Earlier this week on his BBC radio show Chris Moyles (@chrisdjmoyles) waxed lyrically about Twitter, which he does fairly regularly, going on about how he totally gets it while other celebrity users of the service do not. He singled out Eddie Izzard (@eddieizzard) as an example. Izzard, he says, doesn’t get Twitter.
I found this interesting. Because Moyles doesn’t get Twitter, either. But Twitter gets him.
What do I mean? Chris Moyles has over 100,000 followers on the network, but he follows only twelve people himself, eight of which are fellow celebrities.
Meantime, Eddie Izzard, who has only been active on Twitter since March 15, has about 45,000 followers, but follows 25 people himself. Neither of them get it particularly well, but Izzard at least gets it better than Moyles. Twice as well, one could gauge, statistically.
This is, unfortunately, a pretty common theme. Why not have a name and shame? Here are a few more examples.
Brooke Burke (@brookeburke) elects to follow only three of her 230,000+ troops. Penn Jillette (@pennjillette), of Penn and Teller fame, matches that number.
Ellen Degeneres (@theellenshow) has a Twitter army of over 300,000 strong, but deemed it necessary to only appoint about 16 sergeants.
Geek favourite Wil Wheaton (@wilw), who has embraced Twitter (and the rest of the internet) since pretty much day one, still follows less than 100 people.
Even Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), with his impressive near half-a-million throng of fans, only returns the favour to 57 of those. One of which, of course, is his wife (@mrskutcher). To her credit, she follows 58.
It goes on. Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) follows 28. Kevin Smith (@thatkevinsmith) has a count of 15. Russell Brand (@rustyrockets) just 13.
Brent Spiner, who as Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of the most well-loved science fiction icons in the modern era, has just four follows. Four. Two of which are Wil Wheaton and Levar Burton (@levarburton), probably so they can reminisce about the good old days.
David Mitchell (@realdmitchell) follows nine people, but at least to his credit he claims not to get Twitter at all.
And then we get to Alan Carr.
Alan Carr, bless him, still has a follow count of zero. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nobody, it seems, is good or interesting enough for Carr to follow, but almost 85,000 people follow him. I do. I like Alan Carr, but when it comes to ‘getting it’ he may be the greatest example of failure on the entire network. Or possibly the single-biggest ego. The network is like a mirror to Alan; all he sees in the stream is himself.
There’s an obvious pattern here. It’s not fair to say that all of these folk are treating their supposed ‘followers’ as fans, as one or two of them go out of their way to reply and chat with people. But, I say that’s not really enough.
During his radio show, somebody asked Chris Moyles why he didn’t follow more people and, rather tellingly, he complained that he couldn’t because then there was ‘too much information’.
Heavens, say it ain’t so. Too much information? How will your brain cope?
In A Study of Scarlett, Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, affords us this observation on the limitations of the human mind.
“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”
Doyle (through Holmes) argued that the brain is finite, and that one could risk losing important, even critical information, by absorbing all the little things that didn’t matter.
This is, of course, what Moyles is saying, albeit perhaps with less grace, and the cynical amongst us might suggest he needs to be more protective of what he has than most.
Holmes also said (in The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot), “To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.”
This, I propose, is the right way to approach any kind of social networking, but certainly Twitter, with its no-risk approach to following people. You’re not sharing any private information. People don’t have access to photos of your children or you making a fool of yourself at the office party. Nobody suddenly knows the five movies you can watch again and again, and neither are they privy to how attractive you are compared to your friends or how badly you suck at Scrabble.
Twitter doesn’t give any of that. All that it asks is that you give yourself.
In the interests of balance, there are quite a few celebrities who do get what it’s all about. Who do like to engage with new and random people. Who do put a lot of themselves ‘out there’ and really stuck in.
Britney Spears (@britneyspears), who has more than half a million followers and is my tip to be the first person to break the million barrier, follows almost 80,000 people herself. Except it doesn’t really count, as she contributes to her Twitter stream even less than Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki). That’s right, it’s mostly her PR team.
Shaquille O’Neal (@therealshaq), however, is a different story. Shaq may only follow 493 people, which against his 385K seems slim pickings, but that’s roughly the size of the population of Canada compared to many other famous folk. O’Neal also truly does get it, going out of his way to engage with his followers. He even took charge of the recent farce over NBA players being scolded for tweeting at halftime during games, by announcing and then doing it himself. You gotta like that.
MC Hammer (@mchammer) returned the favour to about ten per cent of his followers, tipping his cap to over 25,000.
Jonathan Ross (@wossy) has the time for 2,746 of us.
Phillip Schofield considers almost fourteen hundred of you made of the right stuff. And regularly throws follows out there to people who meet his evil demands (i.e., donations to Red Nose Day).
And, of course, we have Stephen Fry (@stephenfry), who despite slipping out of the Twitter top ten of late, remains the daddy when it comes to getting it, following over fifty-five thousand people.
Okay, sure, it’s fair to say that most if not all of these folks still think of their followers as fans, but let’s face it: they’ve probably earned that perspective, if perhaps not the right. But at least they’re going the extra mile. At least they’re not treating us like fans.
One could argue that by simply being a famous person on Twitter you’re narrowing the gap between ‘you’ and ‘them’ by a greater degree than we’ve ever seen before in our history, principally because the network is, by definition at least if not always in practice, a two-way medium. This is something I would agree with. Never before have we had the opportunity to converse so easily with the good and the great.
But it’s not just a case of showing up, putting your name out there and saying ‘love me’. You get enough of that already. You’ve had that most of your adult life. We, the people, demand a little more.
Follow us. At least some of us. Not me, obviously, as I write articles like this. But there are, believe it or not, people out there who are worthy of your time. And if that additional demand on the finiteness of your cranium means forgetting about your lunch date at The Ivy then so be it.
After all, you can always re-book; it’s not quite so easy to win back respect.
This is a follow-up article to my February 22 post, ‘Celebrities Who Are Failing @ Twitter’.