onto a single list.

So, I can “Follow You” (big “F”) without “following you” (small “F”). So, is the new Twitter goal to get me to follow you? Or put you on a list? Help, my head hurts.

Seriously, why else doesn’t getting followers matter? Twitter search. Several times a day I read every tweet that has the word “Rackspace” in it. Every day! Same for “Scoble.” Same for all sorts of different terms. Today I’m tracking “Google Chrome.” Say Google Chrome in a Tweet and I will see it.

Do followers matter in a search scenario? No! I see your Tweet whether you have 1 follower or a million!

Yesterday I was talking with @pistachio, Laura Fitton, who runs One Forty, a great way to find Twitter apps, and she told me that it’s not the number of followers that matters anymore.

It’s the content you write. Oh, geez, I’m doomed!

So, if you want more followers you gotta find a way to write better? Or do better videos?

Now THAT is the best question in social media: “how do I write better?”

Me? I’m too lazy and it’s Friday afternoon so I’m gonna give up on this writing thing and head to San Francisco for a nice meal with Maryam and friends.

In the meantime, good luck with the followers. I’ve been working in online communities since 1985 and I still haven’t figured that out.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

37 thoughts on “The worst question in social media

  1. Perfect post! I think it always comes back to KICK-BUTT CONTENT. . . and that is not an easy thing to get right each time. That is why the people that are really outstanding in this area rise to the top. And I love what you said about @replying to the best thinkers in the business–this is why Twitter is so great. You can “talk” to the big shots now. . . and maybe even get a response. Thanks for the great reminder that followers do not matter and content is still king.

    Amy

  2. Catchy point Carl. It seems to be a strange goal in life for most people to be famous and rich and have many worshippers / followers

    Give me a full week and a lot of clicks and I can get a few thousand followers who just follow me because I follow them
    Give me a few days and some interesting tweets, and I'll meet people who like my tweets and me

    To me, it's a difference between spam and relationships

  3. Great post… one might as well ask 'how do I get invited to parties or to the pub more often'?… bottom line is be interesting and be interestED or funny or whatever but just don't look at it as a numbers game. I thought people were beginning to get this now? Strange that people are still asking you this question…

  4. so true, the number of followers you have is totally meaningless especially if you have a publicly viewable twitter account, it's probably more effective to figure out which keywords your target market is monitoring and hit those keywords in your tweets as often as possible

  5. I only have 2 friends in real life (and that's not family).
    I have lots of twitter follows. I Wouldn't follow me if I was them.
    I just follow people who I want, not just anyone.

  6. The obvious answer is to get you to link his Tweet while using his question in a post. At first I thought was extremely wrong to single this guy out but you are actually helping him. So that leads me to a few questions

    'How can I make a million dollars by Monday?'

    'How can I become the first human to achieve unassisted flight'

    'Hoe can I win a knife fight against a monkey?'

    'How can I be a better linkbaiter?'

  7. Indeed, who needs so many followers in the first place. End of the day you really need 1000 true core fans to have success on twitter or elsewhere with your product or service. Much better to concentrate on people and content – for one I learned that the hard way.

  8. I enjoyed this write-up greatly. I have been saying something similar for quite some time now. I believe smart search is the solution. And, we are almost there. Check out the world's first semantic, real-time, social search engine TipTop at http://FeelTipTop.com and perhaps you will also feel confident that a very good solution to the problem is on the horizon.

  9. That's actually a great idea. What would Twitter be like if no one
    knew anyones follower count. I'm sure this question has come up
    before. Prolly raised by scoble somewhere. I fear, to be honest, that
    knowin follower accounts has effected who I follow and group into
    classes. I won't lie. But I also get a lot of pleasure out of
    welcoming and championing new people w less than a few hundred
    ollowers. I like to give them a chance.

  10. For some, twitter is about the amazing and engaged followers, but for others, well, they want more followers, because they want to get more than $1.30 for a sponsored tweet. It's that simple. When word gets out that shoemoney is making unheard of amounts of cash for a single tweet, people will equate more followers with more money and go looking for ways to get more followers.

    Of course there are those others, who believe the more followers they have, the more popular they are. I think those folks are all former myspace users who had 16, 289 'friends' though. I wouldn't know. I can't keep up with my own blogroll, so 16, 289 friends would be a nightmare for me. They'd all just hate me for not paying enough attention to them anyway.

  11. Better question, Robert: Why should anyone follow you on Twitter when they can subscribe to your blog and read logical (and longer) statements like the ones above?

    Then again, you're preaching to the choir about changing things up with big F and small f strategies; for I deleted my 1000+ Facebook friends 24 hours ago and am now going about wastebook entirely differently.

  12. It's been interesting to watch as Twitter evolves from a “What the hell is the point?” amusement into a real Broadcast Yourself (sorry, YouTube) platform. @replies and retweets so we can let people know what we're doing with their info. Lists to show people how we categorize those we follow, what kinds of groupings matter to us.

    I spent about two weeks using Buzzom, back in August, and just about gave up on Twitter. Three hundred follows, brought my followers list to just under 50 in a week from ten… But I couldn't read anything! It sucked! Now, lists come out, and for a second I thought “great, now I can follow a bunch of people, get the numbers up, AND manage to keep reading the people I give a crap about.” Then I actually looked at the feature and how it was used and – I agree with you – follow numbers don't mean a thing any more. If I follow your lists, I don't turn up in the followers number for any of those people on the list – but I get their stuff anyway. It's awesome.

    The entire question of followers, RSS subscriber numbers – just got obsolete, didn't it? Syndication may still be important, but I think this will change how it's viewed.

  13. It's been interesting to watch as Twitter evolves from a “What the hell is the point?” amusement into a real Broadcast Yourself (sorry, YouTube) platform. @replies and retweets so we can let people know what we're doing with their info. Lists to show people how we categorize those we follow, what kinds of groupings matter to us.

    I spent about two weeks using Buzzom, back in August, and just about gave up on Twitter. Three hundred follows, brought my followers list to just under 50 in a week from ten… But I couldn't read anything! It sucked! Now, lists come out, and for a second I thought “great, now I can follow a bunch of people, get the numbers up, AND manage to keep reading the people I give a crap about.” Then I actually looked at the feature and how it was used and – I agree with you – follow numbers don't mean a thing any more. If I follow your lists, I don't turn up in the followers number for any of those people on the list – but I get their stuff anyway. It's awesome.

    The entire question of followers, RSS subscriber numbers – just got obsolete, didn't it? Syndication may still be important, but I think this will change how it's viewed.

  14. Well, I think the simplest answer to this question is what Robert touched on towards the end of his post!

    The answer is, what ever space you occupy in cyberspace know what you are talking about.

    Know matter what tool you use to communicate it would be (IE) writing, podcasting or video blogging.

    Pick your tool of choice and then put out some kick butt content for that space!

    The reason I follow Scobles is because I love Technology from an early adopter standpoint and Robert feeds me tons of great content about this space!

    Because Robert is such a power user, he saves me a ton of time when I'm choosing what new tools I will use next.

    So master your space, pick your deliver device and kill it!

    If you do that people will follow you in packs!

    Steven Barchetti

    http://www.KingOfSocialMedia.com

  15. Most fun, no. But it was a fun time 25 years ago. No pressure, could walk away at any time and find another minimum wage job fairly easy. Life in college was simple.

  16. paul

    exactly right. with twitter lists, follower numbers has taken one more major
    step towards basic irrevelance.

    I've been revisiting Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody and the chapter on
    fame is telling in regards to this discussion. At a certain level of fame,
    you simply cannot keep up with x amount of people. I recently unfollowed
    over 1500 people after listening to Robert's experience mass unfollowing. I
    now have less than 2000 people I follow and I hope it stays that way.

    Back to Shirky though, would any person (not brand) really want more than 30
    or 40k followers. You couldn't even keep up with thanking people for
    Retweeting or answering questions addressed to you…and then people start
    to resent you a little bit…

    Uh Oh! I smell a twitter prediction coming on…that a buck and a quarter
    will get me to Brooklyn, but I do declare that Twitter will further segment.
    As growth has stalled in the past couple of months I've felt a familiarity
    and closeness growing with myself and those I follow and who follows me.
    Deeper conversations, more willingness to meetup outside of twitter and IRL,
    and my knowledge engine has been revved up even more.

    Z

  17. I'm just an average guy who enjoys following tech. I've been a geek all my live. I follow people on Twitter because I enjoy reading what they post. I'll post a comment when I have an opinion on something that I've read or an experience that I think others would like to read.

    Just confirming that its the content you write not the number of followers.

    Besides with Twitter lists, does the number of followers really matter anymore.

  18. There are some jobs that simply aren't fun. I don't think anyone ever wants to clean toilets, for instance, but someone does. I'm very fortunate to have a job I absolutely love but there are plenty who don't. Usually when someone hands you a buck it isn't because they care whether or not you are having fun.

  19. Bing! Fun is what it's all about. Well, until you start thinking about how to make money with all of this. Then the question turns less fun. Or does it?

  20. Robert, good post here. My head hurts a bit too from my clients asking me over and over again how to get more followers on twitter and facebook. My standard refrain is that I would rather you have 500 amazing and engaged followers than 10k non active ones…it takes a while but as soon as i stopped worrying about my follower numbers, and just started doing what I like to do, conversing, curating the web for stuff my followers and I like, and just being more natural with it, the follower count started a steady climb again. Nevertheless, I am happy with the followers I have but the best way for me to get more, is to keep doing what I am doing…

  21. If someone is asking how to get more followers, shouldn't the response be, “Why do you want more followers”? Chances are they won't have a good answer to this, unless they just want popularity in and of itself. So the issue is not there isn't a good answer; the issue is that it's not the right question to ask.

    But then is the question instead “How do I write better”? I think it's more than that for social media – it's also “How do I engage better”, “How can I help others”, “How can I differentiate myself”, and “How can I make a difference” – and many other similar questions.

  22. That's like the sound of one hand clapping…Who cares as long as YOU clap and congratulate and participate. Approaching this from a logic angle is all wrong and it's why the anti-social techie is being overshadowed by the conversational blogger of today (Robert Scoble, Louis Gray and Brian Solis). Have fun and let everyone else see you having fun, that's how you get followers imho…

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