Twitter: On irony and the elephants in the room

Twitter bird logo icon illustration “Twitter is about conversations.”

“Don’t just broadcast, engage.”

“People want to connect to people, not brands.”

The rules for brands on Twitter are pretty familiar to anyone who’s been around the service for awhile or shelled out some cash to hear an expert speak at a conference somewhere. Hell, people are writing books all about how to use Twitter effectively.

If you want to succeed on Twitter, be prepared to engage. Bar none. Full stop. Etc. Right?

Doing it wrong has never looked so right

Tell that to the more than 112,000 people who follow @dealsplus. Or the six freaking million people that follow @britneyspears. Neither of those accounts does a whole lot of engaging, conversation(ing?) or connecting. Yet the former gets retweeted all the time and the latter… well… six freaking million. That’s an awfully large elephant to ignore when discussing what makes a “good” twitter account.

Are there accounts that do what the experts suggest and truly engage followers? Sure, @wholefoods is just shy of two million followers and still manages to be conversational. Dell is so committed to the channel that they have an entire page dedicated just to listing all of their various accounts.

But the “experts” who suggest that brands doing it any other way are being unnecessarily critical of the millions of users who don’t seem to mind not being engaged by Britney and her ilk. Especially when one considers that the very conventions they demand brands adopt weren’t originally part of the “right” way to use Twitter in the first place.

Remember your roots

It’s worth remembering that retweets, @mentions and hashtags weren’t part of Twitter when it launched. They were conventions introduced by the early adopters. Twitter was, from the beginning, a microblogging service – a place to post status messages for the enjoyment of those who followed you. It was social, in that it was developed around the notion of being a place to keep tabs on your network, but it was hardly a place for conversation. Even the naming convention of a “follower” doesn’t suggest much in the way of a two-way dynamic.

But the one thing that’s made Twitter successful has been the company’s willingness to embrace and adopt the conventions of its users. Coupled with the opening of the API to third party developers, many of whom were faster to adopt these conventions than Twitter itself, Twitter has allowed itself to evolve at a rapid rate, largely because of the habits of the people who use the service.

Who put you in charge?

The people who are the fiercest advocates for the service seem hellbent to create rules around its use in a way that Twitter itself never did. A brand plays be these rules or they are guilty of a Twitter Fail.

Rich, isn’t it?

Ultimately, people will follow or ignore whomever or whatever brands they choose. I don’t personally follow too many broadcast feeds because, like the “experts,” I get the most value out of the feeds that are more interactive. But who am I to suggest people who do otherwise are wrong? I personally find twitter chats (wherein people essentially do a group Q&A tracked with a hashtag) annoying as all hell but many experts seem to love them – is my opinion suddenly wrong as a result?

Twitter has been successful largely because of the fluid nature of its use. Its user base has pushed innovations through trial and error, some have caught on others have faded away. But I don’t believe any group of users, no matter how influential, has the right to put stakes in the ground to define what’s wrong or right.

Twitter itself never did.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Matt Hamm

1 comment

  1. I think you make the point in a roundabout way, but the only real “rule” of Twitter is to add value. Britney adds value because she’s a huge celebrity and her twitter channel makes people feel like she’s at arm’s reach. @dealsplus gives away ipads, that’s a lot of value that most of us can’t produce, so you know, we resort to engaging and responding on Twitter to provide value.

    As for doing it wrong, anyone who takes the time to pick and analyze what other people are doing probably has too much time on their hands. Though I do find it annoying hearing people say things like “Twitter is stupid. It has no business value” simply because they couldn’t figure out how to add value. Even still, who cares.. not my problem!
    .-= Hey, you should check out Kelly RuskĀ“s last blog ..Switch- Author Dan Heath Speaks in Ottawa =-.

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