Playing the Twitter shellgame

Posted by:

I’m not giving up on Twitter. Yet. There are still a handful of people whose Tweets are interesting and useful to me.

But it’s a stupid game.

It has nothing to do with how much you have to say or how often you say it. It has everything to do with how many people you follow. I recently attended a webcast on how to build a social network on Twitter. The basic advice: follow a lot of people and they’ll follow you back. And if they don’t follow you back, unfollow them.

The rest of the session was inside ball: what rules Twitter uses to prevent such inanity and how to get around them (wait 24 hours before unfollowing anyone); how to identify non-followers quickly using Twitter’s minimalist interface (if you don’t have a direct-message option next to their name, they aren’t following you); and which tools you can use (Hummingbird, $197.00) to automatically follow people and then unfollow them if they fail to reciprocate.

By using this advice (not the software; just the advice) I  tripled the number of people following me (from about 100 people after 4 months of thoughtful tweeting to 300 people after another day and just one tweet). Time spent in the effort: 15 minutes.

The etiquette at Twitter is simple: Someone follows you, you follow them back. And vice versa.

How this does anyone any good is beyond me; it assures that you have an audience of people who don’t give a wit about anything you have to say. And vice versa.

To prove the point, I just got a follow from someone whose list of followers and followees at this moment is in the range of 34,000. She has 14 tweets since May (4 months).

Fourteen? Really? That’s 1,960 characters, which isn’t even a respectable dependent clause to William Faulkner. That’s like 17 followers per word. If Jesus had a ratio like that, would Islam even exist?

When in history have so many people lined up to listen to so many people with so little to say?


About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.


  1. Claus  September 29, 2009

    Bob, I really enjoyed reading your article and totally agree with you. I don’t understand why so many people spending money on twitter bots and other software to get followers but don’t have anything to say.

  2. Tim Patterson  September 29, 2009

    All right, I get it. I agree with almost all of what you’re saying. The idea that ‘the more, the better’ when it comes to gathering big numbers for followers is inane. Big numbers only mean anything if they care about what you do and are at least slightly responsive to your tweets.

    My strategy for gathering followers tracks a bit differently. Since I’m in the tradeshow industry, I search Twitter for conversation that contains related words, such as tradeshow, convention, exhibit, event, etc. Once I find a conversational tweet with a specific keyword, I’ll then click through to that person, take a cursory look at who it is, where they are, how active they are (how many tweets, are they engaged with people in conversation or are they just spamming, etc), and follow or not depending on if I think they may offer a chance to actually engage at some level.

    I follow people that have a chance of going to tradeshows, or are already going, and are in the US. Typically I’ll decline to follow folks out of the states unless they have several interesting tweets posted.

    Every few weeks I’ll go through my list of followers and purge a handful that look like spammers (usually you can do this based on name and photo, or their latest tweet which actually says a lot about them) or people that are disengaged and haven’t had a tweet for months.

    It’s not perfect – geez, on Twitter, what is? – but to my mind the 3000+ followers I’ve gathered in just under a year have a high percentage of engagement with Twitter; I get good response and re-tweets of good stuff I send out, and about a third of the traffic to my blog is a direct result of sending out tweets inviting my followers to check out new posts.

    To me that makes Twitter quite worthwhile…

  3. Milo Sindell  September 29, 2009

    Thank you for your post. You articulated precisely what I have been wrestling with in the context of the pro / cons and how-to’s of wading into the Twit-abyss. Ironically, you found me via Twitter – I checked out who you are, found your blog, and then, realizing that there is not just a real person but someone with something interesting to say, I followed.

    Reminds me of an old joke: two kids in a barn full of horse crap. One is crying. The other is digging furiously with a huge smile on his face. When the smiling kid was asked why so happy, he replied “with all of this horse poop in here there must be a pony somewhere”. There is a tremendous amount of crap in the Twitterverse. There are also a few ponies.


Add a Comment