Celebrities Who Treat Twitter Like Broadcasting Medium Miss the Point

I form first impressions very fast, and since I make a lot of friends through Twitter I’ve figured out some different ways of evaluating their profile to make some generalizations about who they talk to, how engaged they are with people, and what they’re interested in.  It’s much faster to read someone’s last 100 tweets than to read their last 10 blog posts.  One thing I look at is the ratio of followers to following.  The reason is that I’ve discovered there is a balance between the two – if someone is following too many people (far more than are following them) then they are likely a spammer.  Twitter controls for this by making it so that you can’t follow more than 2000 people until you have at least 1800 people following you.  On the other end of the spectrum are those who are followed by many many people but make themselves seem inaccessible by following back only a tiny percentage.

What this says to me is, “I’m not listening to you – I’m listening to tweets that come up with my name in them”.  Bleagh.

Yesterday, I gave a talk with An Bui to a group of business women about how they can use Twitter to benefit themselves and their businesses.  At one point, a hand was raised and the person said “a lightbulb just went off for me – this is a way for me to broadcast what my company is doing”.  Damn!  This is the danger with Twitter, if you look at it as an outside observer its easy to see why people think this – but broadcasting is truly a small percentage of what you need to do to realize the real benefits of Twitter.

What real benefits, let me list the ones I’ve seen:

  • rapid information sharing where friends are the filter through which you hear about the world
  • ability to discover people with similar niche interests and find places to expand those interests
  • random meetings of people you read, admire, compete with, etc. in cities while travelling
  • chance to come up with cool content creation partnerships (blog posts, talks, video, etc.) on the fly with other creatives
  • sense of being more intimately connected to friends, even when you’re a workaholic (and proud of it!) like me
  • way to discover products/services friends LOVE that are improving their quality of life (yeah – I do listen to my friends for this stuff)
  • hear a random thing and search it on Twitter to find out what it is related to… long tail searches of conversation work
  • find out what people are saying about you, your content, brand, customers, competitors, ANYTHING!
  • feel like you’re much closer to the people you admire (internet personalities, celebrities) and be the first to hear about their work

There’s probably more, but I’m dashing this off fast and found I couldn’t type fast enough to write these benefits down.

Someone Tell Them: It’s the Conversation that Counts

Why?  Because even for big time celebrities they are still real people, who can endear themselves to new fans, find new opportunities, share in the richness of the world, provide a useful filter to their followers, and be more deeply connected.  Also, celebri-twits are battling against a deeply entrenched early-adopter culture that is both excited and horrified by the way these newest converts are using Twitter.  On one hand, I can admire that they are even better at shameless self-promotion than what I’ve seen so far — but I’m disappointed because I expected this new media to peel back another layer of the onion and make these people more accessible.  Wasn’t that what all the hype was fundamentally about?

Would I be excited if one of these celebrities followed me?  Yes, I admit I would be briefly.  Would I be converted?  No, not unless they took the time to read something I said and respond with something relevant.  To join the small conversation that is my life.  That’s how I can be reached, touched, and impressed.

Hell, even internet-famous Julia Allison (or one of her assistants) emailed me when I commented that I continued to read Valleywag due to “my love/hate relationship with Julia Allison” and asked me why the hate.  I was impressed, she was listening – and even went to the effort to get my email address from my blog.  Yeah I realize she’s not famous on the same level as these celebrities – I just thought it was thoughtful and a good example.

Celebri-Twit Yer Doin it Wron

Look, for example at some celebrit-twits who are making a splash on Twitter like Ashton Kutcher, Oprah,

Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk)

come-on-ashton-follow-them-back

Oprah Winfrey (@oprah)

oprah-follow-your-twitter-fans-please

Larry King (@kingsthings)

larry-king-rocks-my-twitter-world

Breaking (bwhaha!) update: sounds like Spencer (of Spencer and Hill on that MTV show “The Hills”) wants to compete with Ashton on Twitter.  Even the radio commentators on KISS 106.1 FM were like… “oh god, have’t we heard enough of this yet?”  Yeah, bleagh.  I bet I’ll blog it, for some reason I just can’t stay away from this topic, disgruntled semi-early adopter that I am.

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  • Very well put, Danielle and I completely agree. I was just having this same conversation last night. If you aren’t following, ur not listening, ur broadcasting. If u want 2 broadcast, get on Alltop.com & allow others 2 sign up for your daily diary.

    I do follow a couple musicians, as I want to be ‘in the know’ when they release something new BUT also because I am interested in how they manage their SM relationships (mainly @trent_reznor).

    One thing I’d like to avoid, is celeb rt magpies. Basically, seeing a bunch of ppl sending “RT for a chance to win something (RT @oprah 1st 100 to RT win a free snuggie). now, if one comes across for a free car or house, you’ll see me on that rt wagon.

    Is it bad to feel that my shiny secret toy has been discovered by the real world?

  • Thanks for reminding us all again that conversations and engagements are what makes Twitter special.
    John

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  • “On the other end of the spectrum are those who are followed by many many people but make themselves seem inaccessible by following back only a tiny percentage.”

    Woah, woah, woah Danielle I completely disagree.

    Example: You followed me today on twitter. We don’t know each other, never met and we never talked. I just mentioned “twilio” on my account and you followed me.

    1.) I don’t follow you on Twitter and I likely won’t. Why? Because I do not know you, you have not introduced yourself and I’m the person engaging in conversation on my own behalf. If it wasn’t for me being interested in learning about you, who you are and what you do then I wouldn’t be sitting on Danielle Morrill’s blog.

    Because we do not know each other, you will likely be one of the followers who I do not follow. Just like @aplusk, @oprah and @kingsthings likely do not follow you or myself. Why? Because “we don’t know each other, never met and we never talked…”

    2.) Twitter is not officially defined to be Content vs. Quanity or vice versa. The only definition of twitter is user-defined, you make twitter what you feel it is to you.

    My definition of twitter is: Twitter wasn’t designed for celebrities or businesses in mind. It was designed for you and me to engage in conversation we find interesting. If it wasn’t for twitter, I would not be on your blog.

    Just suggesting to look at Twitter differently sometimes.

    @stevesmename

    • admin

      You’re pretty different from the person who only follow something like 1% or 2% of the people following them. I’m listening to you, because you said you’re going to talk to your boss about Twilio (which the startup I work for), and I think that’s cool. So now I’m listening to what you have to say on Twitter, because we’ve got that connection. I’m not expecting to be followed back, but hoping that in the course of reading my Twitter feed we’ll have a chance to connect again over something else you say.

      Didn’t @reply you about that because I though if you followed me back I’d be able to send you a direct message with something like, “how’d the conversation with your boss go?” — seemed like a good topic for a DM.

      Anyway, thanks for the long response 🙂 I saw your tweet that says:
      “I wrote a comment the size of a blog last night on someones blog that I never met before. http://bit.ly/KcBBb – b/c it was interesting..” and I’m glad you’re motivated to write long comments, it makes people who blog really happy.

      You make a really important though – Twitter is a lot of different things to different people, and for me it’s even different things in different contexts (for example personal interests @daniellemorrill and business at @twilio and seattle tech community and @seattle20 and my cute dog at @rafethedog). Keeping in mind that people use it in all sorts of ways to communicate with other friends, businesses, brands, celebrities, new, auto-updates, etc. is important to using it because we all have different expectations when it comes to things like frequency of updates, language use (swearing okay?), following back, direct messages, etc.

      It’s funny you say you won’t follow me back, since after this exchange I’m even more interested in following you than I was before and have a stronger basis for it now than just you talking about my company. If you do need anything to help you with Twilio as you get started, you always drop me a line at danielle@twilio.com (or email the whole team at help@twilio.com). We’re listening. 🙂

  • We just proved we don’t need to follow each other to be able to communicate to each other. 🙂

    I will likely follow you if you make more tweets interesting to me. 😉 – Quality > Quanity to me. otherwise I’ll find you at http://search.twitter.com where I’ll find things I’m interested about.

    Thx for the reply, the follow and the great topic. (& Twitter, thank you!)

  • Great post and some interesting exchanges in the comment thread. I just wanted to add two comments: (1) for me, following people is more interesting than following topics (for that reason, I guess, I don’t use search as much as I simply browse my peeps; or, I guess I search from time to time to add peeps more than topics); and (2) I like the term “narrowcasting” to describe what I feel twitter does well for people I want to get certain info to. To me, it’s not a model for celebrity broadcasts; or, maybe I just don’t get that use of it (but I do follow @stephenfry, I will admit).