Tipping Pitches: Technology: Keeping the Dirt out of Twitter


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Technology: Keeping the Dirt out of Twitter

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It's been about six months now, and my use of Twitter continues to develop. One thing I decided very early on was to keep my use "clean." In other words, don't lie, deceive, scam, spam or pad numbers.

In the beginning, it wasn't clear what was and wasn't Kosher. I wasn't sure how to use the service, so I read countless guides and "guru" advice articles. Of course, that wasn't necessarily a good idea.

But over time, I've decided not to do any of the following:
  • Auto-follow those who follow me
  • Auto-Direct Message those who follow me
  • Send any DM spam, automated or not
  • Follow hundreds of people at a time to get numbers, then unfollow those who didn't follow me back
  • Use automated replies that respond to keywords with a script response
No one likes spam!
I'm sure there are other tactics I'm missing. Basically, if it doesn't feel right -- if it feels spammy or sleazy -- I'm not doing it.

Some of these are obvious, some are used by respected people. It's not about the "right" or "wrong" way to use Twitter. Maybe you do one or more of these things. Maybe there is an ethical way to use them effectively. To me, I'm just not comfortable doing them.

With that said, there are some gray areas that I'm grappling with. The current ethical dilemma I'm dealing with is the use of lists.

My perception of lists has evolved over time. In the beginning, I saw lists as a potential game changer that could alter the way that we looked at Twitter stats. Even after tempering my enthusiasm a few days later, I viewed lists as a major ego factor that could affect how we viewed profiles.

However, I made an observation in my first post about this subject that still sticks with me:

Now, technically, you can follow 1,000,000 people but focus only on the people you want to hear from.

I guess this is good and bad. It's good as a nice organizational tool. It's bad since you can now follow a large group of people with no intention of reading their stuff. You can bet that someone -- Twitter or a third party -- will provide the ability to make a list your default view.

In other words, you could follow 50,000 people but only pay attention to 100 of them. Once again, lessens the value of "number of followers" since following inflates your numbers.

Bingo. It's exactly what bothers me about lists to this day.

Look at it this way: When someone follows you, you hope that they are actually reading your updates. You value them as an audience. However, if you discovered that they never read a single one of your posts and only follow you because you are following them, would your view of that relationship change?

It's obvious to me why people would do this. Personally, I rarely unfollow someone who follows me. It will happen occasionally, but it's rare. So if you follow everyone who follows you, you are bound to do a great job of retaining followers. When that happens, your numbers can spike quickly.

For me, growth has been very gradual. But make no mistake, my number of followers increases most quickly when I follow people.

I made a bunch of lists in the beginning. I still think it's cool when people add me to their lists. But I don't use my lists. To me, it's just a way to show appreciation. It's had no other value, no other useful application for my daily use.

Making a Big Deal about Nothing?
It's possible I'm missing a key angle. It's possible I'm overreacting to how lists are used.

For example, maybe you follow 10,000 people and focus on 100. That said, you still respond to the other 9,900 if they reply you. Is that an acceptable use of lists? Granted, you still never read anything they publish in their feed that doesn't mention you.

Or maybe you focus 90% of your time on a list and the other 10% you will read through some of the "other" posts. Would this be acceptable? Or would it need to be 50/50? Where is the line drawn (if there is one)?

There's only a dilemma because of potential reward. We all know what happens if you decide to follow a ton of people. If you make the proactive follow, you'll get followed back by a decent percentage of people. Those people are likely to remain loyal because it is a reciprocal relationship (at least on the surface). Likewise, those followers you follow back are likely to remain loyal for the same reasons.

If there were no reward for this activity, I would think nothing of it. But I fear that there is something unnatural about the resultant growth. That said, if I choose to only follow a designated 150 or so people, I've predetermined my future audience (since I am not famous, of course).

And ultimately, we all want to increase our audience. So what do you think? Is focusing on a list that isolates 10% (or maybe less) of the people you follow ethical? Where is the line drawn?


Jenn Sutherland on February 18, 2010 said...

Great post, Jon! Like you, I'm growing my Twitter following slowly, and am also keeping the list of folks I follow to around 150-200. I know that I really can't follow more than that and extract the same value from the tool because of the limits of time I want to spend on there - so keeping the number of people I follow small also allows me to optimize and follow the people who are providing the most value to me.

Like everything else in the social web, I think doing it ethically and with a spirit of building real relationships will give us the biggest Wins down the line and allow us to benefit the most from Twitter.

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