Making An Assumption Is Making A Mistake (And Why Influencers Can Sometimes Be Real Jerks)

I’ve had a theme running on Twittercism over many months now, and it’s based on a belief of mine that following everybody back on Twitter, especially blind auto-following, does not work. It simply encourages too much spam, too much junk connections, and too much noise, making your Twitter stream, and especially your direct message inbox very difficult (if not impossible) to manage.

Targeted following is one of the secrets to Twitter success. I wrote about this yesterday, commenting on how several of Twitter’s influencers and thought leaders had (for various reasons and using various methods) decided to either reboot their accounts and start over from scratch, or significantly cull their networks on a manual, person-by-person basis.

In my piece, I focused on Louis Gray, who has significantly cut back his network size in recent days after maintaining a 1:1 ratio for as long as I can remember (Louis shares his reasons here) as well as Dan Zarrella, who I thought had a similar policy.

Problem was, this was an assumption I made about Dan that was wrong. I had looked at his data back a week on Twittercounter, but didn’t go any further than that, relying instead on memory – or what I thought I had of it – which led me to make a false statement. While he had unfollowed several thousand users in the past week or so (at least, according to Twittercounter and, as I later verified, Twitterholic), Dan had never had a 1:1 follow:follower policy on Twitter, and he was quick to let me know about it.

I made an assumption, and because of this I made a mistake.

When Dan got in touch, I realised I’d screwed up, and so I edited my piece and removed the reference that suggested he’d ever embraced a 1:1 following ratio. Really, in retrospect, this was a pretty minor, almost throwaway comment, but it was wrong and so it needed to go. I replied to Dan’s comment and apologised, and figured that would be that.

This was the second mistake I made. On Twitter, Zarrella threw what could only be properly termed as a ‘hissy fit’. Even now, several hours later, I’m not really sure what led him to this behavioural pattern, because I can’t for the life of me see what I said that was deserving of such an attack. If I’d blatantly defamed the guy or said something unforgiveable about his friends or family, then I’d be a little more understanding of what went down.

Thanks to, you can track this conversation here. (Opens in a new tab for convenient reading.)

Here’s what happened in a nutshell:

  1. Zarrella proposed that I couldn’t count (which, in light of my mistake, was probably acceptable).
  2. He then suggested I deliberately lied in my article, and this proved I was ‘wrong’. I’m not sure exactly what I would have had to gain from lying about his stats, but clearly there was money and glory to be made, somewhere.
  3. He then had the sheer arrogance to propose that I might want to “learn how to do this social media thing a little better,” and sent me a link to his book on Amazon. I don’t and have never claimed to be a social media expert or guru, but I find it slightly bemusing that Zarrella made this pitch while acting in such a blatantly antisocial manner.
  4. He then informed me that he didn’t actually care, as “7 retweets of nonsense isn’t concerning.” The article is up to 19 as I write, but I’m guessing it doesn’t impact Dan’s radar until it reaches Mashable-numbers.
  5. After I expressed my surprise at his attitude and behaviour, Dan responded that he only acted this way towards “unfounded social media experts”, something which (again) I’ve never claimed to be.
  6. Finally, Dan suggested that my article was like “rooting through people’s garbage”. This, of course, from a guy who has made a career out of studying and analysing the accounts of hundreds of thousands of users on Twitter and other social platforms.

This last item bothered me the most. How could an individual who makes a living analysing volumes and volumes of data about user behaviour be so quick to go on the attack against somebody he doesn’t even know?

The problem was that Dan made an assumption, too. He figured he already knew me, making a judgement call entirely on one piece of writing. And even if I still cannot work out exactly what it was about that entry that irked him quite so much, that doesn’t really matter. If Dan had taken a moment to read a few more articles, or even to take a few deep breaths, all of this unpleasantness might have been averted. As it was, he just came over like an arrogant, egotistical jerk. You just have to compare his reaction with that of Louis Gray or Jesse Stay to see the difference in class.

And while I do think that these kinds of negative encounters with thought leaders and influencers in social media are, thankfully, quite rare, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen behaviour like this.

(Hey, maybe it is me, after all.)

But you want to know what the real zinger is? I checked back through my SocialToo emails, and Dan unfollowed me on Twitter just a couple of days ago during his recent blitz. And while I don’t have any idea how long he had been connected to my account, he’d clearly never paid attention to any of my tweets. And I tweet a lot. You’d have thought, or at least hoped, that some of that would have got through.

I guess that’s where I made my third mistake. It seems that Zarrella wasn’t all that interested in targeted following, after all.