Influence and Numbers

Bill CammackThe Emperor wears no clothes.

Here’s how fads occur..

Someone does something that other people agree is a good or stylish thing to do and then everyone copies that person.

Eventually, all the guys want to buy the same car and all the gals want to buy the same boots and sunglasses and nobody realizes they’re all following one person’s idea.

One of the social media fads has been to incorrectly categorize the credit people deserve for how large their social network is.

People who are merely information-passers are being said to have influence.

This has been going on for years already. Companies have actually posted job descriptions that require the applicants to have more than so many Twitter followers. I’d like to laugh at that except that it’s so pathetic. I already explained why the number of followers someone has doesn’t mean anything at all, but let’s go over that again.

Follow Me Back

When I first got involved with Twitter, a couple of years before the Civilians found out about it and talked about it on the evening news like as if they understood what they were supposed to do with it, the philosophy of the community was “follow back”. Anybody that followed you, you were ‘supposed’ to offer them the courtesy of following them back. This was fine with me at the beginning, because the only people that knew of me on Twitter were my friends from other social media sites, so anyone that added me, I actually WANTED to listen to.

This got out of hand when randoms started following me. I became accustomed to 10 new people that I had never heard of before following me on Twitter every single day. This made me question the concept of automatically following people back because it was no longer people I wanted to hear from. My Twitter stream was being diluted with minutia & drivel instead of being a rapid-access version of forums or newsgroups I had been a member of.

I stopped auto-following people. Meanwhile, I noticed that others continued to auto-follow, going so far as to figure out programs to automatically add anyone that followed them so they didn’t have to sit there all day, clicking “follow” on their accounts. Next thing you know, there are people with tens of thousands of Twitter followers that they don’t know and that don’t have any relevant information for them and that they have zero demographics for in order to explain to someone why the community they have access to is valuable to their company.

Amassing Followers

There are some people that are celebrities and microcelebrities and weblebrities (etc, etc) that actually had a lot of people following them legitimately. These people were popular in the space or pioneers or selected a niche and always kicked out pertinent information that people wanted to listen to. This was way before the SUL (Twitter Suggested User List), and these people were amassing a crowd of listeners who were passionate about what they had to say.

Other people, I noticed, hehehehe were making rapid advances towards surpassing my number of followers without having anything relevant to contribute whatsoever. These people are social media clowns.. bums.. There was no way they should have been advancing like that, so I started studying their progress to figure out what was going on.

SInce Twitter only updates their following/follower counts once a day, it took me 3 or 4 days to figure out what was happening. The people who were progressing way beyond their personal merit always had their followING count leading their followER count. In fact, the gap was becoming wider every day.

How To ‘Game’ Twitter

If you think about this, it makes sense. If you have 10 followers and I have 2,888 (my current count as of this writing), I seem prestigious to you. If I follow you, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to follow me back, first of all out of reverence for my accomplishments on Twitter (amassing followers) and secondly, so that you can say you’re connected to someone that a lot of people follow.

So.. I can essentially add ANYONE with fewer followers than I have and there’s a good chance they’re going to follow me back. On top of that, once they developed apps that told people who was following them back and who wasn’t, people were afraid of being unfollowed, so they got with the program.

These same apps added bulk following and unfollowing and then it was off to the races. The system-gamers would add HUNDREDS of people every day by going to the general population timeline and clicking “Follow” for anyone that posted anything. A percentage of those hundreds they added (which explains why their followING count is always higher than their followER count) add them back. The ones that don’t add them back get bulk deleted using the peripheral application. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

This is how people got so many Twitter followers before the SUL. In fact, gaming Twitter was so prevalent that people were getting people to pay them to explain how to amass followers. There were “clubs” where your price of admission for joining the club was that you had to follow everyone involved and your win was that everyone involved would follow you back.

Useless Community

Hopefully, you see what the problem is with gaining “followers” this way. You’re building a community of nobodies that don’t know anything in particular and have no particular demographic. People are following you IN ORDER TO GET FOLLOWERS FOR THEMSELVES and couldn’t possibly give a flying **** about what you say, ask or recommend.

This is why numbers of followers can’t possibly translate to “influence”. In order to have influence, you have to be determined to be an authority on the topic. The people that built their follower lists from people that recognized them as thought leaders, pioneers in the space or innovators have an active, useful, passionate group of listeners. THAT’S useful. What’s NOT useful is people who have tens of thousands of followers from gaming the system and providing no consistently demonstrable value to their “community”.

Unfortunately, when you incorrectly assign credit to numbers of followers, both camps look exactly the same. The person with 60,000 followers seems more influential than the person with 2,888 followers strictly by virtue of quantity over quality.

This is why companies go out like suckers and hire people based on their apparent fan base instead of whether they can do a job in a professional, efficient and cost-effective manor.

Anyway… Twitter finally figured this out and then set a cap on how much your followING number could exceed your followER number. This worked decently, but the damage was already done. People that shouldn’t have had so many followers already did. Also, they didn’t stop gaming the system by following people for no other reason than trying to get those people to follow them back, they just slowed their roll to the limits that Twitter set.

The next travesty was the Twitter Suggested User List.

Suggested User List

Mike, Anil, Justin, Debbie, Grace, Kenyatta, Bill & Eric @ PodCamp NYC, 2007
Photo Credit: Jared Klett

Basically, since people were joining Twitter and then having nobody to follow and nobody following them, Twitter offered people suggestions of whom they might follow… including someone’s ******* CAT! :/ (and *NOT* including then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama).

The problem with this was that at the end of the Twitter account creation process, they offered you two links.

One was a gigantic green arrow, which indicated that you could activate your account and automatically follow everyone on the SUL.

The other was a TEXT LINK that was practically unnoticeable that allowed you to activate your account WITHOUT adding the people on the SUL.

Of course, tons of people clicked on the green arrow, resulting in everybody on the SUL gaining tens of thousands of followers every single day who had never heard of them before, didn’t give a flying **** about them and probably hadn’t even heard of them before they accidentally followed them as a consequence of creating a Twitter account.

There was a hue and cry about this (as there very well SHOULD have been) from the people that had struggled to promote themselves and create their follower lists through legitimate marketing tactics and online presence management. The numbers that it took them years to build were surpassed in mere days by people who shot up from 20,000 followers to 200,000 followers in a matter of weeks, absolutely dwarfing the stats of the legit group and making them seem less popular… less… ?influential? O_o

The Town Crier

This is why it’s pathetically laughable when people attempt to equate number of followers with influence. Do you have a large network of people to whom you can quickly disseminate information? Yes. So does the Town Crier.

The Town Crier is in charge of telling people what influential people told him to say. The Town Crier didn’t make a single policy and probably wasn’t even invited to the meeting where the policies were made. He IS, however, the person that informs the masses about these policies.

Does that make the Town Crier influential? Nope. The Town Crier is a source of information.. A newscaster. An anchorperson for the nightly news. Does the anchorperson write the articles? Nope. Does the anchorperson decide what stories go on the air? Nope. Does the anchorperson film anything or interview anyone in the street? Nope. They’re not influential AT ALL, even though they’re the ones that INFORM YOU about news stories by reading from the teleprompter.

It’s exactly the same for people that have built social networks without demonstrating to anyone that they’re an authority on ANYTHING AT ALL. Are you influential because you have the ability to inform 60,000 Twitter accounts of an opportunity? Some people say “yes”. I say “no”. You’re a good person to *USE* to get the word out about something, but your numbers don’t indicate that you’re affecting anyone’s thought processes. Your numbers don’t indicate that you can get anyone to do anything they wouldn’t have done anyway without hearing your opinion. Your numbers don’t indicate how you attained them or why your followers followed you. Your numbers don’t indicate who’s actually listening to you. Your numbers don’t indicate who gives a **** what you think. Your numbers don’t indicate that you can build and maintain a community for a client and offer them an impressive ROI if they hire you to handle their social media presence.

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