Before You Answer Questions On Twitter, Remember 200 Million People Probably Got There First

If you follow a profile on Twitter that has a very large number of followers – and I’m talking hundreds of thousands or more – it can be quite eye-opening to have a look at Twitter in the way that they see it.

That is, it’s easy to see all of the messages that anyone is sending out from Twitter – just visit their profile page – but what about all the tweets that come back in to them?

I wrote about how you can do this here, using Twitter search. It’s very easy to track the incoming tweets of anyone on Twitter who has a non-protected account. It’s worth an experiment as it really underlines how busy and overwhelming Twitter can be, certainly for the beautiful people.

Do this for somebody with a huge network, like a celebrity, and you’ll quickly see how much noise and repetition comes into their mentions folder. This is particularly true if they ask a question or make a pop culture reference: instantly, they’re deluged with dozens, sometimes hundreds of people replying with basically the exact same response.

Here’s the thing: everybody thinks they’re the first person to answer that question, or make the witty retort or wry observation. But of course, they very rarely are. So, before you jump in blind, how can you find out if what you have to say is still worth saying, or simply adding to the noise?

I’ll give you an example. I follow Simon Pegg on Twitter. Pegg has well over one million followers and gets a lot of engagement from his fans. Earlier today Pegg put out a tweet that contained a quote from a movie that I immediate recognised.

Ah-ha, I thought, I know this – it’s from When Harry Met Sally, one of my all-time favourite films, and a movie I can quote from pretty much ad infinitum.

Instantly, I knew the appropriate response to Pegg’s tweet: “It’s sweeping the nation!”

Feeling very, very pleased with myself (and, I have to say, looking dashingly handsome with my smug grin) I was just about to fire off a reply to Pegg, when something occurred to me. Even though only seconds had passed since he’d published his tweet, there was, I determined, a sliver of a whisper of a wink of a flutter of a nod of an eyelash-kiss of a chance that somebody else might have got there before me, and replied with basically the exact same thing.

So I had look.

And would you Adam and Eve it, somebody actually had. In fact, a whole bunch of somebodies.

Yep, I’d been totally ripped off. The audacity. Suffice to say, feeling as I now was like that guy in the office we all know who makes the exact same joke five minutes after everybody else has stopped laughing, I didn’t feel quite the same urge to submit my response.

Seriously: somebody needs to invent this.

Here’s the thing: Twitter moves pretty fast. So fast, in fact, that there’s every chance that one of the 200+ million people who use the network will have managed to respond faster than you. I know, I know: you’re a quick typer, how is that even humanly possible? But believe me, it happens. I was there.

Does that mean you should never respond? Of course not. And if the tweet has been published literally that second, then go ahead and take your chances. You might get lucky.

But if minutes have passed, and certainly hours, and the person who sent the tweet has forty-five gazillion followers, there’s probably a small chance that somebody else got there first, and that the submitter has long since moved on.

So, best thing to do in those situations is do a quick bit of research. Open up a Twitter search, scan all the tweets sent to the person, and if they still haven’t got the response they’re looking for (or you have a different opinion), then go ahead and send them that tweet.

But if they have, then don’t. Because by answering their question or making that oh-so-hilarious comeback so late in the game, you’re at risk of looking a little slow and, quite frankly, a bit rubbish.

Most importantly, you’ll also be adding to Twitter’s growing problem with noise. And that’s an issue that’s definitely sweeping the nation.