Saturday 18 April 2009

There goes the neighbourhood? Twitter, celebrities and all that

There really should be rules about blogging about Twitter (or if we want to speak more generically, micro-blogging). Navel gazing makes for boring blogging. But luckily, there are no rules for how people have to use social media... which is my point:

The only rules are the individual 'game' rules (not just the terms of service, but how the tool actually works in practice) that exist for each social media part. Privacy controls for example are a game rule that people can have direct input into. But one of the most important game rules in any social media application is how you 'friend' people. Some social media applications are strict, whilst others are open.

I think it fair to say that one of Twitter's failings is the simplistic privacy controls and follow/follower management. If a user's Twitter account is public, then you can follow them. As the person being followed, you are left to your own devices to determine if you want to follow back. With this model, and in the worse cases thanks to a little bit of social engineering Internet marketing, you can easily end up with with people - like celebrities, Internet marketers, news providers - who follow a handful of people themselves but have tens of thousands and even millions of followers. While its questionable in most cases how much social capital they actually add to the Twittersphere as long they don't bring Twitter down because of the volumes of traffic they generate, who really cares?

But we also have to accept these game rule deficiencies in Twitter are also a major strength. It allows people to easily connect with each other - if you think a person looks interesting or said something interesting, then follow them. It has also allowed a whole ecosystem of third party hacks and applications to grow around it (I previously shared my idea for checking a Twitter user's authenticity).

Ultimately, if you don't like what someone is doing or saying on Twitter then you the user still have the ultimate social networking anti-pattern defense - you can unfollow. And in the worse cases block.

Of course if you are out there trying to use social media tools like Twitter to engage with people for business or other reasons, then in the absence of fixed general social media rules it is critical that you understand the norms that are evolving in reaction to the particular game rules for each social media part. Just like any social group, these norms will continue to evolve even if the underlying game rules don't as the usage of that particular social media part grows or matures. (BTW this is also one reason why you should never hire a social media consultancy or service provider to help you, unless they use this stuff themselves).

It is interesting to consider that even Twitter's own definition of spam is an evolving one too:

"Spam: You may not use the Twitter service for the purpose of spamming anyone. What constitutes “spamming” will evolve as we respond to new tricks and tactics by spammers."

Me personally, I switched off the option to receive a notification when someone follows me as it was just too hard to sort the expletive deleted Internet marketers from the genuine users (alas, I'm not aware of any celebs ever following me!). These days if you want to get my attention on Twitter you'll need to actually talk to me in a meaningful way. And, for the record I don't expect anything less back.

As Twitter goes mainstream how are you managing followers? And are you following any celebrities (and did they follow back)?

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  1. The unfollow and block options have proved more useful of late. Unfollow because you might follow somone for a while and realise you're just not interested in what they're saying, it's pretty fluid like that.

    Blocking is reserved for spammers, and for me that now includes people who follow and unfollow repeatedly.

    I think you might be missing a trick by turning off the notifications, but I totally see why you would do it.

  2. Well, I was finding myself unable to keep up with the follows to be honest. I have seen a concept for improved follow email, but I find dipping in Twitter Karma more effective -


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