The Value (And Waste) Of Twitter

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I often feel like I suck at Twitter.

Besides the fact that I’m not all that comfortable with the public back and forth of platitudes, handshaking and baby kissing that I feel diminishes the authentic tweets from brewing to the top, and forgetting the mad dash that many individuals engage with to follow (and follow back) as many people as possible, there’s something more about Twitter that makes me a little bit uncomfortable lately. It goes beyond my self-admitted social flaws (more on that here: The Gentle Art Of The Retweet).

Tweet too often. Tweet too little.

While this could be a relic of the mass media advertising mindset, there’s no doubt that being persistent (having a constant and consistent message in market) and repetition (repeating messages to ensure that everyone you connect with can see it) is key to being successful at Twitter. Now, before we all run to the hills in an attempt to define "success," I’m going to say that success is defined by having an active audience (a group that not only cares about what you tweet, but interacts and shares those messages with their own social graphs). I’d add on to that that someone who is "successful" on Twitter (by my estimation) is also someone who has a growing community. So, if you want to be active on Twitter, you have to hunker down, tweet a lot, sometimes repeat yourself and – in general – be in people’s faces.

Ugh, if that’s the case… I’m never going to be great at Twitter.

There is a fine line between a valuable tweet and a total waste. I think about every tweet before I put it out there (maybe I shouldn’t?). I wonder if what I am tweeting serves the audience or if it’s too much naval gazing. I wonder if the tweet is truly adding value to your stream or if it’s just one of many. Yes, I probably think a little too much about these 140 characters.

We live in two second intervals.

It’s the new reality. A Blog post, a tweet, a video on YouTube… all of this content has a short half-life. It has to. And therein lies the challenge: will there ever be serious value out of tweets? If you look at some of the people that we would consider "successful" on Twitter, they are cramming their feeds with content. Clearly, this technique works because more and more people follow these individuals and more and more people point to these individuals as ideal case studies in how to make Twitter work in the most effective manner. In the history of the world, content probably never had this short of a shelf life… ever. It seems like smoke signals stuck around longer than many of the tweets that fill a screen these days.

Frequency does not equal quality… but it can on Twitter.

To be considered good at Twitter, I would have to tweet more. In fact, there are many days (sometimes in a row), where I don’t tweet at all. It’s not that I don’t like Twitter (in fact, I kinda still love it), it’s just that life happens and I don’t ever feel any pressure to tweet. When time gets crunched, my priorities always start with the client work at Twist Image and ends with a Blog post. I also don’t want to be the person that is constantly tweeting everything just to get more followers or social media validation. But, the fact remains that if I don’t tweet often and consistently, none of my tweets get heard… they seem to get lost in the shuffle.

I’m wondering if you think we’ll all mature beyond this point or if Twitter and success will always be about the person shouting the most (and the loudest)?


  1. I would hope that we mature beyond this point. As we continue to hone our skills we should be able to shut out less relevant content and give attention to those who deserve it most. People that are unable to so this, and feel that there is a lot of “clutter” are simply making unwise or uninformed decisions about what they are allowing to capture their attention.

  2. I remember you mentioned on the podcast a while back the value of the small audience, I think if you have a small number of followers which look out for your content you can make twitter work. Ideally a larger number should be as engaged, but it seems noone has worked out how to achieve this.

  3. I find there are certain avators I look for (like yours) and some I ignore, as I scan on Tweetdeck (when I manage to make the time to get on Tweetdeck). Mostly I think about Twitter as a place with lots of information so I don’t check in unless I’m looking for information. I’m more likely to come across you and others I follow through my feeds or on Facebook.
    I’ll go onto twitter when I want to find out about breaking news, so whoever is posting that news, will get my attention.

  4. I’m a latecomer to Twitter, but I use it just as much, if not more than, Facebook now. I’m not sending tweets every half hour on the half or anything, but I do schedule important tweets about, say, upcoming workshops, to repeat at different times of the day for a couple of weeks ahead. You have to do that to get the word out. HOWEVER, I’m also there having conversations with people, reading and RT’ing good content in an impulsive and unscheduled manner. I see the big, so-called successful Tweeters out there with their thousands and thousands of followers, but are they really engaging? Or just broadcasting. Look at Guy Kawasaki who doesn’t even do most of his own tweeting. Or Jeff Bullas who just inundates you with content every 5-15 mintues like clockwork. Sure, they may have a big following, but is that success? Not to me…I tend to gloss right over their posts and if I do that long enough, I’ll unfollow them. I don’t believe in the automatic followback principle, or the auto-RT theory. I’m there with the average Twitter user who is actually looking for real engagement. I think there are more of us in there than the statistics and the Twitter Gurus would have use believe.

  5. Nice Mitch – I found this post via your twitter feed πŸ™‚ I think there is tremendous value in the 1/2 life of the tweet, because the feeds we care about will always resonate. We ignore some while finding great value in others. Similar to a thirty second radio spot or a TV commercial that catches our eye. We have developed filters to remove the noise and find the value.
    Again, nice post.

  6. I thought about this recently – and noted (internally) that Twitter (all Social Media) had made life more like ONE degree of separation – anyone knows everyone… Your comments are similar to how I use Twitter (cannot bring myself to repeat myself, and like to think about most things I say – trying to be more “gamey” – but it grates) -and this blog stirs may be to think that the reason we had 6 degrees between the world before was because it worked that way –
    Maybe that will be the evolution (moving backwards) that is coming next!!!

  7. I think that Twitter is basically Spam 2.0, it’s only useful for those (especially celebrities) who have already have big audiences hungry to follow those Twitterers every move. Of course it’s also proven to be useful for breaking news and revolution organizing. But that’s it – Twitter is great for the Big Celeb, the Big Event. But for the everything else, it’s really much ado about nothing.

  8. Repetition is, unfortunately, key (and yes, it makes me want to take a shower most days), but in this case it was a good thing. I didn’t know about this post until your tweet this a.m. But I will say that for many other thought-leadery folks, it has gotten a little out of hand. This is probably more noticeable for me since I have them all in a column together on Tweetdeck so I can track that behavior. Honestly, other than repeatedly pitching their own blog posts and those of their friends and chatting with each other, there’s just not a lot else coming out of that crew. You, my dear, are in another column entirely, so rest assured, when it comes to me, your tweets rarely go unheard πŸ™‚

  9. You’re absolutely right, Joel! One of my competitors in the innovation space relentlessly pounds Twitter with the same tweets, multiple times a day. Those posts, ironically enough, have already appeared in other innovation blogs. He has repurposed them with the authors’ permission, so he’s not screen scraping or anything unscrupulous like that. He’s able to tout big follower numbers, which he also promotes heavily. But I wonder what real value is being created here? There is no engagement. It’s all a meaningless numbers game. I think the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter has diminished in the last year. It’s like being in a room full of people, who are all shouting to be heard, but no one’s really listening…

  10. There will always be people playing the numbers game and there will always be a variety of types of advertising, some well done but the vast majority entirely untargeted. The fact that neither has much or any value seems to be irrelevant to many people. What is good about Twitter is that if you have time to constantly work your Following and other lists to weed out the rubbish you can keep your timeline relevant, up to date and without any noise. I just hope the paid for Tweets that I have no control over do not change this when they start to appear…

  11. This is a valuable (not wasted) point Mitch,
    As someone who does Tweet semi-often (I’m like yourself, and have days where I haven’t been on Twitter at all) I have noticed that people have jumped over me is “success” because they are simply there all the time.
    However, I’m going to take this discussion in a slightly different direction – What if you used Twitter completely differently than 99% of the people on there?
    Seth Godin whom I know we both respect greatly has just announced his 14th book “we are all weird.” In the blog post he let the entire world know a special hashtag where you could gather together, share thoughts on the books, and otherwise engage (I hope with the author).
    Seth does very little with Twitter, but recently he has been doing more and more of this style of use. He let’s us know a special hashtag where we can connect with the “community” and share thoughts and ideas in real time.
    He wins because the community grows around his concepts, and we win because the level of conversation is typically higher than just “hey I’m on here…”
    Just a thought – but it could be a good one.

  12. Twitter for me is about sharing, not shouting. It’s an incredibly rich information exchange. Everyday I vet 4-5 high quality blog posts and take the links to the Twitter stream to put my brand on it. When I do so, I’m telling my followers these are worth your time. I’m connected to dozens of others that do the same, reading streams that I don’t read. We each do a little piece everyday and the value for the community is tremendous. This sharing leads to real conversations over the phone and in person, which is my goal. Business is always done in person, Twitter just helps you meet people you might never have met before.

  13. The value of a tweet isn’t all that different from the value of an on-air mention via radio. Twitter is a two-way tool… with an RSS feed.

  14. Mitch,
    As you well know, a key trick to the right solutions is asking the right questions. You’ve done that again in this post. Sure, each person is different in goals and needs, but if we don’t ask and answer (and occasionally revisit) these questions, Twitter will absorb time and mind space that is better used elsewhere.
    I am moving into a new phase, in which Twitter will be useful element professionally. Well, if I have something useful to say…

  15. Thanks for posting on this, Mitch.
    If success includes that people actually pay attention to what you tweet, then being followed means little. Being listed, RT’s and @’s indicate people are listening and finding value.
    I love the ability to form instant hashtag communities to find people with common interests. Awesome Twitter feature.
    But overall, Google+ suits me better. It’s easy to find new people with common interests (which is handy, since all our old friends haven’t migrated there yet). And the people who are active on G+ are VERY active. At this early stage, it’s easy to get to know new people, and to do it with more depth than on Twitter.
    I, too, will continue to try to improve my value on Twitter, but I am so glad to have G+, where I feel more at home.

  16. Back in the Ye Olde Early Days of Twitter, I tweeted a LOT. A LOT. I’m not sure why — likely something to do with a more intensified, quick reacting version of blogging, which I already loved. I got a fair amount of response. Then I fell in love and spent hours on the phone in my long distance relationship (we’re getting married next month) and my tweeting was cut in half. And then in half again. Oddly, I found that the response I got when I DID tweet was better — less like water cooler chit chat, and more like, “Hey, thanks for sharing that, here’s what I think…”
    Less, as long as it was quality, was much, much more.
    Now I tweet even LESS (unless I’m participating in a tweetchat), and I continue to have a great response and lots of thoughtful interactions.
    So is it more tweeting? Or more shouting? Or more baby kissing? For me? None of the above.
    I think I share more stuff I care about now, and I tend to have more substantive conversations when I have the chance to have a conversation.
    That feels like success to me.

  17. On the subject of thinking too much about your tweets, I really like Twitter’s functionality that only shows targeted tweets (tweets that start with a user name) in your timeline if you follow both the tweeter and the recipient.
    At least for me, that makes me more comfortable writing ‘lighter’ tweets when I reply to or address someone directly, even though they are still public, as the number of users who see them in their timelines is smaller, and anyone who does is already following us both.
    I think the feature was implemented to reduce server load, but I find it invaluable as a noise control measure that allows even noise-sensitive people (like you and me) to tweet more freely and without thinking about the entire audience.
    Regarding repetition: with tweet life being what it is, that is, unfortunately, unavoidable. There are still a bunch of ways to go about it.
    I like the way Shel Israel tweets his blog posts: he writes something along the lines of “New post:” when it is new, and then “Posted this morning:” or something to that effect when repeating it later on. This achieves both the needed repetition and complete transparency to the reader. I have shamelessly adopted similar practice.
    Finally, regarding your final question on success at Twitter: I don’t think the loudest persons are the ones I pay most attention to on Twitter even now.
    Sure, being loud and active has its benefits, and I know I’ve clicked my fair share of links posted by very active tweeps.
    But you know what? Several more quiet types have made a lasting impression, so that I occasionally jump over to their profiles to read what they have tweeted in the past few days.
    In the end, who is more successful in Twitter: the active tweep whose links I click quite often, as they are always there, or the more quiet tweep whose profile I actively seek out to check what he has been up to in the last few days, even though I have missed most of the tweets when they happened?

  18. I love Twitter for it’s value as a communications tool, specifically around political and real-time sensitive events. It’s also wonderful when used properly as a channel between brand and consumers. I then see it as the digital incarnation of Speakers Corner in London, where the loud and the crazy amass their followers through sheer tenacity and lunacy.

  19. I think Twitter will go, then facebook. Facebook only has 40,000,000 American members. Social media is being recycled as we go. Twitter has no control over their content. Facebook is doing it by selling our private info. Each level of social media constricts. When twitter is faced with the reality that they have to charge or else they will end up like Myspace. I think most of twttier is garbage. I only do it to establish a brand. Thats the value of twitter. After that its pointless. I dont go on twitter to get news on a politician or celeb. I go on there to see if they say something crazy.

  20. Twitter does have its benefits (pertinent information, networking, time saver, communicating an important message/event, etc.).
    It’s when we focus on “following/followers”, then its effectiveness diminishes.

  21. “Frequency does not equal quality… but it can on Twitter.”
    And that, right there is the definition of Klout. Which is exaclty what’s wrong with it. Value (clout) still > frequency (Klout) but unfortunately, people are using Klout as a measure of influence because it’s easy. And it’s the only thing out there.
    I can’t wait until there is a better benchmark.

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