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Hey Twitter: Do You Want to Be MySpace or LinkedIn? Choose Carefully....

Twitter has been a good tool for me.  I've connected with many people in a way not supported by blog technology, and the link sharing part of the Twitter culture is replacing some of the power of Google Reader in my life (I get enough good content in my line of work - the Talent game - from Twitter links that my need for a RSS Reader is on a slight downtick).

There's just this one little problem, and the issue is big enough that Twitter needs to get control or riskMm_twitter their service losing credibility in the business world.

They don't control the spammers well enough.  Otherwise known as the Twitter users trying to build a business by following as many people as they can, in an effort to get people to follow them back.  You know the type - you get an invite from LAJenny or DrMike, so like you always do, you take a look at their profile, and they're following 3,000 people and only being followed by 134.  

Why do they do what they do?  They've read stories about the power of twitter, and they're convinced that a raw number of followers will give them credibility as a "social media expert" (which is actually the bio description of at least 40% of the spammers on Twitter).

Like any good social media tool, Twitter works best when you know the people you follow, and they know you - at least on a semi-deep level.  My rule?  If I've had interaction with you on some level (face-to-face OR in a digital fashion) where I would give you a business card (whoops - I don't have one from my new job) or accept yours, we can connect. Unfortunately, that standard doesn't apply when many people start using Twitter - it's all a game to get as many followers as possible.

Others are noticing the fake Twitter gold rush.  From Jason Seiden:

"When I followed and was followed by about 500-600 people, Twitter was great: the “timeline” of updates was nearly always manageable (of those 500, not all of them would be tweeting at once), there was a sense of community because I had a sense for who these people were and who knew whom, and I had time to do a bit of research on them when I didn’t. When I sent out blog updates, people responded. Now, however, with another 1,000 followers or so, it’s already a different world: fewer people click on my links. Recently, I threw a question out to the world via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and my blog. I received zero responses through Twitter.

Zero.

1,500 followers at the time, and zero responses. By contrast, I sent the note out to about 300 people with whom I’m connected on LinkedIn and had a response rate of about 8%. Plus, I had a handful of people who answered the question who didn’t receive an email. Now, it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but the point is, for getting others to engage, Twitter utterly failed me. All those connections I had made, when I went to move them up a notch in the engagement ladder, proved to be worthless. What’s worse, all those tweeple just in it for the links are creating noise in the system: whereas once upon a time, I knew DMs (private messages) were guaranteed to be spam-free, not so anymore. And as with phone calls and emails, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the legitimate requests from the pure spam. (People, on the whole, aren’t great communicators.)

My actual community of people I connect with on Twitter is no longer expanding… at least, not nearly as quickly as it was. And a quick look at my followers shows why: many of them follow 000’s and 000’s of people… which means their timelines are a blazing fast waterfall of random. It also means they themselves don’t care about the content: they’re in it for the #s, not the links. A quick perusal of their names shows many of them to be consultants, companies, and others with something to sell. You think they’re reading my stuff? No, me neither."

Jason's analysis is spot on, and reflects the reality that Twitter needs to think about.  Does Twitter want to be MySpace (a wild-wild west of social networking) or LinkedIn, a respected place for people to connect in ways that are mutually beneficial?

One of the wacky things about Twitter is that unless you lockdown your updates (which looks lame in the Twitter culture), anyone can follow you.  And the spammers who follow you?  They're hoping you'll do what was long an accepted part of the Twitter culture - automatically follow them back so they can build up numbers.

Of course, the auto-follow on Twitter is now a sucker's play.  Why would you follow a 21-year old social media expert following 3,000 people and being followed by only 134?  While the spam has created noise in the system, I've still got one thing going for me.  At this writing, I've got 1,644 followers, but I'm only following 652.  I've got standards - I'll only follow you if you are in Birmingham OR you're part of the Human Capital industry anywhere else.

That means while the responsiveness of those who follow me is at an all-time low (what Jason describes above), I still learn lots by reading the Tweet stream of those I follow.  So it's still "advantage KD", but I've lost half the functionality due to the noise in the system that Jason describes.

So, what's it going to be Twitter?  Do you want to be MySpace or LinkedIn?  When it comes to making money, the answer should be obvious.

Comments

Darci Stitt

"One of the wacky things about Twitter is that unless you lockdown your updates (which looks lame in the Twitter culture),..."

I lock down my updates. People pay attention to my followers. I can't have PornstarPatty hanging out in there.

Call me lame but I just started in twitter and don't want to lose those connections, the following-for-a-reason.

nelking

I follow people I know, people who are informative, funny, and smart. I block people I don't know if I cant' figure out why they'd even want to follow me. If I could set up rules to auto block people, that would be great.

To manage my twitter stream, I don't use twitter. Right now I'm using the beta version of www.brizzly.com

I can create groups and I can monitor the stream in small, related chunks.

Twitter needs to control spam, but I'm finding the good tools to manage the stream are elsewhere.

Stephen Geraghty-Harrison

Great post Kris. I am annoyed by the spammers quite frequently. About two or three months in to using Twitter I noticed the spammers and started doing a regular audit. Once or twice a month I go through my newest followers and purge those who are obvious spam. I also go a little further to purge those who are following me as consultants - those who you mentioned follow you just so you'll follow you back. No thanks - homey don't play that. I was hoping that me clicking the "block" option might pay off some how but it doesn't seem like it so far. Regardless, I love how you mention your own "rules of following" as I have my own set. Similar interests, profession and location otherwise your cut!

Trish McFarlane

Hi Kris,
Your post would be great for someone new to Twitter to read. When I first signed up, I had been given the bad advice to auto-follow. I only did that about a week (maybe less) before I figured out the type of followers I was gaining- SPAM and internet marketing. Since then, I prefer to grow followers organically. I really rely on the #followfriday recommendations of other HR professionals on Twitter. If I add 2 or 3 good HR people each week, I'm increasing my chances of learning something new in my field. I also look at who the HR people I trust RT. If it's someone I don't follow, I usually do then.
Hope Twitter figures out a way to stop the spam!

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