Beware the trap of the Twitter follower count

Sheer Twitter numbers might feed your ego, but getting results for your brand requires much more—starting with diligent effort.

Twitter is a community—a vibrant one—and it’s a relatively judgmental system, at least in terms of getting people to really and truly notice you.

If you’re going to seek connection, attention, and engagement through this medium, there are a few things you need to understand about why striving for the follow alone isn’t going to get you where you need to go. You must be willing to put in some additional effort.

1. It’s too easy to automate and game.

There are scores of spammers, people who auto-follow without a second thought, and people who follow others to get a return follow and inflate their numbers—any number of games. Please hear this clearly: Your follower number alone means nothing. It’s just a (grossly inflated and inaccurate) view of the potential of your audience in aggregate, not even for a given tweet or moment. Period. End of story.

2. You’re easy to unfollow or ignore.

Clicking “follow” is—as my co-author Jay Baer would aptly describe—one click. It’s not a tattoo, nor a contract, nor some even kind of committal level of loyalty or long-term interest. In most cases, it’s passing curiosity at the start (or even a cursory gesture of housekeeping) until you prove there’s something worthwhile sticking around for. Or it’s the acknowledgement of an existing affinity that had nothing to do with whether you were on Twitter, but is the representation of a relationship long in place. It’s a virtual rubber stamp, a sticker on your laptop.

The follow itself is the gesture, not the promise. Undoing it is as easy as the same single click of the single finger if you can’t find a way to keep it interesting or valuable (to us, not you). There’s already enough gobbledygook out there that you’ll get unfollowed in a flash if you’re simply noise.

3. The “power” tweeters have a critical mass.

This is the secret here. Once you get beyond following a couple hundred people (or beyond Dunbar’s 150, perhaps), it becomes difficult to pay attention to the entire immersive stream. So, we have things like Twitter lists and groups or columns of our Twitter clients to help us sort the people and entities we want to closely monitor into buckets or categories.

Typically, those are groupings of close friends we want to stay in touch with, colleagues, those who stimulate thought, industry leaders, etc. If you want to make it into one of those coveted groups or lists after people start segmenting their attention, you had better be doing more than sharing your promotions and press releases. The goal is to get beyond filters.

Why?

The rest remains in the massive, collective stream. People might check that occasionally—or rarely, as I do. (And if you’re keen to know why I follow so many anyway, look here.) They might ignore it altogether. But if you’re lost in that fray, your chances of getting seen in the swarm decrease dramatically with time if all you’re doing is pumping out promotional, self-serving, uninteresting stuff. You become invisible, even unwanted—and quickly.

The solution

Stop using Twitter as a promotion vehicle alone.

I know that’s hard to accept. I know you want to throw your logo up there, toss out your daily awesome special, share your super awesome news, pimp your super awesome product. But you’re going to get lost in the fray, I promise.

There’s simply too much noise out there anymore to be trying to shout loudest. Your customers and prospects—unless they’re in the immediate throes of a transaction—probably care about a lot more about what you stand for as a whole, in everyday moments in between their purchases, than what you’re selling at any given time.

You have to get out there and build a Twitter community with substance, even if you’re representing a business. You need people at the helm talking to other people. Yes, even if you’re in B2B. More definitely does not equal better. The noisier it gets out there, the less lazy you have to be about building your presence on a site where everyone wants attention but few have spent the time and effort to earn it.

Solid intent and purpose require patience. Patience and genuine effort beget initial connections that are weak but mindful.

Initial weak connections cultivated with attention and demonstrated mutual interest become strong ones that can be active and vocal.

The more dense the field, though, the more precise and honed your efforts must be to earn those connections. And earn them you must.

Quit collecting people like bottlecaps. Learn what the tools are intended to do, rather than the purpose you’d simply like them to serve. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference—or, in the case of social networks, irrelevance.

How patient and dedicated are you willing to be?

Amber Naslund is a communications and business strategist, and the VP of Social Strategy for Radian6. She blogs at Brass Tack Thinking, where this post originally ran.

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