Friday, April 1, 2011

Social Media Idiocy, Part I – Twitter Ecology

In this next series, I focus on the opposite of Conversational Convergence: Social Media Idiocy.

I was looking at a friend's Twitter feed recently; we'll call my friend "Heathcliff." Heathcliff was apparently upset at a man who had sent him a Direct Message shortly after Heathcliff started following the man. The Direct Message asked Heathcliff to follow the man's blog.

Heathcliff was not upset about the Direct Message, though – not inherently, anyway. Heathcliff was upset that the man was not following him back.

Specifically, Heathcliff complained that, "[T]he ecology of Twitter demands a follow-back."

"The ecology of Twitter." Nice.

(The worst part is that it's not even a recent term.)

It is this make-believe "ecology" that allows bad social media practice to proliferate. Social media "professionals" follow hundreds of new people a day – for the sole purpose of getting more people to follow them by way of a false etiquette. Most unfollow the ones that don't follow them back. Many take additional unfair advantage of the false etiquette by unfollowing everybody – followers or not – regularly (a practice called "churning"), so as to increase their Follower-Following ratio.

Twitter is asymmetrical for a reason. Unlike other networks that require connections be mutual, Twitter purposely allows you to follow only the people whose content you find interesting or value-adding – without creating obligations for the people who already add value to you.

To treat Twitter like a high school popularity contest is to disincentivize adding value. By treating Twitter like a delicate ecology, users' focus drifts away from Conversational Convergence, and towards the least valuable social media metric: reach.

And that's not even to mention the resultant Social Networking Anxiety Disorder.

If the purity of Twitter's asymmetry is maintained, then Twitter is an extremely valuable social network because it places more incentive upon the user to contribute and add value.

Indeed, if you fall prey to the Twitter Ecology Myth, you may well find yourself with thousands of followers – but at the expense of following too many people yourself for you to keep up with, leaving you unable to realize the value others are adding for you.

And remember: Those generous Ecology-adherents that are giving you followbacks (and demanding the same courtesy from you)? If they're following thousands of people, it is almost guaranteed that they will never see your Tweets.

Follow only those who make contributions that add value for YOU. Will this stinginess cost you a few followers? Probably. But those are followers you don't want anyway – because they are following too many people and are too wrapped up in a false Ecology to engage in any meaningful push-shove with you.

This strategy will also free you to focus on what really matters: adding value for others, and realizing value from others.

That is a real ecology.


  1. I agree 100%. I don't see the point in following thousands. I couldn't get through all the tweets, anyway. I also don't feel obligated to reciporate every follow with one of my own unless there is some real common interest. Once in a while, I will even block the follower if it appears that the person is just following a lot of people in order to have spam opportunities.

  2. The thought of having the words "ecology" and Twitter together is idiotic by itself. If then you add high school popularity contest stupidity you have a combo that clearly shows the nature of many human beings. -Susan

  3. Hi, Ariella.

    Many people who follow a lot of accounts don't bother reading the Tweets from the ones they follow, and instead keep a Twitter List of the handful of people they actually pay attention to.

    Of course, by treating Follows like this, they are pretty much admitting that Follows are meaningless; so why even bother with grey-hat methodologies to build them?

    After all, nobody who matters cares about how many people are following you; they care about your value-add. That's it.

  4. Hi, Susan.

    Isn't it awful? For all the good that social media can do, there sure is a lot of BS floating around.

    That's why I began this series; I am passionate about social media, but many of the people who work in the social media are clueless -- and that hurts the social media space as a whole.