Poor old misguided, misunderstood Celebrity Tweeters! Somehow they just can’t get it right – as we have seen time and again over the last 10 days. They are “too boring”; they don’t reply to @s and won’t follow back so you could at least bombard them with DMs. It’s enough to make you weep tears of sympathy for the likes of Lily Allen and Miley Cyrus, who have – possibly sensibly – withdrawn prematurely – from the Twitter fray.
Following on from Alison Gow’s timely and thoughtful piece earlier this week on #frygate, Twitter rudeness and the Green Ink Brigade, Henry Elliss, head of Social Media at Tamar.com, gives his own – characteristically candid and at times vociferious – perspective on how the latest bout of over-analysis of Tweet minutiae and a rash of didactic “This is how to use Twitter” posts, are, in his opinion, rather missing the wood for the trees. The opinions expressed below, as in our regular #IMHO140 rubric, are very much our esteemed guest’s own.
I’ve seen a number of blog posts and numerous tweets recently that have criticised celebrities for not interacting with their fans enough. One made the comparison that celebrities are subject to the same rules on Twitter as big brands are, concluding with the war-cry: “If you aren’t going to use Twitter properly, don’t bother!”
I completely disagree with this point of view; should it spread, it is likely to make Twitter a very boring place to be… Let me tell you why.
I doubt I’m too different from a lot of Twitter users, in that I use Twitter to follow (and interact with) a variety of different types of people. First up, and one of the main reasons I use Twitter, is the people I follow within and around the industry I work in. Having access to the opinions, musings and sometime ranting of my peers makes me a much more efficient being – I no longer have to pore through 50 different blog feeds each day. Instead, I can rely on folk like @DarenBBC and @RandFish to let me know what the latest news is within Social Media and Search – the two channels in which I work.
Secondly, I use Twitter as a tool to follow people I admire and whose work I enjoy – and not just within my own industry. I follow comedians (because they make me laugh), actors and actresses (because I like their work), musicians (whose music I enjoy), journalists (because I respect their opinion) and even a few members of my family (well, you have to really, don’t you?!)
Thirdly, I follow a select number of brands with whom I feel some association. There are charities which are close to my heart, companies I admire or connect with, and some that I just follow because they entertain me. I follow magazines, newspapers, TV shows, a couple of political parties and a few more consumer-y brands.
These three very different groups of people make my Twitter experience a very enlivened one – I know a lot of people don’t enjoy “mixing business with pleasure”, but I happen to think it makes life more fun. But I have very different expectations from each and I’m increasingly becoming frustrated with the plethora of people who insist there are “rules” that these groups need to follow. Here’s a few of the most common “rules” people cite, and why I think they are sometimes very wrong:
“You’ve got to follow if you want people to follow you back”
Utter nonsense, for all three groups. A celebrity can’t possibly be expected to follow every single person that follows them – and I don’t just mean the giants like @StephenFry. Even celebrities with a few thousand followers would have their Twitter experience ruined for them if they followed everyone that followed them. A Twitter stream with 10,000 people in it is an unruly place to have to work, so don’t go complaining to your favourite celebrity that them not following you is “unfair” or somehow unjust.
The same goes for Brands – though there are a lot more of them that try it than I’d give credit for. The only brands who should strategically follow everyone that follows them are ones who need the ability to privately Direct-Message their follows – perhaps to resolve a private or embarrassing issue, or to offer advice on a subject that the follower is not comfortable about going public on. Provided brands monitor their @replies and actively seek out issues they can solve, there is no reason for them to blindly follow all and sundry.
The only group who might possibly benefit from following this rule are the individuals, and even then – with the current roll-out of Twitter lists making following a large group much easier – it isn’t essential. If you are being interesting enough that people want to hear what you have to say, and you make sure to monitor feedback from followers, there’s absolutely no reason for you to follow everyone.
“Replying to people is common courtesy – not to do so is to defy Social Media’s very being!”
Once again, I’m going to call “bluff” for all three groups, with a couple of caveats. First up is the celebs – and I suspect that until you’ve actively looked in to how popular some of these guys can get, you won’t truly feel their pain on this one. I recently wrote a blog post after seeing the film director Kevin Smith doing a live show, where Smith revealed that at the height of his tweeting activity, he can get more than a tweet per second directed at him. To expect him to reply to all of these is utter nonsense. But even celebrities without Smith’s 1.5million followers have no obligation to reply to all – especially when a large number of the tweets they get will be one of the following types of tweet:
• Compliments on their work
• Abuse about their work, tweets – or worse, their personal life
• Spam (don’t forget, if you think *you* get a lot of spam followers, try being on the “recommended users” list!)
To expect them to trawl through these non-essential tweets to get to your question: “Hey, I know I could probably look this up on IMDb, but I’m not going to because I want to be able to tell my friends that a celebrity replied to me – what are you working on at the moment?” is silly. To then abuse them for not doing so – or worse still (and this has famously happened on more than one occasion) to threaten to hurt yourself if they don’t – is utter madness. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy getting a reply from a celebrity just as much as the next man, but I don’t ever *expect* it – it’s an added bonus, simple as that.
The same applies to regular individuals – nobody should be expected to reply to every single message they get (not least of all because it would cause an endless reply loop..) Don’t get offended if somebody doesn’t reply to you, even if you yourself reply religiously to every single message you get. If you don’t like the fact that they never reply to you, there’s a very simple solution – don’t follow them.
Even for brands, whose main reason for tweeting should be to interact with their consumers, replying to every single message can be a daunting task. Especially if a large number of them are asking the same thing. Why not experiment with different types of reply – Sending a message along the lines of “Hey @MrX, thanks for the question – the answer is 12” will mean everyone following you can see it, which might save a lot of your other followers asking the same question.
Of course, I’m not advocating that brands should just ignore their messages – though frankly, if you need me to tell you that interacting with your customers is a good idea, you’ve probably already failed. But don’t worry if you can’t or don’t want to reply to every single one. So long as you take care of the important ones, and show that you are at the very least *listening*, people will understand.
“Don’t tweet too often – you’re clogging up my stream, dude!”
This one drives me really mad – not only when I see it in the aforementioned “The rules of Twitter” lists, but also when you see people telling off other tweeters for it. Mr response is applicable to all three types of tweeters – if people find that you’re clogging up their stream, they obviously aren’t following enough people. I follow about 350 people, which I find is about right for me – and even with that many people in my stream, I still *occassionally* see people who are tweeting so much that they’re filling up my stream.
It happens when friends of mine are at conferences for instance – the London Media140 being a perfect example. It also happens when celebrities are having a big of a marathon answering session. But I just put up with it, or on a very rare occasion I’ve unfollowed them for 24 hours and then added them again. If you don’t like them tweeting so much, do the same – or if this is too much for you, why not ask yourself why you’re following them in the first place?
Poor old Stephen Fry highlighted this nicely this weekend – regardless of what you think of that whole ‘episode’, the undeniable truth is that if the tweeter at the centre of it all didn’t like what Fry had to say, why was he bothering to follow him? And in my humble opinion, if you want to tell your friends how boring you are finding somebody’s tweets, using that person’s @username is just plain old rude – it’s a classic example of trying to get a celebrity’s attention by being contentious, and it very rarely makes you look anything but silly.
It’s the exceptions that prove the theory…
Obviously there are other rules which you *should* be trying to adhere to – obvious ones like “don’t spam people” and “be polite and generous” – but in my humble opinion, if you need a Twitter rule book to tell you these, you’re on a hiding to nothing.
Try to learn from your peers, think how you would like to be treated if you were in your followers shoes, and just try not to be such a jack-ass! Twitter can be a great place to be, but it can also be a bit of a scary one if you worry too much about ‘rules’…