I’ve been doing this blogging/Twitter/online thing for a while now. Through the internet, I’ve met a metric crap-ton (a real form of measurement) of people. Some I have met in person, others I’ve only met through comments, @replies and reblogs.
As an online marketer, I feel that it is a part of my job to be a part of the series of tubes that we call the internet. Initially, it was a writing outlet for me back when my career didn’t require me to write nearly as much (it doesn’t require that much writing of me now either). Blogging was a nice way to express the multitude of opinions on random topics that I have and continue to have. Over the years, I’m finding less and less time to blog, which bugs me (but frankly, it bugs me more when some people get on me for not writing enough but NEVER post themselves).
I never saw myself as a specialized blogger. If you go back and read my archives, you’ll find some pretty out there stuff from music to candy to television to social media to politics (like how I supported Bush in ’04 and Obama in ’08). Look, I never claimed it would make sense. The bulk of my readership has always come from a great group of Kansas City bloggers, many of whom I’ve met at some point in the past 6 years. Even when I wasn’t blogging about Kansas City, people like Meesha and Lane and Shea and Joe and Marie and Celeste and Darren and Erin and so many others (even Tony) were the core of my readership outside of the people that I knew or my family members.
Twitter is a different animal entirely. Some people use Twitter to merely point to the other things they’ve written or done online. I use it for a multitude of reasons from annoying personal over-sharing to unfollow-worthy live-tweeting of the Oscars to connecting with colleagues and peers and for reaching out to brands I use.
One thing that I continually struggle with is this concept of followers, following and friends. Derek Powazek, a community management consultant and web guru whose opinion I respect very much, wrote a post called Twitter for Adults that explores this very struggle and has some great solutions on what to do if you want to participate in Twitter, but aren’t sure how. It’s a good place to start, but I’ve always wondered if there was a generally accepted rule of thumb when it comes to who you should follow, who should follow you and why.
After all, what is it that motivates our behaviors online? I know that when I first began blogging, it was for me. Joining Twitter was an exploration of the next new cool thing online.
You could even say I initially joined Twitter way back before it was the cool, hip thing to do. Way back in 2007. I remember being a little confused at first. I didn’t understand it. None of my friends were on it. What was I supposed to do with it?
So I quit. Cancelled my account. A stupid thing to do in hindsight, but whatever. I rejoined at the beginning of 2008 and 14,000+ tweets later, it’s one of my primary forms of communication. Ramsey was really onto something when he wrote: “If the people you follow suck, Twitter sucks.” Most of my best friends are now on Twitter. My wife and her sister use it to communicate mass messages to the members of their dance team. My parents even have Twitter accounts, but they don’t get it yet (that’s on me to explain, I guess). But the bottom line is: enough people now use the utility that it no longer sucks for me.
But that’s not what this is about.
What I want to talk about is the strange obligation that some people have to follow or be followed by people they may only be connected with on the periphery. I do my best to stay connected and up-to-date on all the tweets and Facebooking that happens, but I’ve found as I’ve taken on more and more responsibility that it can be difficult to manage. In the days when I was pushing toward a rather large project completion at work, I didn’t check in on Twitter at all. I may have even missed a day or ten of actually sending out a tweet. And for some reason I felt guilty. Why is that?
My Twitter account is my personal account. I may talk about work on it, but that’s because I love my job. I talk about things that interest me and I do my best to follow people with similar interests. Brand accounts are a different story. The following/follower relationship changes if you are representing an organization online. But that’s for another post…
So back to the question: who should you follow, who should follow you and why…let’s start with the easy one.
Who should follow you…
Ultimately, it is anyone’s prerogative to follow you on Twitter if you keep your account public. I tend to because I’m a fairly public person. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t blocked people in the past who annoyed me or harassed me. Like Bobby B said, “It’s my prerogative.” I can do what I wanna do… There are a lot of reasons that someone might follow you:
- They think you are super cool.
- Twitter told them to in the “Who to Follow” block. Which means that you probably follow many of the same people. This is a pretty safe bet.
- They run searches about what people talk about and follow people who talk about certain things. Often times, I get followed by random accounts and I can usually attribute it back to one random thing I said a week ago about a product or service.
- They follow everyone and will try to insist that you follow them back, only to unfollow you the minute you follow them. I’m going to suggest that if someone asks you to follow them for any reason and you can’t recognize them from their profile, you can safely ignore them.
Who you should follow…
Twitter if for 140-character communications, not for long conversations. That being said, you should always follow people who you are interested or invested in in some way. The people that I follow fall into 4 categories:
- Friends and family. I use Twitter to keep up on what they are up to and to talk about sports with my buddies.
- Co-workers, colleagues and peers. I probably use Twitter more for this group than anything. It’s where I share and receive amazing insight about the latest thing. It’s a great way to share a link, a picture or a quick thought on a topic and get instant feedback. In a lot of ways, it’s replaced Google Reader as my news reader of choice.
- Thought leaders in my industry and area of expertise. This is a tricky one because you often times have to sift through a lot of garbage to find useful, thoughtful people, particularly when it comes to the area of online marketing. Still, I’ve managed to find quite a few people that I trust.
- People who pique my interest or entertain me. This is a pretty wide category containing comedians, actors, random people I’ve met or folks who were recommended by others. This is a difficult area to manage because there are a lot of these folks out there, but I don’t often seek them out.
Why you should follow people…
This truly is a personal decision. If you are looking to Twitter for news and current events, it might be helpful to follow news outlets or perhaps even reporters. If you want to use Twitter for personal reasons only, that’s completely up to you. You might think about marking your account as private, even. Ultimately, I can’t tell you why you should follow people and I certainly don’t like when people try to tell me why I should follow people or who I should follow or try to guilt me into following them just because we’ve “known each other online”. Shoot, there are people I’ve met in person that I can’t stand to listen to. If I can’t stand you online, why should I follow you?
I’ve found myself at times trying to justify why I should or should not follow someone or whether I should unfollow them because I spend an inordinate amount of time being annoyed by their opinions or the things they continue to share. What is it about our human nature that keeps me from just unfollowing that person the minute they start to annoy me? Is it because I have an “online reputation” to uphold? Hardly. If anything, I want my online reputation to be this: the same in person as online. That’s why I don’t believe in the concept of a personal brand. My personal brand is me. It isn’t calculated or cared for…it’s just me. That may irk some people and close some doors for me, but so be it. I’m not about to start pretending that I’m someone I’m not in order to please some amorphous collection of avatars on the internet.
Hope it wasn’t too rambling of a post. Let me know what you think in the comments.