To Friend Or to Follow

Facebook Profile BarThe connective branches of the web are spreading out at an ever-increasing rate. Have you noticed how many of your old friends from high school and college are showing up in droves on Facebook? If you’re on Twitter, have you witnessed the literal flood of new registrations each day?

As more and more people jump into the social media space, regardless of their motive and catalyst for doing so (which we’ll address in a minute), you are going to be faced with the questions: should I accept that friend request and/or should I reciprocate following that person that just followed me on Twitter?

On Facebook, I have made very few exceptions to my general rule: I only accept and make friend requests to people that I am really friends with, online or otherwise (after 10+ working in the digital arena, I certainly have friends on Facebook that I’ve never met face-to-face). There are a very few exceptions to that rule – like, under 10 – which I made in either the interest of developing a friendship or widening a networking relationship with someone in or around my field.

With Facebook, there’s a simple reason for the wall. I use Facebook to share my personal information. I share pictures of my wife, my kids, and my closest friends. It’s my private space. Ha, it’s my space.

Twitter on the other hand, is a completely different beast for me. I find myself constantly squabbling with myself over whether or not I should be following everyone that follows me first. And so at the same time, I have to set my expectations on other people following me just because I followed them first.

Listen, I’m all for following people out of kindness and reciprocity. But the more users that fill up my Twitterstream with nonsense, the less I follow the stream. I originally fell in love with Twitter because of the amazing content that was steadily delivered to Tweetdeck.

I felt like I was getting smarter by spending lunch at my desk eating and reading Twitter. Now, as I follow more people, I don’t really feel the same way. I feel like I’m wearing waders and searching for post-rush gold.

So, what I’ve been doing as of late is checking out every single person’s Twitterstream that follows me, if only for 5-10 seconds. I look long enough to read the bio, check a handful of Tweets, and maybe 50% of the time I click on their URL to see what sort of stuff they write about (or design).

Twitter ProfileHere are the things I’m looking for:

  • Humor
  • Links
  • Information relative or useful to me
  • Retweets and @replies
  • Engaging gravatar (lets me know the person has a good idea what they’re doing)
  • People I recognize in their followers list

Here are the things I try to avoid:

  • Rudeness
  • Tweets about the sandwich you just ate
  • Pointless rambling
  • An entire list filled with only “New blog post: How to make your Mac look like D.A.R.Y.L.”
  • Following 1995 people, with only 32 people following back
  • Under 10 posts (unless they are totally brand new, and those 10 pass the criteria in the first list)

I would say that 75% of the people make the cut. I mean, really, the list of things that I’m trying to avoid are pretty basic. I just don’t want to fill up my Twitterstream with useless nonsense, and since I’m not trying to win any popularity contests or prepping for Magpie ad insertions, the size of my following is far less important to me than it’s quality.

I expect that someone has followed me because they enjoy what I’m adding to the larger conversation. If they aren’t and are just baiting me for reciprocation, I don’t mind if they unfollow. I still don’t think I’ve unfollowed someone once because they hadn’t followed me back, and I don’t plan on starting to do so anytime soon.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

I am more important than you

Yesterday, an interesting blog post went up on Loic LeMuer’s website requesting an advanced Twitter search and how you should be able to filter search results based on how many followers you have. He simply stated, “Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers.”

I don’t want to get into the discussion about the filtering and advanced search, because I would clearly like to have some filtering features added to search.twitter.com. (And there’s already been a bunch of discussion around this…in fact, probably far too much. Take a look at what Robert Scoble had to say about the matter…and he also talks a little bit about the issues raised later in this post.)

I still think ranking by number of followers is a little odd, but that’s neither here nor there for me, because there are apparently a lot of people who will find value in that funtionality.

The conversation to be had, in my mind, is the underlying problem: the importance placed on the size of your following.

I’m not sure how each person goes about gaining followers, but I have done my best to purposefully NOT follow a thousand random people in the hopes that I’ll end up with more followers. Sure, I love seeing new followers pop up in my inbox just like the next person, but I suppose it’s even that much more meaningful to me because I’m going about this organically.

I like to think that I tweet about stuff that matters, things that add value to the greater stream, or in the least, may make someone feel good or think deeply on a subject. I hope that that is why I have new followers.

There are plenty of people I follow that don’t have a thousand followers who I feel add 10x the value of someone like Loic, whose tweets (not right or wrong, mind you) tend to be more of the personal status updating nature.

Of course, Twitter is used for a bunch of different purposes, but for me, I tend to search out people that are talking about social media, interactive marketing, design, philosophy, humor, etc. I like posts with links much more than those without, because I am largely on Twitter to learn and participate in the community, hopefully adding some value along the way.

I guess it’s just human nature to enjoy the feeling of celebrity that comes with having 10,000 people watch your every move. It’s something that a great many people are interested in attaining. And for those Twitterers/bloggers out there trying to earn a living from their time on Twitter and other social media channels, I totally understand why they think they need to grow their following by any means necessary.

I think all of us using social media are trying to increase our reach, but I hope that we’re working hard to make sure that we’re not gathering subscribers and followers just for the sake of building up the numbers.

For me, I’d much rather have a closer-knit community of people interested in furthering dialogue, conversation and cooperative learning.

So, if you enjoyed this post, please follow me on Twitter and tell 100 of your friends to do the same. ;) I would however, love to read your comments and thoughts on the matter.

How To Get The Most Out Of Twitter

For those of you who aren’t Twitter users (also commonly referred to as “twitterers”), this article is meant as an introduction. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet, hopefully this will serve as a guide reviewing some of the popular Twitter tools and applications.

First things first
If you have no idea what Twitter really is, instead of explaining it, I’m just going to suggest that you go and watch a brief little movie which does a better job explaining Twitter than any other site I’ve seen online: go watch videos at Common Craft.

Get yourself signed up with Twitter
When signing up, I strongly recommend choosing a name that is either widely recognized as an alias of yours, or some arrangement of your name. For me, while 417north would probably be recognized by a certain group of design industry folks, my name Greg Huntoon has far more recognition at this point in my career. To keep it short, I played around with the idea of using “ghuntoon” as my handle, but my name is pretty distinct, and so I made the decision to use my full name “greghuntoon” as my username/profile name on every single service where it’s available.

Don’t underestimate the power of this recognition. You will be easier to find by your friends and colleagues, and also by search engines. I would say that 75% of the people that I follow on Twitter agree with this based on their Twitter handles.

Figure out your voice
Find out what it is that you really want to say. When you’re new to micro-blogging, figuring out what to say might be a little difficult, because you’ll be tempted to just tweet about every little thing. For me, Twitter is largely a business tool. I have Facebook to stay connected with my friends, and Twitter allows me to follow the conversation leaders on a wide variety of topics that are of interest to me. And in turn, I try to make sure that my tweets (the name given to Twitter’s 140-character posts) are relevant, and hopefully not boring to my followers.

Don’t use multiple posts to get your point across. Part of becoming a good twitterer is learning how to condense your thoughts into the 140-character limit. After a while, you’ll totally see the utility in keeping things short and sweet. It’s really amazing how much can be communicated, and culled, from 140 characters.

Find people to follow
Search for topics that you’d like to find “experts” in, and then check out the profiles of the authors that are returned in the search results. That’s one way, for sure. There’s also the TwitterPacks Wiki, which will give you some lists of people to follow based on a bunch of different filters / categories. I can nearly guarantee that you will walk away from the Wiki with at least 30-40 new people to follow (and depending on their reciprocity, you will probably end up with a bunch of new people following you).

Once you have a handful (20-30) followers and people that you are following, I strong urge you to follow Mr. Tweet “Your Personal Networking Assistant”, by visiting the site and clicking on the “Follow Mr. Tweet” gray button on the front page of the site. That is all you need to do, and within about a 1/2 a day later, you’ll get a reciprocal follow from @MrTweet with an accompanying link to their report which will show you two things:

  1. Which of your followers you should be following in return.
  2. Who the influential people are that you should be following (and it is different for each person, depending on your interests, what you post about, and the types of people that you already follow).

Which programs and tools you might use
I always have my main Twitter stream open using Tweetdeck. This allows me to split my stream into the main tweets from me and the people that I follow, all of my @replies, and my direct messages. Additionally, Tweetdeck has the ability to add multiple columns so that I can filter off specific people, searches, or fine-tuned groups of people to follow. This is the ultimate tool if you are managing one account, or have one account that gets 75% of your attention or greater.

TweetdeckSince I have multiple Twitter accounts I use, I also use Twhirl to manage all of those other accounts. Twhirl isn’t quite as great for showing me everything all at once, but it does a great job of managing tons of accounts all at once, including your friendfeed, seesmic, and identi.ca accounts if you so choose.

Tweetdeck and Twhirl are definitely the two applications that I use to post tweets with the most, but I take advantage of quite a few other services that really make it easy for me to Tweet wherever and whenever I want:

  • Twitter Tools – a WordPress plug-in that auto-posts your blogs tweets as part of the publishing process
  • Twitterfeed – the best, and most painless way to auto-tweet your blog entries (any RSS or Atom based feed), which I use for all of my non-Wordpress posts and entries
  • TwitThis – a bookmarklet that uses javascript to prepopulate a Tweet with relevant data like the title and the url of the page you are currently viewing in your browser
  • Twitterific – although not often, sometimes at home it’s just far easier to rattle off thoughts and links via the iPod Touch (in my case). This, however, is definitely the best iPod/iPhone Twitter app on the market.
  • Tweetburner – a great service if you’re really wanting to track your tweets
  • Twitter.com/home – although rare, sometimes I’ll exceed my limit on Twitter (long story, more on that here) and returning to your web home, tweeting by IM or by txt are your only options

Etiquette: some do’s and don’ts
Most importantly, unless you’re a chef, don’t tell me what you’re having for lunch today. The only other exception to that rule is if you’re giving links, reviews and/or dining tips that are useful. I guarantee you that the quickest way to getting yourself unfollowed is incessant tweeting about mundane eating habits, such as “Really enjoying this apple. It’s the best after a Subway sandwich.” I cringe at posts like that, while, conversely, a food-related post like this would be much more engaging: “Just finished off a caprese panini from @atlanticgrille on South E St” (fictional post…don’t go searching for Atlantic Grille on South E).

On the other hand, a very important Twitter practice is getting involved in the conversation(s) by replying to people. Let your voice be heard, and contribute when you have something constructive and new to offer into the stream. When done effectively, you’ll make new friends, followers, and widen your experience on Twitter.

I have made new business connections and friends, and learned a ton since joining Twitter way back when. But it continues to redefine itself, and there are new tools and services jumping into the fray nearly every day.

So, the sooner you sign up and get involved, the better for you…