Celebrities Who Are Failing @ Twitter

In an article in today’s Observer,  David Mitchell waxes fairly eloquently about the reasons he was drawn to Twitter in the first place (essentially, to usurp an imposter pretending to be him, which seems to have been the case for several celebrity appearances of late and, of course, as time passes, will increasingly become of import), and why, a heady 34 days later, he still isn’t really getting it.

Mitchell isn’t alone. I like the guy – at least, on his endless television appearances he comes across as being essentially okay -  but the reason he isn’t getting Twitter is the same reason numerous other Twitterslebs aren’t getting it either: they’re not making the required effort.

Wikipedia, of which Mr Mitchell is a fan, describes Twitter as “…a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.” Seems fair enough. But what Twitter really is, essentially, is a giant chat room. One that affords the user the luxury of defining both whom they wish to listen to, and whom they wish to hear them speak.

Of course, for your common or garden celebrity, the latter is all that really matters. It’s certainly true that all it takes to build an almost instant following in the tens of thousands is to be remotely famous. The more famous you are, the more you can quickly expedite that number to the glory of the top 100 most followed Twitter users. Not that you would imagine many celebrities really care about, and are even aware, of that. (Nor should anyone else, really. There’s a certain faux-credibility that comes with being in the top 100 list on Twitter – or at least there was – even if, in many instances, the actual value of following that user is of some debate.)

But, what many of them are simply not getting is this: Twitter is meant to be a two-way medium. It always was. I mentioned previously my idea that one way for the platform to move forward was to impose a ratio of followers to followed on all new accounts, so, if that ratio was imposed at 1:4, then you could only have 40,000 followers if you followed 10,000 people yourself. That might seem a little radical, but it would certainly mean that your more uneducated public figure would be somewhat forced to ‘get it’ pretty sharpish.

How about a name and shame? David Mitchell follows three other users. And two of them are Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry. So, he’s basically following one other user.

Chris Moyles follows nine, most of which are, again, famous types. Pete Wentz follows eight. Holly Willoughby and David Lynch seven.

Alan Davies focuses on the word of a mighty six. William Shatner a humble five. Rob Brydon, Gerard Way and Trent Reznor figure just four is enough.

Penn Jillette and Dave Matthews are exposed to the word of three. Jean Claude Van Damme, a brief two, and Brooke Burke and Tom Waits – I mean, why even bother – just the one.

Yet, amazingly, when you look at the big picture, compared to many other celebrities, these folks have made an effort.

Check it out: the list of Twitter celebrities who follow a big fat zero.

Alan Carr
Bob Vila
Crispin Glover
Jamie Murray
Kathy Griffin
Lady GaGa
Lembit Opik
Neil Diamond
Noel Edmonds
Pearl Jam
Wes Borland
Zane Lowe

Correct me if I’m wrong, but some of these could really use the love. Let’s put it this way: if you follow zero people on Twitter, you have failed. You are a Twitter failure. You are simply not getting it.

Sure, some Twitter accounts can justify a zero following count. News reporters, re-Tweeters, Twitter functionality announcers, and so on.

But for everyone else: a following count of zero is fail. Tim Ferriss, author of the popular book The Four Hour Work Week, once blogged, and even went so far as to record a video, in an attempt to justify why he chose to follow zero people. Guess what, Tim, you failed too. (And he eventually realised it, as he now follows 148.)

While a large follower count is useful for everybody on Twitter, particularly if you have something useful to promote, it often takes a lot of time and effort to build that list. Not so if you’re already famous (and this was true for ‘famous on the Internet’, too). The work is done for you. Just put your name out there, and viola, you’re in the Twitter elite.

The least you can do, I think, is give a little back. Twitter is not and – I’m really hoping – never will be simply a sounding board. It has surely moved beyond the occasionally amusing but mostly puerile status update that it borrowed from Facebook. Facebook still has those occasionally amusing but mostly puerile status updates: let’s leave them on there. Twitter has grown far beyond this, to a point where more often than not the latest stories and events will break on Twitter first, before other social media sites like Digg, Reddit and so on.

(And then get repeated ad nauseum over the rest of the week. One  common but frustrating theme I’ve noted regarding that: a story will often break from a small or medium-sized Twitter user, and get little or just a moderate level of attention. 2-5 days later, one of the Twitterati will write about it, and naturally it’ll get a zillion re-Tweets and further add to their status. It’s to be expected, of course, but still a niggle. Perhaps Twitter could adopt Reddit’s: “Yeah, somebody already submitted that, dumbass,” catch-all?)

Yes it’s true that celebrities are as vulnerable to the @ reply as the rest of us, and many of them do engage with their fans. But therein lies the problem – it’s not fans, it’s followers – and we all have them. If you weren’t famous but the only time you contacted someone on Twitter was when they’d contacted you first, you’d be (a) a git, and (b) doing sod-all most of the time. If ever there was an adult example of ‘do not speak until spoken to’, this is it.

This is where the Twitterati separate themselves from the truly famous. They do get it. But of course for many, this – the Internet, social media, self-promotion – is actually their career.

It’s certainly true that a few of the stars make a genuine effort. Imogen Heap follows more people than follow her – some 17,501. If anyone deserves the ‘I Got Twitter’ award, it’s Imogen.

Stephen Fry followed pretty much everybody up until around the 50K mark, when it went a little nuts.

MC Hammer follows over 24,000 people. As does CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

Yoko Ono? 7,107.

Richard Branson follows 6,634. Ryan Adams 4,958, which again is more than follow him.

Deepak Chopra follows 3,133 (against 5,005).

Now, you might see a common theme here. When it comes to the big, bad world of fame, a few of these folk are possibly on the weaker end of the curve. But Kathy Griffin, Crispen Glover, Bob Vila, Wes Borland, maybe even the Stereophonics. Surely some of these fine folk could contribute greatly by extending their virtual arms a little?

Nobody expects you to follow everybody. A ratio of 1:1 or more is, if not insane, then certainly a little desperate. But, again, I like the idea of applying some sort of reasonable ratio to your follow count. Maybe the 80-20 principle (of which the aforementioned Tim Ferriss is a big believer) is a realistic working goal here. The number of people you are following should be around the 20 per cent mark of the total of your followed and followers.

And of course, be choosy. Unfollow the people who irritate or bore you. Block the spammers. Chase away the n’er do wells.

But, in all that is decent and holy, do follow some people. More than eight, please. Or seven, or six, or five.

And certainly more than zero. Because then, maybe, just maybe, you might actually get it.

UPDATE: You may like to read the follow-up to this article, “Celebrities Who ‘Get’ Twitter, Celebrities Who Don’t”.