Twitter, or how I fell out of love

10 03 2009
Is the fail whale jumping the shark?

Is the fail whale jumping the shark?

Twitter. It’s suddenly everywhere. In the tech media, the mainstream press, TV news reports, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, politicians twittering from parliament, Johan Bruyneel twittering from the Astana team car during major cycling races, Steven Fry being trapped in a lift, lost adventurers twittering asking for help… the list goes on.

Twitter is not news to me; I’ve been using it for about two years with varying degrees of commitment as my interest waxed and waned, gradually racking up just over 3,400 updates. I’ve really enjoyed using it, too, and I’ve met some interesting and intelligent people (and some twisted and funny ones). It’s been helpful numerous times as people shared news, links and answers to questions. It’s been useful for keeping in touch with friends since I moved my life halfway around the world, it does provide a sense of involvement in my friends’ lives without having to find a time to arrange a phone call with each of them (an 11-hour time difference is not an easy thing to negotiate). It’s an easy way for me to share links to articles or blog posts I’ve written, interesting stuff I’ve found online, or just for venting my amazement or frustration at some of the idiotic things people sometimes say and do.

When I first started using Twitter, I was just some guy. I wasn’t working in the tech industry, and there was no real point to using it other than having a bit of fun. Nobody had really worked out that Twitter could be more than a curiosity, nobody could see how to make money from it, in fact most people had never even heard of it. Hell, this was true until quite a while after I started working for an analyst firm (first as an editor, now as an analyst). I was explaining Twitter for months! Twitter was unimportant, a bit quirky, and fundamentally useless. I didn’t give a crap about attracting followers, and I didn’t go out of my way to find new people to follow, being more content to just add people who seemed to be having interesting conversations with people I already followed.

When Twitter was unimportant it was much more fun.

Recently, Twitter has exploded in popularity. Part of this is fuelled by media interest and people suddenly wondering what “this Twitter thing” is all about, which is great. But a big part of it is the rise of the “social media expert” and “social marketing”. The realisation that brands and companies could use Twitter to reach an online audience spawned a new category of marketeer, intent on finding ways of connecting brands with audiences. Experts appeared out of the woodwork promising to drive traffic and optimise things. Twitter found a purpose, and it was marketing.

At around the same time as Twitter really started picking up, I became a tech industry analyst, and people started to follow me because of my profession. I don’t write about social networking or the Web, but I do have to know about them and have a personal interest. It still flatters me that people are interested in what I have to say (hey, the newspaper psychologist told me we’re all narcissists on Twitter), and I started using Twitter to promote comments I’d written, highlight press interviews and generally improve my visibility. I am responsible for some of the ways that my Twitter experience has changed.

I now have followers who are only really interested in my professional tweets. This is tricky for an analyst because our business model is based on having insight, but restricting it to paying clients. Giving away my insight to anyone on the web is not a good idea for me or for my employer. I try to walk a line between giving away enough to be interesting and not be thought of as an idiot, and giving away too much. It’s not easy, especially for someone as new to the industry as I am, who is still finding his feet and building contacts and profile. I want to share my best ideas with as many people as possible, but I can’t!

I also can’t post as freely as before, constantly feeling like I should curb my openness and not reveal so much about myself. I don’t like this, because it makes me less interesting to real people. Twitter was not supposed to be stressful, and I’m not convinced I did the right thing turning Twitter semi-pro, but now it’s too late, for better or worse.

Spam, random follows and parasites.

Twitter’s spam problem has become annoying. Now, if I mention that I cycled to work, I get followed by owners of bike shops in Buffalo. If I mention running, it’s someone selling books on how to improve my half-marathon time and find the tao of running. I’ve been followed by anyone, anywhere, most of whom have no chance of ever getting any of my business. Why would I be interested in a local bike shop 10,000km away? It’s a waste of everyone’s time!

I’m also rapidly becoming sick of the dodgy “social media experts”, “web gurus”, “online marketing consultants” and other 2.0tards who add nothing to the Twitter experience beyond inane posting of links to their cookie-cutter blogs about “harnessing the power of the web” and “connecting with audiences”. Too often these are not real people. They are shallow imitations of the thin slice of personality that most people can squeeze onto Twitter. Here’s an example of a follower I collected today:

Bio: chief Sales Evangelist & Lead Generation Expert nothing happens until someone sells something. Certified Marketing Automation Coach.

No shit. He’s a sales evangelist! And a certified marketing automation coach! Fuck knows what that is, but I’d better get me some! I could be generating leads all over the place! Twitter is now swarming with these scammers, hoping that enough people will follow back and click through to their website for some ad clicks, and maybe pay for a seminar on using Twitter to attract attention. It’s EASY to generate clicks on Twitter, if you add every person you see you only need a few naive n00bs who follow back because they think you’re a real person. The numbers stack up real quick! Don’t get me wrong, there are many clever people on Twitter who know a whole lot about social networking, the web and all that. It’s just that there are far too many retarded imitators and no quick way to assess who is selling snake oil.

Twitter is now perilously close to jumping the shark, partly because it is spitting out cheap self-appointed experts and bullshitters 2.0 on a hapless online populace. This is not how Twitter should be used, and it certainly isn’t what being a social media expert should be about (if such a thing truly exists, and I’m not convinced it does). This is not good marketing, it’s spam. It’s not a conversation, and it’s definitely not fun.

I’m on the point of deciding whether Twitter is still worth my time. I love the real people, but I don’t know if the bullshit is worth it. I’m also not sure if it combines the professional and the personal in a way I’m uncomfortable with. In the meantime, I’m off to tweet a link to this post. Hehe.




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