Sorry, I could not resist ;). Fact is that MySpace still get millions of uniques every month and I won’t declare them dead yet, but this is another story. What is important about this first big social network is a certain kind of behaviour born around 2003/2005 that spread from MySpace to all other social media sites which came after it: whoring.
I think this background is very important so I want to share this with you before I will go to the different possible ways to use Twitter for online education companies and online teachers. So please bear with me :).
The word sounds very explicit but it simply describes the situation when a MySpace user started on a journey to get as many “friends” as possible. MySpace whores even used to exchange their friends to push the count to the sky. If you are interested in some MySpace facts you should watch the Mixergy interview with Andrew Thomson below as he talks a lot about the early days of MySpace and the whole whoring system.
If you now go on to the social network that followed, Facebook, you will see the same phenomenon. Interesting about this is a story that took place pretty much one year ago. Internet marketer and NYT bestselling author Joel Comm was banned from Facebook for having too many friends. They simply shut down his account. After Robert Scoble and others wrote about this and a Facebook group was founded to “rescue” his account, Facebook finally released Joel Comm’s account but made clear that if this would happen again the account would be permanently disabled.
Joel interpreted this situation with Facebook not having enough capacity to handle the traffic. I think back then the idea of Facebook was still intact and that these rules were there to avoid Facebook whoring. Facebook was a network that was built to keep in contact with people you know from the “real” world. You might have heard of Dunbar’s number. It basically says that our brain is not able to handle more than 150 friends, which is also true for social networks, of course. Now back then the magic number on Facebook was 5000 friends so more than enough but internet marketers need of course much more connections to convert. And that is why they love Twitter so much. Another famous internet marketer and founder of the yearly 30 Day Challenge, Ed Dale, took a radical approach based on this story and some experiences he made with non marketing people. He simply deleted his Facebook account and started all over only adding real friends and family to the new account. Ed wrote a good blog post about his decision one year ago but I think it is still relevant.
Of course, this is all over now and Facebook basically wants you to have as many “friends” as possible to monetize on them. But that’s a whole different story again. By the way, you can see the same phenomenon on language learning communities. People have thousands of friends although one should think that the main goal is to learn a language. And even if I want to have a good choice of different partners to practice with we always come back to Dunbar’s number.
And we all know what comes next, don’t we. The rise of Twitter and therefore the rise of Twitter whoring. At the time when Twitter’s growth exploded because of the hype around the “celebs” using it, the quiet Twittersphere became THE place to whore friends. But soon enough the party was over because if you have 200, 800, 2000, 10000 “tweeple” in your time line, Twitter is basically unusable. How on earth can you expect to follow the conversation of thousands of people? And on the other hand, how can you expect that your tweets will be read by your “followers”?
So what happens when you have a 1:1 ratio of let’s say 1000 people following : 1000 followers.
1) Your account will attract Twitter whores because they know that if they follow you, you will follow them back. That makes one more follower for them and that is the only thing that counts. They don’t care about your tweets, they only want to have more followers than their fellow whores.
2) Your account will attract internet marketers, social media experts, you name them. For the same reasons of course. They still go for high numbers to get out the 1% marketing rule, e.g. if 100 people are following me 1 of them will buy my ebook “How to get 10000 followers in one week” – only $9.99.
3) Your account will be unattractive for the real users on Twitter because it looks like a, yes you guessed it, whore.
I understand that is not at all what most companies want to transmit, at least I hope so ;). And I understand that you want to get your message out there but social media has its own unwritten rules. No one who is really using social media, e.g. to keep in touch with people or to get informed will follow an account that simply spits out self promotion. I mean that would be the same as if you watched 10 different commercials of the same company on TV in an endless loop. The power of social media is that we can filter out the noise. I will come back to this again but adding real value, e.g. giving people a reason why they should follow you is the key. Following you because you follow them is simply not enough.
The interesting thing about it is that even the internet marketing world noticed that Twitter followers are pretty worthless. You can buy them for less than a penny on eBay these days. Or simply subscribe to a service that offers you thousands of followers and get your Twitter password phished.
Does all of this means that spending your time on Twitter is wasted? No, not at all. But there is much more to do than just setting up an account, following people and tweeting along. In the next post of this series I will write about the different strategies that I see for online education companies and independent online teachers on Twitter.