My Adventures in Twittering—and Yours

I have come home each day this past week with my eyeballs on fire and my head woozy. I have traded barbs with stay-at-home moms. I’ve hawked my stories as transparently as a carnival barker. I’ve sought the approval, on a daily basis, of people I don’t know. I’ve calculated my friend to follower ratio and found it wanting. I’ve been stuck in a social media echo chamber in which few things are discussed outside of social media.
These are the short-term effects of Twitter, the wildly hyped “micro-blogging” tool which, for the moment, is the medium du jour for the advertising industry even though it doesn’t run much advertising and doesn’t make any money.
Still, I could see why Twitter makes sense. I’m not a marketer, but I’m someone who is trying to build a personal brand (aren’t we all?). Twitter seemed like a good way to build a following, expand sources and engage with readers.
I quickly encountered one Twitter pitfall, however: the routine listing of “followers” and “friends” on your profile. Since my goal was brand-building, I immediately shifted my focus to getting as many followers as possible (in cyberslang, this is called a “Twitter Penis”).
I found that to do this, you have to do the equivalent of knocking on doors. That is, you have to follow other people and hope they will follow you.
The dirty little secret of Twitter, though, is that many people get high-follower counts by making it known that they will automatically follow you if you follow them. So when I had trouble getting over the 400 barrier, I Googled “twitterers who automatically follow you” and found a list of 237 people who do just that.
Many of these people, it should be noted, have well in excess of 10,000 followers already, which means that not only will they not be receptive to my messages but, because they are following so many people, they will be unlikely to see my messages.
That exposed the paradox of Twitter: The more followers you get and the more people you follow, the less useful it is.
Say, for instance, I was able to get 10,000 or so followers. Though there’s a good chance that at any given time a lot of them would be on, there’s a better chance that most of them won’t really know me or care what I have to say because they looked at me as fodder for their follower count and vice versa. (In fact, I seriously considered getting two Twitter accounts, an “ego” one and a real one to converse with friends.)

Will marketers face the same issues? Should they, like ESPN, make it known that they are a reciprocal Twitterer? Or should they stay above the fray of such things and risk having an embarrassingly low follower count? Should they Twitter under their brand name or get a guy like Ford’s Scott Monty who is a shill for the parent company but also, apparently, a living breathing person? And will having Monty out there make people feel better about buying a Ford? Does Monty have the bandwidth to address questions from his 15,000-plus followers? And how long ’til the spammers figure out how to game the system?
I’ve talked to marketers and no one seems to know. People are, at the moment, just trying things out, which is fine.
Meanwhile, Twitter continues to be the hottest thing going even though no one seems to be able to figure out how to monetize it. Twitter is, in the words of one rep from a venture capital firm I spoke with last week, “a great free application.”