Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Twitter Follower Optimisation (beware the TFO)

Just as search engine optimisation grew up to secure ever-larger audiences for websites, so it is inevitable that we will see a new Twitter-inspired industry emerge: Twitter Follower Optimisation (TFO... from now on).

Right now 'social media gurus' are analysing the optimum key terms in tweets which lead to an increase in your follower numbers - and also identifying the ones that increase the rate at which you are 'dropped'.

Part of the TFO process may include some sensible stuff about the kinds of things to say about yourself in your bio, what you should call yourself, what kind of avatar picture you can get away with - and which are the appropriate links to display on your profile.

But too much will focus on training yourself to tweet the optimal words - just as SEO strategists will advise on how to sprinkle key terms in your long form content. iPad. (see what I mean?)

I'd like to say this will be a short-lived industry. But such is the growth of Twitter that there will be Twitter virgins for many years to come - many eager to bag a large follower collection rapidly.

Ultimately the approach will fail. TFO focuses on the attraction of an audience toward a specific node. This was a reasonable strategy for the nodal world of websites. But for the interaction-heavy, node-light world of the likes of Twitter, it is a fail.

Three reasons: 

One: Optimisation techniques will surface the lowest common denominator key terms for tweets which attract and tweets which repel. Lowest common denomators don't fit the long tail world - and the adhoc self-forming niche community world of Twitter is certainly long tail. One man's Leeds Utd is another man's Manchester Utd.

Two: Humans want to talk to other humans. Adding in follower-optimised terms makes you talk less like a human. Humans want to follow other humans.

Three: Twitter is less about attracting to a node, more about adhoc discovery of interaction between nodes.

This is important. Twitter is interaction heavy and node light. Your profile - effectively the hub of your interaction - is as much of a node as you get to have in Twitter - it is no heavier in content and meaning than the average business card. If you have a presence at all, it is as the sum of your interactions.

'My followers' (and I'm always uncomfortable calling the people listed under 'followers' mine - they are just as much the 'property' of anyone else they follow- and just as little) aren't attracted to me-the-node - to my business card.

They haven''t signed up to the @davidcushman club. They are attracted by my interactions - with them and with others. I can't get them to follow me on my own. It's their choice based on how I interact with others.

If they like the look of enough of those interactions they will follow - to get easier access to those interactions - more opportunities to join in.

To this end the equivalent of 'Site' in SEO is not 'Follower' in TFO - but your profile. You may be able to optimise a tweet but perhaps not a node - and you certainly can't optimise the two-way flow of the interactions - because you offer only one part of it.

No - when the TFO experts come knocking, show them to door. Learn the basics about your profile but, more importantly, deploy the basics of just being human via Twitter.

Perhaps if there's anything to optimise, the focus should be on who you follow, not who you hope to bag to follow you.
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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?