Monday, January 5, 2009

Twitter is encouraging an unhealthy obsession with 'the numbers'

I can't help but be slightly irritated by people on Twitter obsessing and boasting about their followers. The old 'Gee, I can't believe I've got 4,000 followers already' or the more annoying 'help @person get to 1,000 followers'. It's like turning up to a party saying 'Gosh, what a surprise I can't believe how tantalisingly fabulous I look in my Diane Furstenburg high waisted pant suit' or 'Please help @Corey Delaney attract more than 100 people to his party'.

(For a great post on the emphasis on raw numbers see this one from Mack Collier on authority).

So why are we actively promoting a meaningless view of metrics - the kind we're often trying to steer our clients away from? 

It's not that numbers aren't important in the right context. 

But an obsession with reach (vs impact) has been one of the barriers to marketers genuinely engaging with disciplines like social media, brand entertainment, experiential marketing and other 'softer' disciplines which are seen as not capable of delivering 'hard numbers' (either in terms of sales or people).

Too much emphasis on the body count diverts attention from the effect communication has on behaviour. It's much more about the what and when and less about the why. 

And in the case of Twitter, it's not even always about who.

If we're asking our clients to recalibrate their concept of metrics, we should do the same. 

p.s happy new year to my many followers.


Stan Lee said...

Glad to see I'm not the only person fed up with this. I'm also sceptical of the value of people who have thousands of followers but who do not follow thousands of people. Goes against what social media is all about.

Daniel Oyston said...

Kate, I wonder whether there is any correlation between those obsessed with obtaining a high number of followers and those that fill their life with meaningless toys and must have the best clothes, cars, houses etc? You know, those obsessed with possessions rather than importance.

I agree with Stan about followers v following although my general rule of thumb is not just to follow someone because they follow me. If someone follows me then I will check out their last 10 or so Tweets. If they capture my attention then I will follow. If not, then I don’t just follow because they follow me. If more people did this then maybe there would be more pressure on people to Tweet relevant info rather than Tweeting 100 things a day – with about 3 being interesting.

dirkthecow said...

Couldn't agree more Kate, and a scan through random twitter profiles shows that follower numbers often has very little to do with quality of insights.

Kate Richardson said...

Stan I liked your comment about ego running riot on Twitter. Too true.

Also I kinda agree with Daniel, I'm not interested in following people purely because they follow me. Especially when I know they're doing it purely to build the numbers.

Gavin Heaton said...

While I agree that a focus purely on the numbers points mostly to ego, there really can be advantages to following large numbers of people.

I have never once asked for more followers, yet currently have about 1800, and follow back about 1600 or so. And this provides me with mostly unguarded commentary on a range of issues from people all over the world. This yields fantastic insight and provides me with the ability to identify trends and topics which may become important in my work in coming weeks and months.

Not every tweet needs to add value, in my book - but even the most mundane reveals something worthwhile either from a snooping perspective, or from an aggregation perspective. And for the close friends that I follow on Twitter (esp those who live at a distance), I get a great deal of satisfaction from the ambient sharing of intimate banalities that bring our worlds closer together.

For all this, Tweetdeck has been worth its weight in gold.