Everything You Thought About Twitter Marketing Is Wrong

You’ve got my attentionI know, being wrong sucks huh? But you are. Wrong, that is.

If you’re a twitterer and a business thinker, you’ve probably already believed it. You’ve seen the only metric available (followers) and believed that this is the way you get their (anyone’s) attention and gain credibility.

Because, you know that if you have a bunch of followers you are using “permission marketing” to gain the attention of millions thousands of people. Those people are influencers (who else uses twitter right now?), and if they’re following you then they hear what you’re saying, accept it, believe it and cuddle with it at night.

But you’re wrong.

And, if you still believe this at the end of the article, I’ll give you a tip on how to do it more effectively (which actually just demonstrates the problem).

The DailyTwitter recently posted a thought on meaningful collections of conversations using Twitter. He’s got some great wishes and hopes, but as I posted in the comments, his “key measurement for credibility” is unfortunately completely wrong.

Here’s the wrong part of his post:

Already i see the number of followers as a key measure for credibility – given i have only 14 at this moment in time, means i have a long way to go before i hit Scoblizer or the likes of Winer, but hey one can try.

Now, number of followers could mean you’re doing the right things, or it could mean you’re just doing things. But the metric is not key. In fact, I believe we don’t have a good enough metric yet to watch it. But it’s coming.

Here’s the secret I mentioned: I’ve seen the pattern/trend/method of how to get yourself a bunch of followers, and I think it smacks of MySpace friending. That bothers me. You follow 3000 people and you’re almost guaranteed to get 1500 to follow you back. It’s almost automatic in some circles, which means it’s not a credible measurement.

So, how do you get it right?

The impact, the voice, the answer to “how does this change me, entertain me, or make the world better?” is the real metric. And that’s measured along with everything else right now. By attention. Let me say here that following someone does not necessarily mean you’re paying attention to them. In my world it does, but not in a lot of other people’s world.

Everyone’s fighting for your attention. You (as a business person) fight for their attention. How would you like to be marketed to? Even better, how ARE you marketed to, and does that even work?


See, they are wrong too. You’re telling them so by your attention metric, which has yet to be measured effectively, especially in the realm of Twitter.

[tags]twitter, marketing, business, attention, permission, web2.0, web2[/tags]

Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

11 Comments on "Everything You Thought About Twitter Marketing Is Wrong"

  1. dailytwitter says:

    Naturally I say his has been taken our of context, mis-quoted maybe, is nice to see my words on someone else blog though…

    I will expand a little on my thinking here as i disagree with a polarised view and it maybe needs some embellishment on my behalf to clarify what is essentially quite a fundamental issue.

    Reputation is based on your credibility within a social network – this extends beyond the realms of myspace, bebo, facebook – social networks have been around for thousands of years, by nature man is a social animal.

    So by nature we seek to be recognised and rewarded for our actions, in turn if our actions benefit other individuals and they start to rely on us or feel we bring more to the social network than others, then we give them an elevated status – whether this is because of wisdom, knowledge, physical strength or power etc.

    A simple measure of this status and power, could be by watching the number of followers. If the influencer/leader does not provide a clear message, is indecisive and communicates infrequently or badly the social connections begin to fail.

    And so to my analogy…

    The number of followers you have within your ‘social network’ is an indication of your level of acceptance AND status within a social network – looking at the way people follow each other within twitter you are following a individuals ideas, thoughts, actions and suggestiosn.

    Now if you have a large number of followers, it could mean a number of things; in the case of say Biz Stone or Dave Winer, then you have a key influencer with high number of followers and recognition in an industry. It follows that these kind individuals whether it be within the technology, entertainment, celebrity or editorial industries will have a high number of followers – which infers a level of acceptance within a social community and network that is greater than many others.

    Now someone like dailytwitter for example, who has probably limited influence within the social communities that form within twitter has a lot of work to do to change his status as an influencer, whether that be through good PR, meaningful contribution to the industry blogs, intelligent and pertinent discourse with other influencers as a means to increase his followers – which ultimately would put him into a position where he is able to gain recognition via the size of his social community/network/followers

    I don’t agree with the MySpace find 3000 friends and get 1500 back, as the demographic of MySpace and mental space in which the majority of the user find themselves is different than twitter. If you look across the board to the following/followers you will not find a 2:1 ratio, is differs greatly.

    One of the main reasons i am believe the number of followers is a good measure, certainly in the context of the micro blog newspaper that i am developing is that it is a simple means by which i am able to judge the level of the influencer as a contributor from the social community/network.

    I also believe there is contextual scale of influencers for example; someone with 6000 followers is special they are naturally recognised outside of twitter as a key figure, so naturally for these individuals (ala stone, winer, or maybe celebs etc..) it is obvious! Where as someone with say a couple hundred or maybe 50 may still be a key influencer but in a different area – say Thai Cuisine so rated as a niche influencer. By identifing the key ‘tweeters’ in specific areas, then the number of followers become important.

    Why would you bother to follow someone who just writes a poor blog, is unable to spell, doesn’t update frequently, sends meaningless tweets, doesn’t entertain, inform or guide me??? Darwinism would put a stop to that one for sure and pretty quick.

    Remember BLOCK and REMOVE is just one click :)

  2. nate says:

    First, let me say WOW. Thank you for the intelligently crafted comment. Outstanding! My point here was not to create havoc, but to think about the implications of things such as explicit “friending” and “following”. So, it doesn’t sound like you’re taking it personally, and I just want to confirm that it wasn’t meant to be such. Thanks for writing so eloquently on this.

    Second, I agree with most of your comments. One point you make is valid, yet needs a little more detail to it.

    I agree that across the spectrum of Twitter the ratio of following/followers is not 2:1. However, most of these people aren’t really *trying* to market themselves either. Yet there are many people who do have that 2:1 ratio and yet don’t have the social standing in the subjects they’re talking about (or the social circles that Twitter leans mostly on, the techies). These people are marketers in one form or another. They test the systems to see what influence they can have with people. These people follow 3000 people and by almost automatic response, 1500 people follow them back. Why? Do they really know that person in a social circle? I doubt it. Do they subscribe to their thoughts or ideas? I doubt that too.

    The thing is that many people have been trained to simply “add as friend” because of both MySpace and Facebook. Myspace forces it on people, whereas Facebook is a little nicer. But it’s still necessary to do to have explicit permission to see certain parts of our lives. Explicit “friending” was never part of life before the internet. Implicit friending was. So, it’s an internet culture thing to “follow” someone who “followed” you… out of courtesy, training, curiosity, or whatever reasons.

    The reason I point this out is because it’s a game-able system. I’ll be happy to run an experiment to test out my thoughts on the subject.

    Here’s the proposal: I could create a new twitter account, spruce it up a little with some background and avatar. Give the account no way of identifying that it’s me, and randomly start friending everyone I find. The other part of this is I’ll of course have to write posts occasionally, but that can be randomized as well by maybe copying and pasting a random tweet from anyone else in the twitterverse a few times a week.

    The experiment shows that # of followers is not a good predictor of social status if I get an approximate 2:1 ratio of following to followers. I would almost guarantee that the people who follow this user account will be new to Twitter or relatively non-geeky, but that’s a trivial, more interesting than useful, point.

    I do wonder if, or at what point, the ratio changes. Perhaps there is a limit to this. It might be an interesting experiment to find out that too. :) If we do this, I’ll try to document my daily ratio on a spreadsheet and possibly make a graph, just for curiosity’s sake.


  3. dailytwitter says:

    its cool, don’t have time right now to comment back, but yes am up for the experiment – bear in mind you need a control to confirm the hypothesis – happy to collaborate on this…


  4. nate says:

    Yes, let’s collaborate. I’ve not done an experiment like this since high school science class. :)

  5. I love this experiment. Nate and I talked about it at a lunch on Friday. I can’t wait to see the results.

    The question I have is what’s the point? What can you do with this list of friends? I wonder if there’s a way to see if all these followers are actually reading your tweets.

  6. nate says:

    Andrew, thanks for your comment.

    The point here is that I believe the Twitter social sphere can be gamed. If anyone wants to gain influence with a lot of people (the more people following you, the more “voice” you have), they can do so pretty easily. Once you gain a bunch of followers, you get a sort of critical mass. A side-effect of gaining this larger “voice” is the perception that you’re worth listening to.

    Ande (@dailytwitter), theorized that a large following indicates someone worth following. I believe the large following can be obtained without being worth following because of the nature of people simply ‘friending’ people who ‘friend’ them.

    Why is this important? Well, if we prove that people respond in kind to ‘friending’, then any marketer who wanted a lot of attention could ‘friend’ (or in this case ‘follow’) a ton of people. If I’m right, a marketer could gain the ability to influence tons of people just because those people are knee-jerk responding to being followed.

    In short, influence is the currency of the day.

    Now, your last ‘wondering’ about seeing if all these followers are actually reading your tweets… it’s possible to a little greater degree than just following, but it’s not like an email’s open rate or anything. However, that will take a bit more work towards the end of the experiment.

  7. dailytwitter says:

    just to clarify, my reputation concept is based on a number of followers in the context of a newpaper, i am about to publish using tweets, and the measure of reputation would be based number of followers (NOT friends), this however, would be determined by a public ranking based quality of the content the individuals provide to an audience.

    i.e. if someone consistently provides great restaurant recommendations, more people will follow them – my need to use reputation is not based on friends but based on the quality of the output from that individual.

    a friend is a diametrically opposed concept to a follower.

    as a matter of course, they will become a greater influencer, as people will be willing to listen and take heed, given their past history of good quality content and recommendations.

    now the experiment, for me is to prove that just because you follow someone (is not the same as friending) you automatically gain follower – i think people are more cautious and are selective about who they follow. you may get some auto following, but i feel the % would be around 25-30% no greater.

    also i do think newbies would have a higher propensity to follow you if you follow them, this would also impact the outcome of the experiment strategy.


  8. nate says:

    Great, thanks for clarifying dt.

  9. Vicki says:

    Interesting reading.

    I”m wondering if a better metric than (simply) followers might be replies. What percentage of your followers have ever replied?

    Replies indicate two things: the follower actually read what you wrote AND the follower was sufficiently interested to comment on what you wrote.

    You may have 500 followers but if they aren’t reading and thinking about what you wrote, they’re just pictures in the margin of your twitter page.

  10. nate says:

    Replies are an interesting metric as well, but those are also a personal thing. Replies do outwardly indicate the person has at least superficially thought about what you’ve said, but that metric discounts those who don’t like to reply (for various reasons like being introverted, a dislike for the one-way conversation, and other noted social twitter-specific issues).

    Impact is difficult to measure, obviously. But, at least you know what your reach is if you have a lot of followers. They might not listen to you the first time (who does?), but the 7th time? 8th time? How many times do marketers expect to put a message in your face? I think it’s at least 7 times if I remember the number right.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think replies are another great metric. But, I think they’re a fuzzier one and measure something slightly different.

  11. Vicki says:

    OK. I buy your argument of fuzzier. And yes, they measure something different. The ‘(simply)’ in my original comment was meant to imply the value of looking at both followers and replies in some as-yet-undetermined manner. I guess I was oversubtle. :-)

    By the way, there’s little relationship between introverts and willingness to reply! I’m categorically one of the former and I reply (or comment :-) to a lot of things. (See http://briankim.net/blog/2007/10/top-5-things-every-extrovert-should-know-about-introverts/ for a great explanation, totally unrelated to Twitter!)

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