Life On The Twitter Suggested User List

By Brandon Mendelson (@BJMendelson), Event Organizer for A Million High Fives (a quest to high five one million Twitter followers and volunteer with them at their local homeless shelter this August.)

For the moment, I am one of the most followed non-celebrity / musician, non-media, non-brand, people on Twitter. I follow over 300,000 of my 620,000 Twitter friends, and should Twitter lift the 1,000 follower a day cap, I hope to follow everyone back in the future.

Here are ten thoughts and observations about attempting to interact with 600,000 people.

1. The browser remains the best way to manage Twitter.
I need a quick and efficient way to keep track of many tweets. After using all of the alternatives out there, using a web browser is the best way to go. I always see fresh content, and I can hit the back button in case I miss something.

2. It is impossible to see every single tweet from every single user.
I found it difficult to see every tweet at 1,000 followers, and it became a fool’s errand at 10,000.

What I do, is keep track of individual people, not tweets. You CAN keep track of thousands of individual people. I jump into the conversation’s I see on the stream and if I need to catch up or learn more about someone, I visit their profile.

3. The Suggested User list stigma.
Many in the tech community are upset about the list and have taken shots at Twitter, and what I perceived as shots at some of the folks on there. Yes, I took those personally. Here’s the thing, and why being upset about the list loses the Twitter plot:

If someone follows you, they’re following because you are tweeting about something they’re interested in. Not because someone forced them to. Tweet good content and the followers will come over time.

4. Seth Godin is right, when you form a tribe, the number of members doesn’t matter.
In fact, you might be better off with a smaller, engaged following depending on your goals. Twitter is not Facebook. Those with the most friends do not win.

What I try to do is find members of my tribe and create content they will enjoy. Over time, you’ll get to know your tribe well, no matter how many people are following you.

5. You can’t compete with the celebrities, so don’t try.
Some have access to things we don’t (like a fake feud with CNN), and people will follow a celebrity to follow a celebrity, regardless of the medium. The important thing is not to get hung up on how many followers they have, and whether or not the media gushes over that number.

And for what it’s worth, with one awesome exception (@Alyssa_Milano), none of the celebrities respond to me either.

6. You must have zero spam tolerance.
If it looks like spam or seems like spam, I unfollow immediately. Ditto on the unfollowing for people who Auto-DM. I try to clean the stream as much as possible and doing so makes it easier to follow everyone. It’s important to clean the stream often to focus on the real content.

7. You can’t please everyone, don’t try.
I’ve had people gripe about me talking about my college plans, how often I tweet (which is a lot), and other dumb reasons since getting on the list. The attitude I’ve developed is this: I’ve been on Twitter for a long time now (two years) and I’m not going to change how I tweet because I’m suddenly popular.

Social networking is all about authenticity. So being phony to please one or two people?Not worth it.

8. The new Twitter Fad: !
If I have a reply to a follower that I think is relevant to the larger community, I place the ! symbol in front of my message. This makes it so everyone following me will see the tweet.

Once you’ve taken this role of tribe leader it’s important you are responsible for introducing members of your tribe to each other and making sure everyone is on the same page.Sharing relevant tweets and bits of conversation with the ! symbol is critical.

9. Share Their Content.
When you’re following a large group of people, it can be hard to maintain the personal touch, so if you find great content from them, praise them and share it. It’s not a replacement for missing their tweets, but as it’s impossible to see every tweet, sharing and acknowledging their content will help you maintain a personal connection and successfully build the tribe.

10. Sometimes, you repeat yourself.
The biggest draw back to having a lot of followers is that you need to repeat yourself. This is true for anyone with a large following because not everyone is going to see your tweet the first time it goes out.

These are thoughts and observations I have had in following many people, but the important thing is, you don’t need to be on the Suggested User List to manage a large Twitter following or to gain one. Be authentic, gently remind people of what you’re doing, share their content, and don’t compare yourself to the celebrities.

A large Twitter following is a tremendous resource in terms of web traffic, but that traffic is useless unless they are engaged and actively discussing what you’re doing. Utilizing the suggestions I made above, you can successfully engage that large audience and generate good traffic to your projects.

And of course, if you live in the states and want to volunteer at your local homeless shelter with me this Summer, I hope to see you in August.

Comments

  • June 16, 2009

    Great tips, I’m looking for twitter tips and this was awesome.

    Question: Do you recommend automatically following anyone who is following you? I feel like I lose followers because I don’t automatically re-follow.

  • June 16, 2009

    Thanks Eric. To answer your question:

    I was using SocialToo.com to auto-follow people who followed me and un-follow those who unfollowed me. I did this because I believe it’s important to follow those who follow you and it was getting impossible to click through dozens of pages of people following me.

    So yes, I would recommend following folks back.

  • June 16, 2009

    Thanks for tips! No. 7 appeals the most to me cos I was pondering over it recently.

  • June 16, 2009

    Nice tips Brandon!

    I think you would save some time if you group people that you like to track. Software like TweetDeck or Seesmic lets you make groups and get tweets from people in a group without needing to visit their profile pages. Kind of like subscribing via RSS to get blog articles when they are posted instead of having to visit the blog every day.

  • June 16, 2009

    I think the advice of having zero spam tolerance is something you should remember when choosing to follow or not or even after the point of following a person..choosing to unfollow.

    I think a good practice specially when first starting off, is to try to tailor who you are following to those that seem interested in similar subjects as you, share a connection either geographically or industry wise or are followers of people you already follow that fit into those lines of thought. I think then you will always keep to a core of people you follow and that follow you who as mentioned above, create a twitter connected tribe.

    My thoughts…
    Joyce
    http://twitter.com/RhiannonSL

  • June 16, 2009

    It’s amazing that you can interact with 600,000 while I sometimes find it hard to keep up with 200! Thanks for this post, I like how the points can be used for average Twitter users too. (#4 & #8 especially)

    I’ve heard about tribes and now you made me curious enough to investigate.
    I hadn’t heard of using ! and think that will be very helpful. Can’t wait to try it out.

    Have you noticed an upswing in spam?

    I am always behind in Twitter news (which is why I come here ;)

  • June 16, 2009

    This is a really helpful post, thank you. Even following just a few hundred people, it is quite hard to keep track – even after being away for a couple of hours, there can be several hundred tweets to check on!

    It’s good what you say about followers coming over time when you tweet good content. That’s the challenge for me!

  • June 16, 2009

    Great article and sums up many of the issues I have found as @bullyingUK grows we are just over 9000 followers, Very good tips and really good to know your observation match my own. Some times wonder if it’s just me lol :-)

    I like the idea of ! I have adopted A before an @reply A=ALL will give your ! a try and see how people respond.

    Thx
    Oh and your website sent some traffic to bullying.co.uk today not sure why? But thanks :-) will keep hunting for the answer
    John

  • June 16, 2009

    Great article and sums up many of the issues I have found as @bullyingUK grows we are just over 9000 followers, Very good tips and really good to know your observation match my own. Some times wonder if it’s just me lol :-)

    I like the idea of ! I have adopted A before an @reply A=ALL will give your ! a try and see how people respond.

    Thx
    Oh and Thx again for mentioning us in the Top Charities that Twitter list made us feel very humble
    John

  • June 16, 2009

    Just a quick thought comes to my mind… If you are not able to keep up with everyone’s tweets so why do you want to be followed and follow by more people that you can handle? Why would I follow someone with hundreds or thousands of followers if my tweet to him will probably not be seen or taken into account or whatever? And going further with the exercise… Will Twitter end up being a one way communication thing where I’m forced to read the “big guys” tweets just to see what they have to say today and assume I’ll never be able to establish a two way communication with them?

    For instance, I will use @problogger as an example of what I mean with all the stuff I wrote… Why would I want to follow @problogger if chances are I will not be able to establish any 2 way communication with him at all? Just to know what he has to say? I read Problogger by RSS for that!

    Well… enough for one comment… May be I’m misunderstanding Twitter at all… I’m not sure now!

  • June 16, 2009

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing dude.

  • June 16, 2009

    Interesting post by one of the good guys. The thing you don’t admit, though, is that the list is corruptible. That’s why being on it brings with it some negative karma. When you are gifted something without earning it (and without transparency of how people get picked and how people get removed from it) people are resentful at best and distrustful of the whole thing at worst. This was one of the worst things Twitter did to the community. We should always build meritocracies, not more royalty-based systems.

    When I say “earn it” tell me, what did @oprah do to earn her way onto this list? She got added to the list after Tweeting for a week and after only doing a few handfuls of Tweets. She didn’t earn her way onto this list. She was gifted a spot on it. That’s not a meritocracy and it’s anti-community.

    It also is a demonstration that Twitter’s engineers yet again took the lazy road. They could have built a much better list that was a true meritocracy and rewarded actual participation and also gave new users many more choices of categories of people to follow. See http://www.wefollow.com or http://alltop.com for better ideas.

    Friendfeed’s recommended follower list at http://friendfeed.com/friends/search is algorithmic and totally based on popularity. Earned popularity, not “gifted” popularity. That list is far from perfect, but is much more of a meritocracy than Twitter’s list.

  • June 16, 2009

    Just wanted to catch up on some comments here:

    @Marko, I have tried the other services but can’t seem to really get into them. I do like the Gmail Twitter Widget, but the browser remains my favorite.

    @Opinionated Ant Spam in the traditional sense (bots, that sort of thing)? Not really. I do see a lot of well meaning people though get caught up in re-tweeting services that are pretty sketchy though.

    @Guillermo I’d like to think I’m good at keeping a two-way communication with the folks following me. I may not see all of the tweets initially, but I do visit people’s profiles quite often to catch up on what they’re doing and chat with them.

    It really depends on who you’re following. I know some folks with a few hundred people following them (including myself) where they don’t normally tweet back with people following them.

  • June 16, 2009

    As someone who uses Twitter primarily as a way to reach targeted niche traffic, it doesn’t make sense for me to follow thousands of random people who may follow me.

    I prefer gaining organic traffic who keep following me b/c they find my content valuable. You can increase your following plenty quick by using Twitter’s search feature and interacting with people on your particular area of interest.

    Twitter is designed to interact. While it is useful to follow for the sake of being informed (ie: FoxNews, NPR, CNN)

    I agree with Robert Scobe’s comment. If you don’t earn the traffic, you have no reason to try and keep it!

  • June 16, 2009

    Wow, incredibly relevant. I especially appreciate the point about no spam policy. Clearing out the spammers/non-interacters has made my Twitter experience infinitely more manageable and enjoyable. Thanks!

  • June 16, 2009

    @Brandon – Great article! I especially like #8. I’ve been wondering how to gracefully handle that. I had considered putting the @ on the end of the statement.

    @Guillermo – I just wanted to say it’s also about the power of the stream of information. It’s not just about a specific individual but the ability to toss something out and see what comes back or to drop in and see what’s being talked about. The more people you follow / follow you in your nitches the larger a stream you are working with. Sure @problogger doesn’t have time to reply to all of the thousands of followers he has but he contributes to the stream and replies to the stream when he can. It might be you or it might be someone else. If it’s something that you find interesting that’s the reason to follow someone. They become a drop in your stream of information. The more quality drops the more chances you find something when you look.

  • June 17, 2009

    I’ve noticed that I do get the same tweets over and over from many people. I know you said it’s a good idea to repeat your tweet, I’ve done it a bit but am reluctant to go too crazy. I actually amuse myself with some of my tweets but do realize that they are likely not read. What’s the balance between repeating a tweet and annoying my followers? Thanks!

  • June 17, 2009

    Hi Robert,

    The only thing I will say is this: I don’t think any friend recommendation service, regardless of the service, is perfect.

    For Facebook, I have people recommending complete strangers to me through their new suggest a friend service.

    For Friendfeed, the most popular users and their friends dominate the list (a quick snapshot of the list shows, at least for me, a who’s who of the tech crowd, and that’s a turnoff because it’s the same old people. Not a knock on the people there, but I’d like to see new people).

  • June 18, 2009

    Hey Brandon,

    Thanks for the feedback. I guess all I would say is that it follows hollow to me, if I follow someone only to get my friend count higher. In your case, that is kind of the point, but for me it reminds me of the early myspace craze to get the highest number of friends. Anyways, I’m going to follow you on twitter, and again, great article.

  • June 19, 2009

    Hi, Brandon.

    Interesting article. It does bring up a question that I’ve wondered about for a long time: why does someone (such as yourself), who knowingly cannot actually read all that you’ve signed up for, follow hundreds of thousands of people? What’s the purpose?

    As you said, you can follow thousands of individuals, rather than tweets — and that I understand: when I’m in a hurry, I tend to jump to certain individual’s accounts and ignore the overall stream. I get that.

    But even concentrating on people rather than posts, it’s humanly impossible to actively follow the goings-on of 300,000 (let alone 600,000) individuals (unless every one of them is very, very quiet): you said yourself in a comment that it was impossible to simply click on that many people in order to manually follow them, so clearly reading that many people is that much more impossible.

    So if you’re only keeping track of a certain number of people anyway — even if that number is a couple of, or even a few, thousand — why keep those excess hundreds of thousands on your following list? I don’t even mean in terms of interaction, such as the comments by Guillermo asking why one should follow someone who does not respond: after all, while interaction is good, if I read problogger, it’s because I’m interested in what he may say, not because I expect him to be interested in what I may say. But in terms of the number of followings, from a simple reading standpoint, why fill a page with hundreds of thousands of individuals knowing that most will never be read anyway?

    I understand Rose’s comment above about having a large stream of information, but if you’re not actually able to keep up with that stream of information, then most of that stream is flowing by unread. So what’s the purpose of having such an overflow? Is it in the hope of coming across something interesting now and then by random chance, like meandering blindly around an unorganized, uncategorized Library of Alexandria? Is it simply about building an audience for yourself/your own projects/work/wares/whatever (i.e., the goal of having so many followings is to have many followers for your own content)? Is it a question of preferred etiquette?

    I don’t mean these as snarky questions, so I hope they don’t come across as such. I am simply fascinated/confused as to what purpose there is (barring someone’s desire for large numbers as you mention in point #4) for following so many people knowing that you’re really only capable of paying attention to so few. I’m not ashamed to admit that the concept boggles me.

    Thanks.

  • June 20, 2009

    Brandon:

    1. I don’t agree with anyone who stigmatizes lists of recommended Twitter users. I rely on good aggregators to point me to things that are likely to interest me. Anyone who finds this sort of thing unearned or unfair comes off as merely envious to me.
    2. The term “tribe leader” amuses me, perhaps because I don’t fully understand it in comparison to, say, bloggers who encourage interesting conversations with their commenters.
    3. I suggest the case can be made that anyone with your size follow list is following that many people merely to retain their attention. I don’t think you make a practical case for effectively communicating with them all.
    4. Commenter #12 also takes yet another opportunity to artificially conflate your article on Twitter etiquette with his feelings about the service itself, and follows up by hawking his favorite competing service, as he did on allthingsd a few weeks ago.

  • July 15, 2009

    @Robert – so Barack Obama earned his spot on the friendfeed suggested friend list? Don’t think so. Other than that, I really like the FF list.

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