I don\’t care what they tell you, Twitter is not a popularity contest

Full disclosure: I first got a Twitter account last year; for some months I didn\’t really see the point of it, mostly because Twitter had built the stadium but They hadn\’t yet come. In the last month, however, I\’ve jumped back in, and I\’m running three different accounts:

@barbarfriendish, my personal account

@mercuryrx, which at the moment is little more than a newsfeed for my brainchild, Mercury Retrograde Press–but which I know will become so much more once I figure out how Mercury Retrograde can make a unique contribution to the Twitterverse

@BookTribe, which I hope to develop into the core of a Twitter community for readers.

None of these accounts has a huge mass of followers. None of them is in the business of selling the rest of the Twitterverse anything, which  I can assure you is not the norm among accounts belonging to people who list themselves under #socialmedia on WeFollow. All this makes me unequivocally Not A Twitter Expert, and not so much a Social Media Guru. Nevertheless, as many of you know, I am nothing if not opinionated, and I\’ve spent enough time on Twitter to have formed some pretty strong ones.

1. Social media is not supposed to be a popularity contest. No really. Someone (I really wish I could remember who) recently observed that the people who insist on telling the rest of the Twitterverse how many followers they have today are no different from that girl you knew in high school who was all about how popular she was. As far as I\’m concerned, blatant follower-collecting is just crass. However, in my opinion, people who develop huge followings because they serve the community, are interesting, or are just plain fun to check in with are fabulous. I love to follow & be followed by the latter; the former just make me wonder whether I\’m already listening to the sales pitch.

2. Social media is supposed to be personal. This often-overlooked fact is, in my opinion, the main reason why people get so up in arms over the issue of Auto-DM (DM=Direct Message, for those of you not playing along at home) and its less talented brother, Auto-Follow. I\’ll admit I fell for the first couple auto-DMs I received; but it didn\’t take long to detect the difference between real communications and canned responses.

(Full disclosure, again: when I DM someone to thank them for following me–which my children will teach their children is only polite, in much the same way they will teach those same grandchildren RL social niceties–if the new Twitter Friend in question has not disclosed enough on his/her profile page for me to get a real sense of who they might be, I do find myself falling back on stock phrases in my thank-you note. But I always visit the profile, and I always try to learn about the person and write the DM (gasp!) myself.)

3. Twitter is supposed to be for building communities. I don\’t get on Twitter to be bombarded with ads and get-rich-quick schemes: we\’ve got enough of that on the net, thanks. I want to meet and learn from people I might never otherwise run into, and build relationships based on mutual interest. This is why I actually put thought into deciding who to follow, whether I find that person in an interesting Twitterstream or because they have followed me. I go to their profiles and click their web links; I read their streams and try to glean a sense of who they are. Since I\’ve already rejected the notion that building massive lists of followers is in some way the point of the game, I think it\’s not only OK but necessary to choose not to follow people I don\’t find interesting or educational. In a startling corollary, I think it\’s perfectly OK for people to follow me if they find me interesting or useful: Twitter is public unless we explicitly lock our tweets, after all. All this adds up to my (evidently shocking) personal policy that

4. Auto-following is neither necessary nor desirable, and

5. People who don\’t follow me back are not necessarily worthless. I\’m in it to learn and build new connections, not to score a huge number of followers; and I couldn\’t be less interested in facilitating someone else\’s vain attempts to reach the thoroughly dysfunctional Top Tweeters List.

This last bit is off-topic, but I want to share it here anyway:

People who treat Twitter as just another advertising channel are not only missing the point–they\’re missing out on what true social media could be doing for them. If you think Twitter, or any other flavor of social media, is The Next Big Advertising Thing, go here. Learn about Whuffie. Figure out how to become a part of and serve the community. Then I GUARANTEE everyone will want to follow you, and you\’ll have a popularity rank of which you would otherwise only dream.

Oh, yeah, and people will actually like you.

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