The Two Types Of Twitter Stars

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Who do you follow on Twitter? How you derive the most value out of Twitter?

In a roundabout way, this was the exact conversation I just had over lunch with Hugh McGuire (The Book Oven, Bite-Sized Edits, BookCamp and a regular voice on the Media Hacks Podcast). The conversation stemmed from the realization that we both engage on Twitter with more of a "publishing links" and "being directed to other links" than a conversation/online social network type of approach.

There really are only two types of people on Twitter:

  1. The Publisher. Someone who uses Twitter to share bits and bites of interesting things they see or hear about in the world and online.
  2. The Talker. Someone who really digs into the conversations and has ten times as many @ replies than tweets that mention another Twitter citizen over a random thought.

…And yes, there are those that play a subtle balance between the two.

The point is that you can have a very active Twitter presence that creates a ton of value for you (and the people following you) without engaging in a river of tweets that read like this: "lol… thanks… you bet… totally agree… so stupid, let’s discuss later," etc… That’s not where I get (personal) value from Twitter, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great way to build audience, community, care and attention (and, that also doesn’t mean that millions of people don’t love that kind of back and forth).

Your Twitter is not my Twitter.

We can be following a large percentage of the same people and yet have a completely different Twitter experience (more on that here: The Trouble With Twitter – Confessions Of A Twitter Snob and here: The Dirty Little Secret Of The Twitter Elite). I love Twitter because I follow people who provide smart, cutting edge (and sometimes edgy) bits of inspiration, thoughts and links that Google Reader could never provide (it’s as Chris Brogan – author of Social Media 101 and co-author with Julien Smith of Trust Agents – calls a "serendipity engine" of glorious information). Personally, I’m less excited about the back and forth banter between two individuals.

Celebrating the two.

Twitter (like most other channels and platforms in Social Media) is not about being one thing to many people. The real gold in breaking through for brands in Digital Marketing is in embracing the idea that Twitter (and everything else "Social Media") is going to be about many different things to many different types of people. Pushing yourself to experiment and recognizing that whatever type of Twitter star you decide to be will – without question – ostracize the other types is fine (as long as it works for you).

Some people will never agree.

Some people will argue that if you don’t follow everyone back, and that if you don’t respond to every @ message, and that if you don’t try to build your following by engaging in all of the conversations, that you are missing the vital essence of what makes Twitter so powerful. I’d argue that your Twitter experience is not going to be my Twitter experience, and both of us should be perfectly comfortable with this. Some people aren’t looking for conversation. Some people aren’t looking for content. Some people use Twitter as a way to showoff what they’re doing (and where they’re going). Some people use Twitter as a place to share information.

What about you? What do you think makes Twitter so special? 


  1. 1. Twitter makes sharing links easy. So do LinkedIn and Facebook but those communities are gated. Twitter lets everyone find your tweets.
    2. Twitter teaches brevity. When you’ve only got 140 characters, you don’t want to waste any. ANd you want to leave room for retweeting.
    3. Twitter plays nicely. You can link your tweets to LinkedIn or Facebook. You can tweet using tools like
    PS I’m a publisher

  2. With its short format and the ability to quickly share links, Twitter is able to satisfy the bit of ADD that exists in everyone. [Squirrel!!!]
    A question I have is how do you get to all that good info in 24hrs? There just isn’t enough time. Conversely, how do you wade through the piles of useless tweets? I’m new to Twitter and sometimes it feels like I’m going through a second inbox. But then I find those interesting/enlightening morsels the time spent becomes worth it.
    @chrisbrogan and @cc_chapman slow the heck down.

  3. Hi Mitch,
    I agree with you in that Twitter can be many different things to different people.
    I tweet with several accounts and for me the single biggest thing has been connecting with people that I normally would have never met or normally would be ‘unreachable’. Better yet is when I’ve met some of the people in person, it wasn’t like I was meeting a stranger since we had already ‘broken the ice’ online.

  4. On one hand there is certainly a valid argument for not getting caught up in following every single follower back and responding to every @ response. I would also agree that to each their own with their Twitter experience.
    Here’s how I look at Mitch. My Wednesday opinion (subject to change by Thursday) Twitter is an engagement tool for those who choose to make it so. As marketers, we kill for consumers who are engaged in our brand.
    I can’t facilitate that engagement if I just spew out info and links.
    I base this on following brands like Kodak and Starbucks and even people like Chris Brogan and Bob Burg etc.
    My humble opinion is that if people want one way communication with a brand, they can go to a static website.
    Thanks for your valuable perspective on this. I enjoyed this post!
    Paul Castain

  5. Not that I’m a Twitter star or anything, but my Twitter style definitely straddles the two. On my personal account, I tend to tweet only funny, offbeat, etc links that I find, while I will retweet things that I find interesting on either a personal or professional level and with @ reply people about both work and pleasure. For corporate accounts of course, I shift the topics that I will discuss, and the ratio of publish to talk is slightly higher than my personal account, but only just barely because I believe that it is difficult to grow any Twitter account, personal or professional, if you do not have some strategy based on listening and outreach.
    On my personal account, I go back and forth about unfollowing people that tweet too much. I tend to fall on the side of only following people, who do not tweet too much (for me) and whose tweets are relevant (again for me). This is one reason that I follow maybe 1/10th the number of people, who follow me. On corporate accounts, the situation is much much different. I tend to believe that following more people gives those accounts the opportunity to be aware of and respond to more of what is going on on Twitter.

  6. I bookmark a ton of stuff using InstaPaper and Google Bookmarks. I do try to get to everything eventually.
    I am also very merciless when it comes to following people. I really take those extra few seconds to see if they’re publishing gold (or not).

  7. I’ve Blogged about “engagement” many times. Bottom line, my version of engagement may be different from yours. That being said, I think if you are tweeting as a “brand” then yes, you better be communicating like a human ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. I think that the use of Twitter goes far better to the original concept of a weblog than blogs now do. the publishers certainly do get a lot of play – sharing links, passing on information. Some people even have entire accounts just for this (@broganmedia notably).
    As for being talkers? I have to say I find that path somewhat limiting. Conversation is great – and being able to engage on that level is very important – but the people who limit their involvement entirely to talk are missing the boat just as thoroughly as those who only link, without ever saying word one.
    There’s got to be a balance. Both skills are essential, and it’s the interchange that makes real value broader than the sum of the two parts. Like Julien was saying on the last Media Hacks, growing a list in one medium is hard. Cross-pollination is so powerful, comparatively, that it’s impossible to ignore the benefit.
    This difference reminds me a little of classical Hollywood actors and film. In the beginning of audio/visual media, if you couldn’t act, sing AND dance, you were considered limited.
    Now, the Triple Threat is a lofty ideal. Then, the key seemed to be having a higher skill count than the number of media in which you were involved.
    But I guess this is Clay Shirky’s “culturally interesting when technologically boring” presumption in action.

  9. I completely agree that twitter is many things to many people. Personally, I use twitter to filter out all the things that I don’t want to learn about, read about our have to deal with. In other words, twitter to me is stream of all the people that I want to deal with and learn about. I get what I need and then pass along what I think can be of value to my network.

  10. Interesting, but what does tweeting “like a human” look like if it’s not responding to someone who says “hi”, waves, shares something with you?
    Or is that just a polite human and it’s okay to be a rude human? ;-p
    I’m just being awkward, but you get the point. Your human behaviour is different from mine so in a diverse set of behaviours can we use that as a measure?

  11. I guess I follow people who are interesting and I hope provide relevant content to shape my thinking. And the Media Hacks *team* ;->
    I’ve also made some good friends who share (parts of) our lives over this short messaging platform, got to know a guy who was joining our company before he started, and connected with people I’d never have come across.
    I will, however, interact with people at different levels. If your a broadcaster, I’ll treat you like that. I’ll listen, but switch off if you don’t make it interesting. If you’re a *real* person or perhaps an organisation doing something interesting then I’ll probably interact with you a whole lot more.

  12. Mitch,
    This is a great post, and thank you for giving great legitimacy to the idea that (in your words), “your Twitter is not my Twitter.” That truly is going to be the secret here when working with (in my case) clients … discovering both how they understand and want to use the platform, and how the people they should be/are talking with do as well.
    I’ll confess to often brisling when I hear thought-leaders tell me how I “should” be using Twitter … of course, that’s why they’re thought-leaders, and I usually pony-up and do what they suggest — but ultimately, communication is individually driven, given, and received – and that’s as true in our use of social as in any other form.
    Thanks for the insights this AM.

  13. This is a great post and great comments. This has really made me think about how I use twitter.
    I’m a publisher – conversations in twitter don’t work as well for me, partly because of the fast moving pace and volume produced by some contributors.
    I agree with your point about the benefit over google reader, this is the thing I love most about twitter it’s great for picking up and sharing gems I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
    From a brand perspective, I don’t look to ‘engage’ with brands on twitter, but I am interested in stuff they have to say, and I might pass it on if it’s relevant, and if it’s not a sales pitch. Twitter is more dynamic than a static website, and more digestable.
    Like everything in life twitter has it’s place but it has it’s limitations. I believe it’s important to think about your approach to the various social media channels and use them in combination in a way that supports your (and your business) needs. For me, facebook is a better place to have conversations. I very much like the description of facebook as a gated community, but of course that does mean you can be singing to the choir. So perhaps I should try to be more of a talker…

  14. Just because a person or a company does not engage in back-and-forth dialogue thru Twitter with their followers or who they follow does not mean that they never engage with people or their customers in back-and-forth dialogue.
    Twitter is simply one of many means in which the person or the company communicates. Perhaps the company or person uses other channels for the back-and-forth dialogue (perhaps not).
    My point is that Twitter is only one of many communication channels and therefore does not have to be the complete picture of a person or company.
    Does this imply that we must look at a person’s/company’s entire web presence to understand who they are? I think so, and even then we might not truly understand. Is BP simply their Twitter stream? Is Starbucks nothing more than their latest FourSquare campaign?
    On a personal note, I LOVE the serendipity quotient of finding pieces of news everyday from people that I follow and that I find intelligent and engaging … I love the publisher on Twitter … the insight and the links.

  15. I appreciate this post Mitch because I’ve been dealing with the angst of not having enough time to engage with other Twitterers and still accomplish everything else I have to do in a day. I love Twitter for its research potential. It’s a quick way to pick up new ideas and keep on top of what is going on. But I feel there is already so much info out there, I only interact when I feel I have something very valuable to say. Twitter forces me to stop and think about whether my thoughts are pearls of wisdom or merely my monkey brain on overdrive.

  16. Very interesting, much more of a publisher myself. I think there’s many more types, but definitely a nice distinction to make. (Towards that end have you taken a look at Klout Classes?)

  17. I’ve copied and pasted the first two paragraphs of my guest interview/post on Ian Capstick’s blog (January 2010), “Mobile tech: Gombita speaks out against Foursquare.” I think all of this still holds true on how I feel about Twitter.
    For perspective, in the fall of 2008, my Twitter account started life as a dedicated travel microblog, as I was visiting Australia for five weeks. I let family, friends and industry colleagues know about its existence. (Note: the first two groups hardly made use of it.) Although I didn’t make it a private account, I was surprised to find @CanuckDownUnder steadily picking up followers from various disciplines and countries (the majority then strangers to me). This was almost from its inception, during the length of my time in Oz and to present day. After returning to Toronto (in mid-December), I decided to retain my Twitter account, eventually changing its name to @jgombita. I also updated my bio, to reflect areas of expertise, experience and interests.
    My account is a personal one. My main incentives and goals are to widen my (international) network, source and exchange information, monitor trends (in the public relations, communication management and social media industries), and to debate ideas and events, particularly those related to current affairs. My secondary incentive and goals are to be amused…and (hopefully) to amuse.

  18. i am on the publisher side too. i think it’s good to have the odd conversation here and there, but when you look at who the actual “twitter stars” are – ppl like conan o’brien, gary busy, sh*t my dad says – these are very much publisher accounts.

  19. I, like most others, joined twitter to promote myself (I am a writer) but also find that I am very attached to some of the people I tweet with regularly. I find this very odd, since I truly know nothing about them. But there is comfort in the knowledge that at any time of day or night, one can jump on twitter and get advice, support, jokes, quotes, recipes, or news updates. I have to admit it has become an addiction. molly

  20. I agree with the above commenters: I think it’s about finding and striking a balance between being a chronic re-tweeter and engaging people in conversation. I tweet for @OperaAust (check it out – feedback welcome) and when I don’t see people interacting with my tweets or retweets on any given day, then I’ll go out of my way to ask them questions and engage on a personal level. Preferably with a bit of trivia or a question in regards to opera, but today for example it was something as simple as “Everyone’s very quiet today, what’s happening people? Thursday got you down? (I hate Thursdays – I have my reasons!) – Anna”
    I like to keep it light, especially since opera already has this image of being very heavy. Part of what we struggle with is lightening it up, keeping it casual and fun and notably un-snooty! It’s tough to do that if you’re just a re-tweeter, but similarly nobody will take you seriously in the opera world unless you do stay abreast of the news and keep everyone in the loop about new developments in the art form.

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