It’s weird being an early adopter sometimes, especially when the things we early adopt become successful. At first a new service comes online and it is the realm of the geeks. Everyone is nice and accepting and it feels like some kind of hippy, geek oasis. Then a product or service takes off and everything changes. Eventually rules and norms are taken over by the larger community.
I joined Twitter in 2008 with my personal account, and February 15, 2007 with my former company’s account. That was just before Twitter was a year old.
Around the time I joined Twitter, tech guru Leo Laporte had the most followers – 37,000. A year later Twitter released a controversial “Suggested Users” list, and everything changed. Suddenly early adopters who had worked hard to encourage their audiences to join them on Twitter were passed by celebrities who barely used Twitter at the time.
Then there was that time in 2009 when Ashton Kutcher campaigned against CNN to get to 1 million Twitter followers. Kutcher was live on Ustream. Anderson Cooper was live on CNN. Kutcher won.
Why the History Lesson?
This morning, the first thing I read was an opinion piece by David Holmes on PandoDaily called “Follow us on Twitter” about Vanity Fair asking readers to help them get to 1 million Twitter followers.
David isn’t harsh in his criticism. It’s more like he’s leaning toward thinking it’s kind of not okay for Vanity Fair to ask readers to help them reach that goal. If people agree with him, the rules and norms about Twitter have changed fast.
When he looked at the numbers, David found that Vanity Fair adds about a thousand followers a day, and requesting readers to help them get to a million hasn’t made a difference:
“All it got in return were a bunch of jokes on Twitter about how gauche it is to ask for followers on Twitter.”
Here’s David’s issue with VanityFair‘s ask:
“And I guess that’s the problem (if there even is one) with Vanity Fair’s gambit. It’s not that they care about getting more followers. That’s fine, obviously. It’s that when they ask for followers by saying ‘help us get to a million!’ it makes their followers sound like little more than another number served, not a member of a community.”
It’s more than a little ironic that we’re talking about an organization with the word Vanity in its name pursuing something vain, but beyond that, David seems to be wrestling with something lots of us making our way in this new world of digital connectedness wrestle with. We don’t want to be brash and all about the numbers, and yet we know the numbers are important. We want to build engaged communities and exchange value for value because we know that if people don’t care about our product we don’t have one.
It’s a constant balancing act. Promotion is part of business, but only a part of it. When we focus mostly on the numbers, we tend to make mistakes in social media. When we focus only on engagement, we may not really be taking care of business.
Apparently, it doesn’t really matter than Vanity Fair asked for more followers on Twitter. Perhaps if they were more engaged with readers, readers would be more engaged with them, and their request would be making more of a dent.