Ricky Gervais: When Celebrities Fail At Twitter

Yesterday Ricky Gervais made the decision to quit Twitter.

He’s only been ‘active’ on the service since mid-December, but clearly felt like he’d given it a good go. On his blog, he wrote, “As you may know I’ve stopped with Twitter. I just don’t get it I’m afraid. I’m sure it’s fun as a networking device for teenagers but there’s something a bit undignified about adults using it. Particularly celebrities who seem to be showing off by talking to each other in public. If I want to tell a friend, famous or otherwise what I had to eat this morning, I’ll text them. And since I don’t need to make new virtual friends, it seemed a bit pointless to be honest.

I suppose it was meant to be a bit of a marketing tool for The Globes, but they are watched by 25 million people in America alone and maybe 300 million people world wide – tweeting about it would be a drop in the ocean. Also I’ve got the website and I don’t have to restrict things to 140 characters. My tweeting was becoming like a tabloid version of this blog, and I couldn’t even put important stuff like this up.”

(The parts in bold are my own, added for emphasis.)

To be honest, I didn’t even know that Gervais was even on Twitter. And I consider myself to be a fan of the man, particularly his stand-up work. So something there is already not right.

Gervais opened his account on December 14, and what I’d like to do is analyse exactly what happened that made him decide it wasn’t for him less than one month later. What errors did he make, and what could he have done differently?

What Went Wrong?

Gervais made a number of very clear mistakes with Twitter that evidently led to his dismissal of the service as a viable tool for his needs.

  1. He didn’t give it enough time. Twenty-seven days of anything is never enough. It’s well-documented that it takes 30 days to make something new into a habit. If Ricky had persisted and made more of a genuine effort, he’d have given himself a better chance of the lightbulb going on. I mean, come on – the guy didn’t even bother with a profile picture.
  2. He didn’t tweet enough. Gervais made just six tweets in those 27 days, five in a row from January 5-9, and one on December 14. If the Effort Scale goes up to ten, that registers a nought-point-six.
  3. He didn’t follow anybody. This is the classic celebrity gaff, of course, but by not following even one person, Gervais was using Twitter as a one-sided broadcasting mechanism (in his own words, simply to promote the Golden Globes), and getting none of the good stuff that comes from seeing a stream of tweets from other folk in your timeline. He could have set a strong example by not “showing off” and following (and talking to) just other celebrities, but if you don’t follow anybody on Twitter, then you’re not on Twitter. You’re doing something else.
  4. He didn’t reply to anybody. In his brief time on the network, Gervais amassed over 13,000 followers. And being a well-known public figure, received lots of mentions and replies. By not replying to anybody, Gervais was completely missing the opportunity to connect with fans and friends. As one of his followers wisely observed, “Of course you wouldn’t see the point if you are tweeting into a vacuum!”
  5. He didn’t realise it isn’t about what you had for breakfast. By making this now cliched and eternally nonsensical statement, Gervais completely exposed his naivety of Twitter (and, daresay, the internet, and even mass media). Almost exclusively, the only people who think Twitter is about updating what you last had to eat is people who don’t and never have used it. And with his six tweets, Gervais can very much include himself alongside them.
  6. He didn’t place any value in ‘virtual friends’. I find this a very strange observation, and it’s one that is both dated and actually quite insulting. The distinction between friends in ‘real-life’ and online is becoming increasingly blurred. In time, it will be entirely the norm for the majority of our important friendships to both begin and continue online. Physically meeting with somebody is always going to be important, but it’s not as important as it was, certainly when it comes to defining what friendship means. Times are changing, Mr Gervais. You could change too.
  7. He thinks that Twitter is pointless. I agree 100 per cent. Twitter is pointless in the way that you used it, Ricky.
  8. He felt that using Twitter to promote something that is already popular or well-established is also pointless. Clearly, which is why virtually every major brand, from Coca Cola to Google to Ford, hasn’t bothered with Twitter, either. There’s enormous value to be had in using Twitter (or social media per se) to expand on brand awareness and deliver first-line customer support – or, in Gervais’ case, first-line contact to fans – irrespective of how big or established that brand is before they sign up. Use Twitter to promote and boost awareness of yourself, Ricky, which includes (but is not limited to) your TV work, books and films. (Let’s face it, after The Invention Of Lying, he could use the good press.)
  9. He felt that 140 characters isn’t enough. Sometimes, it isn’t enough. Which is why, sometimes, you don’t try and get everything over in just the one tweet. And if the best you can do is six tweets in three and a bit weeks, it’s never going to be enough.
  10. He didn’t believe Twitter could be used for ‘important stuff’. Tell that to the folks in Iran. Sure, it’s unlikely that anything that Gervais ever does will be as important as that, but all it takes for Twitter – YOUR Twitter – to be ‘important’ is for you to write and read about important stuff. If Twitter seems frivolous, trivial or boring, then it’s entirely your fault.

Clearly, Ricky Gervais both approached and used Twitter half-heartedly. If he’d done just a little bit of research, taking advice from friends and professionals who were already using (and excelling within) the network, and made just a little bit of effort, it’s highly likely that he would have had an entirely different, and exponentially more positive and rewarding experience.

Instead, it was almost inevitable that he would reach just one (all-too familiar) conclusion.

“I Just Don’t Get It.”

Quite, Ricky, you clearly do not. And the worst part is you didn’t even try.

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