I Don't Care How Many Twitter Followers I Have

Well, actu­al­ly, I do care. I’m very proud of the fact that sev­er­al hun­dred peo­ple fol­low me on Twitter (@iamPariah) and that a few dozen more fol­low me every month. I’m proud not of the num­ber of fol­low­ers but of the fact of fol­low­ers, which is what sets me apart from a good per­cent­age of the Twitter pop­u­la­tion.

Earlier today, most­ly for fun, I cre­at­ed a FaceBook group called “Twitter is not a Popularity Contest,” sub­ti­tled “I don’t care how many fol­low­ers I have on Twitter” (join it here). That act inspired the fol­low­ing ques­tion from my friend Anne-Marie Concepcion:

Yet… I could’ve sworn all those “Thank you VERY much to all my fol­low­ers! Today I broke 1,000! You guys RAWK!” and “Wahoo!
@Photoshop_GU just broke 1,000 fol­low­ers!” etc. tweets of yours from about 20 hours ago meant you cared … *real­ly* cared. ;-)

Straighten me out, oh twitter/fb guru … seri­ous­ly! Why’d you form the group? I’m curi­ous. I thought hit­ting a 1000 fol­low­ers was an impres­sive accom­plish­ment, myself.

In the first para­graph Anne-Marie refers to some recent tweets of mine from yes­ter­day, Friday, 27 February 2009. The first, “Thank you VERY much to all my fol­low­ers!” was from me (@iamPariah) thank­ing peo­ple who began fol­low­ing me that day as a result of rec­om­men­da­tions by oth­er Twitter users (#fri­day­fol­low, it’s a Twitter thing). I sent it as a wel­come and to show my appre­ci­a­tion for the rec­om­men­da­tions of oth­ers (a rec­om­men­da­tion means to me that some­one likes what I have to say, and thinks oth­ers will, too). The others--“Today I broke 1,000! You guys RAWK!” and “Wahoo! @Photoshop_GU just broke 1,000 followers!”--were from and about, respec­tive­ly, @Photoshop_GU, anoth­er Twitter account I main­tain.

Getting to 1,000 fol­low­ers is impres­sive in my opin­ion, too. But only because that’s 1,000 peo­ple fol­low­ing the @Photoshop_GU feed because they’re inter­est­ed in the con­tent it sends them--five new Photoshop-related news items or tuto­ri­als every half hour from GurusUnleashed​.com--and because I often help peo­ple with Photoshop prob­lems through that account. I doubt any of those fol­low­ing @Photoshop_GU have hopes that doing so will some­how increase their own fol­low­er counts.

My main Twitter account, @iamPariah, has around 400 fol­low­ers, but I only fol­low 200-odd peo­ple. Except for a hand­ful that are bots whose ser­vices I use (and thus must fol­low in order to use those ser­vices), every­one I fol­low is some­one whose tweets enrich my Twitter expe­ri­ence in some way. Some pro­vide infor­ma­tion I find use­ful, some make me laugh, oth­ers are friends and pro­vide cama­raderie or stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

For far too many users, Twitter is sim­ply a pop­u­lar­i­ty con­test, a race to see who gets the great­est num­ber of fol­low­ers. In the mind of such a per­son, his num­ber of fol­low­ers direct­ly equates to his self iden­ti­ty, to his per­ceived impor­tance; it’s a per­son­al val­i­da­tion. Twitter is so com­pet­i­tive, in fact, that over a dozen third-party ser­vices have popped up in the last year to facil­i­tate the race.

Services like SocialToo offer the abil­i­ty to auto-follow every­one who fol­lows you and to auto­mat­i­cal­ly unfol­low any­one who stops fol­low­ing you. Such ser­vices have noth­ing to do with Twitter content--anyone who employs them obvi­ous­ly can’t care about the con­tent he will be fed on an aut­o­fol­low or the con­tent he’ll miss with an auto-unfollow--yet such ser­vices are extreme­ly pop­u­lar.

Other Twitter rank­ing sites per­pet­u­ate the idea that Twitter exists as a scor­ing sys­tem. Sites such as TweetValue, Twitter Grader, Qwitter, and Friend or Follow. The last I actu­al­ly use to catch up on new fol­low­ers in whose tweets I might be inter­est­ed.

For me, and for a good por­tion of oth­er Twitter users, the ser­vice isn’t about num­bers.

From @imjustcreative, @chadengle, @fabrikade, @Kathy_Writer, @keylimecreative, @mayhemstudios, @bccreative, @justcreative, @zwettemaan, @aj_wood I learn some­thing new every­day, either through orig­i­nal con­tent they’ve writ­ten or the links they often share to inter­est­ing online arti­cles and con­tent they find. I don’t know if they’re all fol­low­ing me back, nor do I care. Whether they are inter­est­ed in what I have to say on Twitter has no bear­ing on my inter­est in what they say.

@amarie, @jctremblay, @rufusd, @russellviers, @dblatner, @jmvrankin, @Worldlabel, @vectorbabe, @mordy because they’re my friends, col­leagues, and col­lab­o­ra­tors; Twitter is just anoth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion medi­um for keep­ing up with them, their lives, and their projects. Do I care if they fol­low me back? Sure, to a point. Friends should keep in touch, but I know that, for at least one of my friends, I’m a lit­tle too pro­lif­ic and chat­ty on Twitter. Sometimes my tweets dom­i­nate his selec­tive­ly mea­ger fol­low list, so he does­n’t always fol­low me. I’m ok with that. It does­n’t mean my friend does­n’t like me, and it cer­tain­ly does­n’t mean I should stop fol­low­ing what he has to say (on those once a week or so occas­sions that he actu­al­ly tweets some­thing [ahem]).

@darthvader, @badbanana, @holycrapfacts make me laugh dai­ly, though, as far as I can tell, they aren’t fol­low­ing me back or even have a clue that I exist.

I fol­low @Prepressology, @juliaroy, @iKitty, @smalonedesign, @witch22, @aprilclark because good con­ver­sa­tion often ensues from doing so. In fact, just last night I was talk­ing to @smalonedesign. She’d had a bad day, and I was try­ing to help cheer her up. According to her, I did. That’s a human con­nec­tion facil­i­tat­ed by Twitter, not an anony­mous, imper­son­al infla­tion of follower/following num­bers. I think all of these peo­ple fol­low me, but if they do, it’s because they also enjoy our con­ver­sa­tions and like what I have to say out­side of our con­ver­sa­tions.

And, with few excep­tions, every­one I’ve named above as well as those oth­ers I fol­low whom I haven’t named, fit into more than just one cat­e­go­ry. Most have taught me some­thing at some point, which often leads to good con­ver­sa­tion, per­haps laugh­ter, and even friend­ship or project col­lab­o­ra­tion.

For me, Twitter is a new means of gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion and con­nect­ing with peo­ple, and I would like to think that those fol­low­ing me do so with the same view of Twitter. So, yes, I’m very proud of my 1,000 Photoshop_GU fol­low­ers, but I’m just as proud of the 500 or so peo­ple who fol­low and find the InDesign-related news and tuto­r­i­al tweets from @InDesign_GU use­ful, and of the 400 that fol­low and read or inter­act with me more direct­ly via my @iamPariah main Twitter account.

I cre­at­ed the FaceBook group part­ly as a lark, part­ly to con­nect with and guage the size of the por­tion of the Twitter com­mu­ni­ty who feels as I do: Twitter is about peo­ple, not num­bers.

P.S. In case you’re inter­est­ed, here are my Twitter accounts:

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Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™

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3 Responses

  1. Hey Pariah

    Great arti­cle! I agree, it’s about con­nect­ing and fol­low­ing peo­ple you’re inter­est­ed in. I’m a bit too chat­ty for most of my friends and they’ve unfol­lowed me. My feel­ings were hurt in the begin­ning, with Tweetdeck they can iso­late you, in your own group. :)

    Thanks for the men­tion. :)

    - Cal

  2. eve says:

    Great post! I total­ly agree, I would not want a ton of fol­low­ers that were just fol­low­ing me to help num­bers, I want to know that when I get on at 3 in the morn­ing to say that I am los­ing my mind of exhaus­tion because the baby will not sleep, that SOMEONE is gonna say some­thing back LOL Otherwise the num­bers mean noth­ing! -eve­lester

  3. Hey Pariah, thanks for the men­tion. I have been fol­low­ing you since you added me. :)

    It’s not the num­ber of fol­low­ers that mat­ter to one self but the peo­ple whom you gen­uine­ly is inter­est­ed in fol­low­ing. Else, it’s just all noise good pix­els. Cheers!