Yesterday this tweet from @MackCollier reminded me of a post I’ve wanted to write for a while. There is often an ongoing discussion on Twitter regarding the number of folks you can or should follow.
Chris Brogan has a great post on the subject where he discusses Dunbar's Theory, which states you can only really relate and keep up with 150 persons. I think that is a fair thought but I also think Twitter gives you tools to expand that number.
First, let me say this: I define “following” differently than does Twitter. In Twitterspeak, you are following anyone whose tweets you subscribe to. But in Tom speak, I cal that “listening.” Currently I listen to about 2,500 people and hope to grow that number significantly over the next year. But I also think that one of the single greatest things about Twitter is the ability to create relationships with folks I’d never meet in real life, especially as I don’t do the conference circuit as much as I should. In Tom speak, I follow these folks. So how can I listen and follow at the same time? Enter Tweetdeck.
In the screenshot below from my Tweetdeck, the folks I listen to are the farthest left hand column titled All Friends. Unfortunately, Tweet deck won’t let me rename that column. On an average day, about 4,000+ tweets will filter through that column and I might actively check on it once or twice a day. Doing a quick scan. I find that two things draw me to a tweet. First, a link. Links mean content and I tend to spend a few seconds checking out any tweet that has a link. The second thing that I use, rightly or wrongly, the avatar. If it is something stupid or sexually oriented – seen lots of those lately – I move on. In my mind, that person isn’t serious about Twitter, they’re likely telling me what they had for lunch. Once I find something interesting, I tend to quickly check out the user’s profile and a sampling of their tweets. If it looks good, I usually add them to my “following” list where I can keep a closer eye on them to decide if I want to just accept their content or maybe begin a deeper dialogue or full blown relationship.
The next column, “Following” is reserved for the 50 or so (and growing) folks I truly follow. These are people that I regularly converse with on Twitter or whom I find tend to repeatedly participate in good conversations or share great information. This is the column I religiously monitor and where I usually find great insight and conversations. On an average day, 500-1,000 tweets might scroll through this column. While still a lot, it is at least manageable.
Next is the Replies column where anyone who includes @TomMartin shows up and finally the Direct Messages reserved for those folks that want to have a private conversation and then the far right column, a constant search where I monitor any reference to “Tom Martin.” These are obviously the three most important columns because any tweet here is someone trying to talk to me or about me. I’m pretty good about replying to everything I see here and if it is someone talking about me, RTing a story I wrote or a link I shared, I’ll either send an individual “thanks tweet” or maybe a blanket thanks tweet with a bunch of folks @’d. By doing so, I’m able to maintain a relationship with these folks – which as noted above is important to me.
By using a product like Tweetdeck, I can expand my ability to manage relationships past Dunbar’s number. More importantly, I can use Twitter to achieve my goals.
Now, back to my buddy Mack. In my estimation, Mack represents one of three primary Twitter archetypes that I’ve seen emerge over the last year.
The Relationship User: This is Mack. Mack has a huge follower base because he’s a smart guy who shares a ton of good information. But Mack isn’t primarily using Twitter as a knowledge acquisition tool, he’s using it to create strong relationships with folks that can either hire him or send him business or help him serve his clients better. Therefore, Mack doesn’t automatically follow everyone that follows him. Further, he doesn’t process followers (more on that later) because he’s probably picking up 50 or more a day, and just doesn’t have the time. So if you’re following a guy like Mack, and you want to get into his Dunbar number, you have to @ him to get his attention. In fact, you might have to @ him a couple of times. Once you engage him in a conversation or share a link with him, he evaluates you [my words] and decides to add you to his “follower” list.
The Scanner User: These are folks like me. I’m certainly on Twitter to make relationships but more importantly, I use it to cast a long wide antenna to find new information and to test ideas. To do this, I need to not only grow a large follower base (you need numbers to field surveys) but also I need to listen to a lot of folks. The more folks I can listen to, the better chance I have of coming across a great piece of information or finding that new thought leader that only has 20 followers on Twitter because they just started. So I use an auto follower service, SocialToo and automatically follow back anyone that follows me. Then using the filtering capability of Tweetdeck, I can decide if a person will move from my listening column to my following column. In working this way, I can achieve my two primary goals for my Twitter time. I can cast that long wide antenna and build relationships with smart people.
The Prospecting User: This is a person who manually processes all followers. Honestly, this used to be me before I did my Mardi Gras experiment. I was only getting 10-20 new followers a day, so it was pretty easy to manually click on each person’s name, check out their bio, avatar and a sampling of their tweets to see if it warranted a return follow. My goal here was to find high quality folks that could teach me, hire me or help me. Honestly, it made for a higher quality tweet stream but it also was taking 20 minutes or more a day. Once I started my Mardi Gras tweets, I was getting a couple of hundred new followers a day, which meant I could no longer manually process everyone as it would have taken an hour or more a day to do so. So on the advice of @ChrisBrogan, I switched to SocialToo and rather than opting high quality tweeters in, I now unfollow low quality tweeters. Each week I’ll spend some time looking through my “listening” column for low quality tweeters and then stop following them.
Is there a right way and a wrong way to use Twitter? Are there other types of Tweeters? Are folks using it in ways I’ve not yet figured out? How are you using it? Wondering minds want to know. So let them know via the comments section.