Tuesday, June 03, 2008

How (and why) I follow over 900 people on Twitter

If you’ve read my posts here for any length of time, you can tell that I am a huge Twitter evangelist. The site’s ability to let me communicate and network with an ever-growing number of people continues to amaze me. But as I talk to people on and about Twitter, they are also amazed at how I can follow (currently) over 900 people on the site. I reply that as I follow more people, I get a richer Twitter experience.

Here’s how I believe most people get started on Twitter. First, they follow their 10 or so closest online friends. After a while of doing this, they begin to wonder what the big deal is, because they are likely emailing all these people already, so what does Twitter bring to the table?

So next they likely go through and add another 20 or so experts and pundits from their particular industry. Now they follow around 30 people. But there still doesn’t seem to be much on Twitter for these people. Since they are only following 30 or so people, updates are few and far between, because it’s likely that only a few of those 30 people are ‘on’ Twitter and using it at the same time they are. I think it’s at this point that many people decide that Twitter isn’t really that big of a deal, and stop using the site.

This is where I found myself around Christmas of last year. I was following about 40-50 people and had about 100 or so following me. Twitter really didn’t seem like it was worth all the time and fuss to me, but I had a few friends that kept raving about the site and telling me to give it another chance.

So I did. But I knew that in order to give Twitter a real ‘chance’ to win me over, I had to change how I was using the site. So I went through and added another 50 or so marketing bloggers and social media notables. This alone got me to the point where I was getting updates every few minutes, where previously I might only get new tweets from the people I follow every 15 mins or so.

Then I started asking everyone on Twitter who the ‘power’ Twitter users were that I should be following. Many names were shared, and several people told me to check out the Tweeterboard 100, which claims to rank the 100 ‘top’ Twitter users. I went through the list and added just about everyone listed.

This changed my Twitter experience completely, because now for the first time, I was following people that I didn’t know, and that weren’t coming from a marketing/social media background. So suddenly my Twitterstream (what I call all the new tweets coming in from the people I follow), was much richer and diverse. Suddenly, I was following people from many different backgrounds with many different viewpoints and stories to tell.

By this point, I was following around 300 people, and updates were coming in every minute. And the conversations! Some people were discussing social media and ‘what’s hot’. Some were discussing their vacations, some were giving play-by-play (tweet-by-tweet?) of the NBA or NFL game being played.

The point was, now I had multiple conversations around multiple topics happening all the time. There was almost always something striking my interest, and prompting me to want to share my opinion and ‘talk’ to others. And again, this is what makes Twitter such an amazing networking tool. As you follow more people, it becomes much easier to find topics to talk about with your followers. As I have talked to my followers, we become friends, we contact each other off Twitter, and there you go.

So how many people can I follow? Where’s the breaking point? I’m not sure. Another point is that as you spend more time on Twitter, you become adept at ‘scanning’ the tweets from the people you are following. I know which topics appeal to which people. And using Twhirl makes this much easier, as Twhirl makes the tweets that are replies to me a different color and makes a different sound when these come through. So this makes it much easier to keep up with and respond to others.

And as I talk to other people on Twitter, I *always* add followers. Jennifer Laycock and I were both on Twitter recently talking about getting links from blogs and Twitter, and which we thought drove more traffic. Other people joined in the conversation, and after about 30 mins or so, we had about 10 people joining us by chiming in their thoughts. Jennifer and I compared notes later, and we both realized that we added followers on Twitter almost as soon as we began the conversation. What happens is that people that are following the people that are talking to us see the conversation that their friends are engaging in with us, and decide to follow us as well.

So if you’ve started using Twitter and think you’ve hit a wall, try adding more people that are NOT in your industry. This will completely change the experience you are getting from Twitter, and it might just be for the best!



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post- I've just started using Twitter, and have been wondering if it's all it's cracked up to be. I am giving your idea a try immediately after typing this.

- Leanne

Twitter: LeanneHeller

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack

Thats all great but i'm still holding myself to not enter the Twiter craze - one thing that is missing from your post and i'd love to hear is time/productivity element - if you follow 900 people on twitter, get tweets every 5seconds when do you eat/sleep/work?

i still don't get it!



Mack Collier said...

Asi what I do with Twitter is spend about an hour with it in the morning as I am waking up, getting caught up with email, etc. Then during the day I shut it down as I get work done. Then at night after the day's work is done, I use Twitter again.

Now obviously, I don't stay on Twitter all the time. And for a while I was worried about spending too much time on there. But as my network grew, I started to see that I was beginning to get work and/or speaking opportunities due to contacts I had made on Twitter. So now I can validate the time spent on Twitter from a business-standpoint, as well.

Twitter is simply the best online networking tool I've ever used. That alone makes it worth the time investment to me.

Anonymous said...

that make perfect sense if it contributes to your business and get you new gigs

I'm staying away from it at this time like an addict keeps away from the smack...

I still find blogs the best network of meaningful conversation and enjoy facebopok for utility/contacts etc although I might switch it for Twitter soon....

damn I hate this social pressure ;-)


Kelly said...

i am very much enjoying twitter. My question for you, Mack, is do you balance the number you follow to the number that follows you? Or do you just ignore it and add whoever you want? I hear that following way more people than those that follow you looks baaad and makes you seem like a spammer, but I want to add anyone who looks interesting!

Mack Collier said...

Keri when someone follows me, I go and look at their profile to see if I want to follow them back. And I pay more attention to their tweets than anything else. If they are constantly replying to others, that makes me much more likely to follow them back, since I mainly use Twitter to 'talk' to other people.

Also, I periodically go through my list of people I am following on Twitter, and unfollow people that aren't using Twitter to talk to others.

So while I would try to avoid mass-adding thousands of people, as long as we can tell that you are contributing to the larger community at Twitter, most will follow you back!

Anonymous said...

Mack, have you ever used IRC? I'm just wondering (as a total starter of tweeter) is there much difference? I remember my IRC times like almost 15 years ago. We were always spending hours there talking about stuff.

At that point in time it was fascinating to actually meet so many people from across the globe.

Anonymous said...

Ups, it is twitter, not tweeter. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Mack,

What tools do you use to monitor the "twaffic?" (ba-dum-bum!)

An IM client like Google Talk, an app like Twhirl, or...?

Mack Collier said...

Dusan I used IRC a few times about 10-12 years ago, but not enough to remember how it was.

Jordan I use Twhirl. I tried GTalk, and it DOES catch all the tweets, but I like the functionality of Twhirl much better.

Anonymous said...

I'm following 100 or so people right now and I keep adding but am finding it a bit of a time suck already.

This is partly due to my FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but I do think that going on Twitter a few times a day only is a good idea.
Likely, any good post will be retweeted right? right? :)

I am finding it hard to get others to respond to my questions at this point and that's one thing I hope to improve because the potential for great insights is very high.

Anonymous said...

I remember IRC. It was like twitter if you have 900 followers most probably... and we were spending hours there.

It seems quite simmilar to me, yet there are some differences of course. But mostly the difference is in the type of people engaged. In IRC you had mostly techno-freaks at start. And there was a different message about it... twitter is perhaps more "what are you doing"... I don't know, ain't experienced about it yet.

Anonymous said...

"The point was, now I had multiple conversations around multiple topics happening all the time."

This is what scares me. I have email, RSS, 30 or so IM friends, and now Twitter. LOL. Twitterrific even looks like a second IM window.

I know there can be some cool things coming out of it, but I'm not sure how many people have time for the non-stop conversation of Twitter