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John Gushue
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Getting the most out of Twitter

A year or so ago, when the Twitter bandwagon was ramping up to warp speed, I read no end of things advising on how to get massive influence on the social network. The bottom line: follow few, get followed by many.

The thinking was that your influence boiled down to a ratio. If many, many more people followed you than you followed - that is, if thousands of people subscribed to your feed, while you only viewed the feeds of a comparatively small percentage of that number - then you were considered to have a great deal of influence.

Surf's up -

A year or so ago, when the Twitter bandwagon was ramping up to warp speed, I read no end of things advising on how to get massive influence on the social network. The bottom line: follow few, get followed by many.

The thinking was that your influence boiled down to a ratio. If many, many more people followed you than you followed - that is, if thousands of people subscribed to your feed, while you only viewed the feeds of a comparatively small percentage of that number - then you were considered to have a great deal of influence.

My view of that theory: it's garbage.

As a journalist, I'm naturally and, indeed, professionally curious. I want to have access to information, and lots of it; why would I only want to be limited to a small few?

I understand why people keep limits on the number of feeds they follow. After all, your home feed can quickly become swamped with tweets, many of which will be anything but important.

However, there are methods to sift through your feeds. Last fall, Twitter itself made things a whole lot easier by establishing a lists feature. I use several lists, so I can keep track of things by categories (journalism, news, magazines, local Twitter users, and so on).

I had already been doing this through HootSuite (hootsuite.com), a program which has made managing Twitter a breeze. The lists function is now fully integrated. I used to use TweetDeck, (tweetdeck.com) which worked fine, although I find HootSuite much faster and less likely to get gummed up.

In other words, the argument that a high number of follows is a negative makes absolutely no sense. I've noticed that some of the Twitter apps that measure influence are now more concerned about things like reach (how your network can in turn reach more users), generosity (how often you retweet the messages of others) and engagement (how often you discuss things with others, and vice versa).

The buzz and novelty of Twitter are fading away, but it's becoming a part of daily life and communication for millions (about 20 million different users last month). Maybe you want to have an Oprah-like level of influence; more than likely, you just want to have a network of friends and others with similar interests.

As I've been developing my own network, I've taken time to spread my wings out, with follows of people I don't know at all, but who I hope will help serve one of my ultimate goals on Twitter: learning something I didn't know before. That, for me, far outweighs any idea of "influence" that downplays the significance of follows. Indeed, that very thinking runs counter-clockwise to key principles of social networks: sharing, exchange, collaboration and conversation.

Elsewhere this week:

Cork'd

corkd.com

Not sure about that bottle of wine at the liquor store? Do some consumer research of your own, and run it past the user-submitted wine reviews here. You're especially welcome to chip in your own later on.

Behind The Name

www.behindthename.com

If a baby is in your future, you may be getting some advice on naming from friends, families and colleagues. This is a site that explains where hundreds of names from around the planet come from, and what they mean.

5min

www.5min.com

The idea behind the tutorial-minded video site 5min is that you'll only need five minutes to learn, say, how to make ice cream at home, or add some bass effects next time you and the crew are doing some beatboxing. In other words, something for everyone.

Make Wee

www.makewee.com

It sounds like what two-year-olds say when it's bathroom time, but Make Wee is actually just a way to make avatars (that is, cartoon-like representations of yourself) suitable for the Wii, or otherwise.

John Gushue is currently on leave from his job at CBC News in St. John's. Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: CBC News

Geographic location: St. John's

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