The social rules and tips for gaining ‘followers’; why opinionated people win
When I first joined Twitter, I felt like I was in a noisy bar where everyone was shouting and nobody was listening.
Soon, I began to decode its many mysteries: how to find a flock of followers, how to talk to them in a medium that blasts to lots of people at once and how to be witty in very tiny doses.
Twitter is a mass text-messaging service that allows you to send short 140-character updates — or “tweets” — to a bunch of people at once. They are your “followers.” It was designed to be read on a cellphone, though many people read it online, too.
Suddenly a lot of non-tweeters are starting to feel left out. On “The Daily Show” this week, host Jon Stewart reported on Twitter with a wink (or was it a twink?) at the narcissism of the personal broadcasting system. It has a world-wide audience of six million unique visitors a month, up from 1.2 million a year ago, according to ComScore Media Metrix.
But I have to admit I didn’t understand the appeal of Twitter when I joined, at the prodding of friends, in November. One answer that explains its popularity: It’s not about chatting with your friends — it’s about promoting yourself.
My name was available, so I set up a profile at twitter.com/JuliaAngwin. On Twitter, however, you do not exist without followers, who subscribe to receive your messages. So I set out to follow some people in the hope that they would follow me.
I had to learn the crucial distinction between a “follower” and a “friend.” On Facebook, if I’m your friend, you’re my friend, and we can read all about each other. Relationships on Twitter are not reciprocal: People you follow do not have to follow you or give you permission to follow them. You just sign up and start following them. It’s a bit like stalking. Heather Gold, a comedian and Twitter devotee, points out that for all its flaws, the term follower “is more honest than friend.”
At first, I was the loneliest of social creatures — a leader without followers. I tried searching for my actual real-world friends using Twitter’s “Find People” function, but it was down the day I joined. (Twitter is growing so fast that short outages are not unusual.)
So I asked a few colleagues for their Twitter addresses and began following them. I also searched their public lists of followers and who they followed.
Eventually, I cobbled together a mix of people I could follow: media colleagues, friends, bloggers and various people who are known as great “tweeters,” such as the chief executive of online retailer Zappos.com, Tony Hsieh, who has written quite movingly on his blog about how Twitter has changed his life. He says that being forced to bear witness to his life in 140-character bursts of prose has made him more grateful for the good moments and more amused by the bad moments.
Twitter is gaining popularity as a way to reach fans, plug new projects and act like BFFs. Some recent updates from high-profile Twitter users:
I discovered that a better way to get followers was to tweet. Every time I tweeted, I got a surge of followers.
Where were they coming from? The likely answer illuminates Twitter’s greatest strength: It’s easily searchable.
During the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November, people scoured Twitter for postings from eye witnesses. When US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River, one of the first pictures was posted as a link on Twitter.
Similar news items may have appeared on other social networks, but they were not as easy to discover. On Facebook, most people’s information is viewable only by their approved friends. MySpace profile pages are searchable, but not its blogs or status updates, and it is hard to find anyone you know because most people obscure their real names.
Now, a gaggle of unknown followers were finding something in my tweets — and following me!
For the full article published in the Wall Street Journal and written by Julia Angwin at firstname.lastname@example.org, click here <—–