Sauntering recently through the Twitterverse, I came across this pearl from the digital analyst Brian Solis: “Social media is less about technology and more about anthropology, sociology and ethnography.”
Interesting, I thought. But one thing is surely missing from Solis’s list: psychology. How else to explain my near-manic compulsion to get folks to follow me?
Earlier this summer, after years of resisting, I joined Twitter. I’m working on a new book (about how the social contract between employer and employee has changed since the end of World War II). My wife, @ranhoder, persuaded me that now was the time to start building an audience for it--you know, to begin polishing my “personal brand.”
I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. In short order, I’ve curated a great group to follow: management thinkers, economists, journalists, political commentators and others who rarely fail to teach or entertain. Every time I check my Twitter feed, I feel like I’m eavesdropping on an amazing dinner party. Twitter has also reconnected me with old friends and colleagues. And I absolutely love tweeting, which I usually do five to 10 times a day. I relish the challenge of boiling an insight to its 140-character essence.
Despite all the joy it brings me, however, Twitter also makes me feel a bit like I did in junior high. Once more I find myself trying--often in vain--to snag the attention of the cool kids. I chalk some of this up to my strong competitive nature, a trait that has served me well over the years. But if I’m honest, there is no small measure of ego involved. In recent weeks, that has led to some soul-searching. Just what am I trying to prove?
“There are only two kinds of Twitter users: those that want more followers and those that are lying,” asserts the author and tech guru Guy Kawasaki. Easy for him to say: He has 1.4 million followers. I have 280.
The dance to attract new followers is a delicate one. You must be forward enough to let your network know you are there to be followed, yet not so forward as to flat out ask “Will you follow me?” To do so would be gauche, like blurting out on a first date, “Will you sleep with me?” My personal pickup routine goes like this: “Hey, @reallysmartdude, I just wanted to say hi. Recently joined Twitter. Enjoyed meeting you in Vienna. Hoping we can stay connected.”
In some instances, this has worked beautifully, resulting in an immediate follow. Ka-ching! In others, my naked plea has gone unanswered, the Twitter equivalent of unrequited love.
Some cases fall in between, and I find those puzzling. For example, one management mind I admire tweeted back right away, welcoming me to Twitter and adding, “I look forward to learning from you.” Hmmm. Wouldn’t that be easier to do if he then followed me? Other Twitter conversations have gone similarly: all foreplay, no follow.
I have learned, too, not to get overly excited about a quick burst of followers. Bots are fickle creatures, their affection ephemeral. One time, I tweeted a quote from Confucius. An hour or two later, I was being followed by @confuciuslife, @ConfuciusSays and @ConfuciusPosts. Within a few days, though, each had melted mysteriously back into cyberspace.
Given the slow march to build my follower count, I have been tempted to look for shortcuts. Some people, I’ve observed, pull in an enormous number of followers by following an enormous number of Tweeters. But to amass 27,000 followers by following 26,700 is kind of like being a supermarket chain. The top line is impressive, but the margin is terribly thin. There are also myriad guides out there, such as one I saw the other day from HubSpot: “How to Get 1000+ Followers on Twitter.” Such claims strike me as analogous to those made by makers of abdominal toning belts that promise to tighten your midriff. It can’t be that easy.
So I guess I‘ll just keep working at it. I’ll continue to absorb all the knowledge and pleasure that Twitter has to offer while trying to add to the conversation--and keep my vanity in check.
“The only definition of a leader,” the management authority Peter Drucker wrote, “is someone who has followers.” In today’s world, the same might be said of anybody hoping to make a splash on Twitter.