A few months ago, I started a grand new experiment on Twitter. I didn’t announce it or anything – I just did it to see what would happen. The results aren’t something I can put into a chart or even tell you about in terms of percentages or click rates or anything like that. But what I’ve learned is, I think, pretty interesting.
I’ve always been huge fan of auto-following people. And by “huge fan” I mean that it makes me throw up in my mouth a little. I get it that some people are just in it for the numbers. Personally, that doesn’t make any more sense to me than cold-calling, but whatever blows your skirt, people. Still, my personal Twitter following method wasn’t really introducing me to new people. I was only following people who I actually knew, either because I was a long-time blog reader or because I had met them in person. I would find myself on Twitter, at times, with no one really to talk to, and that wasn’t good either.
And so, I began my experiment. I decided that I was going to follow back every person who followed me, as long as they were actually engaging with others. Whenever someone followed me, I manually checked their stream. Unless they ONLY had links or spammy tweets, I clicked the “follow” button. I created a few private lists to keep my personal friends separate from the main list of followers and I started tweeting.
Any monkey with half a brain can guess that I met some cool people in doing this. I found some new bloggers to enjoy, made some new friends, and gained some new fans. That’s not the interesting result from my Twitter experiment that I want to share with you.
The interesting thing I learned is that we’re not talking enough.
Part of the reason I wanted to follow back more people was to actually start talking to tweeters who found me interesting in some way. I made it my goal to reply to tweets from three people I never met before (either online or in real life) every day, to try to build some new online friendships. To be honest, I find this to be a harder task than you might think, simply because people are so focused on retweeting others’ links and replying to other people that they forget to actually say anything that I can actually reply to.
I’m going to take a moment right now, in the middle of writing this blog post, to look at the list of people I’m following. At this very second, of the last 20 tweets…
- Replies to Other People – 5
- Links to Their Own Blog Posts via Twitterfeed/Old Post/etc – 8
- Links to Blog Posts from Other Bloggers – 6
- Actual Thoughts, Comments, Questions, etc – 1
The results are comparable throughout the day, I’ve noticed. There is typically only one conversational tweet for every 20 to 40 link-based or reply posts.
I’m not saying that we should stop replying to other people. I’m not saying that we should stop retweeting other people’s links. Heck, I’m not even saying we should stop tweeting our own links. You should be proud of what you write, and I advocate linking to every blog post at least once.
But if you aren’t actually saying anything, why are you surprised when no one says anything to you?
The reason why Twitter gurus like Scott Stratten tell people to spend most of their time replying to others on Twitter is because it makes your followers feel good. I certainly feel appreciated when someone send an @ reply to a random comment I’ve made! It shows that you are listening, that you actually care.
I have a hard time with it sometimes, though, because people I like aren’t really saying much. They’re replying to their own followers, which is great, but I usually don’t know what’s going on with that conversation and at times it feels rude to jump in. Or they’re tweeting links – which is also cool, but I don’t like to retweet EVERYTHING someone I like sends down the pipeline, and if I have a comment, I like to say it directly on the site, not on Twitter.
So I just don’t say anything.
I want to engage! I do! But if you aren’t saying anything, if you’re so focused on engaging with others that you never have a unique comment or even ask a question, you’re probably never going to hear from me. And that stinks, because we probably could have had some cool conversations.
Think about your last 100 tweets, and then consider taking this challenge for your next 100 tweets: Make about 70 of them replies to other people or links to other people’s blogs. Make about 10 of them links to your own blog. But – and this is the important part – make about 20 of them your own thoughts.
I know that the gurus are preaching that we need to stop talking about ourselves so much, but I don’t think anyone is telling you not to talk about yourself at all. Scott, for example, was preaching at BlogWorld that we need to reply to others about 75% of the time – but he didn’t say 100%. Look at his Twitter stream – he replies to a lot of people, but he says a lot too.
I want to get to know what you’re thinking about. I want to know about your day. I want to understand your personality better so I know whether or not the links you’re tweeting are likely posts I want to read. I want to comment on things you say or answer your questions. Don’t make it so hard!