Twitter logic is hard to follow.
(This is comparable to getting an interview with Stephen King and asking him for help getting your lame book published.)
That same week, I cornered a Twitter-happy colleague (it’s easy to corner people who work in cubicles) and interrogated him about Twitter, too.
I’ve even logged on to Twitter to bother people with questions about Twitter.
I just don’t get Twitter.
I like it, I’m on it — but I don’t get it. I still don’t think I’m doing it right.
You know how it works, right? You sign up for Twitter, and then you can send 140-character messages to everyone who decides to follow you. All the messages are displayed in a list, a “feed.”
It’s like Facebook, minus the ads and the high-school reunion vibe. A lot of people sign up for Twitter just to follow celebrities. Lady Gaga has about 7,400,000 followers — and she follows almost 146,000 people.
That’s the part of Twitter that trips me up. There’s no way to actually follow 146,000 people. Even if you had a Twitter feed jacked directly into your brain, you couldn’t keep up with 146,000 people.
I can’t reasonably follow more than about 50.
But I feel pressured to follow everyone who follows me. A lot of people think it’s rude not to — that not following back is like meeting someone at a party and refusing to shake hands and say your name.
I used to think that, too, until I started working for the newspaper.
Right now, I have about 150 followers. Let me be clear: that’s an extremely unimpressive number. But it’s still way too many people for me to follow back. I tried for a while, and it nearly drove me off Twitter. My feed was full of people I’d never met, talking about things I didn’t know about.
Imagine being in a room with 50 strangers all talking about their kids and their jobs and their sports teams … And imagine that 20 of them are also trying to sell you life insurance.
That’s the other part of Twitter that bothers me, the networking.
People push their blogs, their books, their diet plans …
Sometimes it’s nice. Sometimes I think, “That was cool, thanks for sharing.” But most of the time I think, “Oh my God, stop trying to sell me stuff. You’re making me hate you.”
Also, I’m afraid that I might become one of those people. I assume that World-Herald readers follow me on Twitter because they want to read my stuff, but I don’t want to abuse their attention by constantly promoting my blog. I don’t want to sound like a 24-hour infomercial for myself.
(It’s funny, I didn’t join Twitter for a long time because I bought into the “I don’t need to know every time you make a sandwich” mind-set. Now that I’m on Twitter, I wish people would tweet more about sandwiches. I have a sustaining interest in sandwiches.)
These two issues — the how-do-you-follow-a-million-people issue and the stop-selling-me-stuff issue — are totally related.
When I’ve asked Twitter pros how they manage to follow 800 people, they say things like, “Oh, I don’t read everything. I skim.” Or “I sort them into Twitter lists and ignore most of them.”
I try not to judge people who are making it work — especially my friends –– but I just don’t get it. What is the point? Is Twitter just about collecting names? Following a thousand people and ignoring their obnoxious posts? Having a thousand followers who ignore yours?
I said earlier that I like Twitter, and now you’re probably thinking, “Really?” But I do, I like it. For me, it’s a way to find voices that I enjoy and get more of those voices in my life. For example, pre-Twitter, I didn’t have an opinion about Mindy Kaling, who writes for “The Office” and plays Kelly Kapoor on the show. Now I’m practically a Mindy Kaling acolyte. I want to invite her to all my slumber parties.
Also, some of my friends — and a lot of World-Herald readers that I followed back — are really delightful on Twitter. I like going to Twitter and having a feed full of people who make me laugh, smile or think. If I wasn’t racked with Twitter guilt and insecurity, I’d really love it.
So I asked Tim Siedell about all this. Tim (whose Twitter handle is “badbanana”) is the most followed person in Nebraska — and one of the most followed people in the world. He has about 411,000 followers, and he follows 245.
Tim isn’t a typical Twitter user; he’s superhumanly witty, and his Twitter feed has become part of his career. It’s led to a book and secret Hollywood meetings … But he gave me some advice that I think is pretty universal:
1. Follow people that you like. If they follow you back, cool.
2. Don’t drive away the people who like you by acting like someone else. If you’re not a salesperson, don’t sell. Tim almost never pushes his book on Twitter, and when he does, he makes it funny. (Like a commercial you don’t want to fast forward through.)
3. Stop trying to figure out how Twitter works — because everyone uses it differently. If you’re on, and you like it, it’s working.
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