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A Twitter Experiment (and What I Learned About Conversation)


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!

Scott Stratten Doesn’t Know Who You Are


Scott Stratten was the keynote speaker at BlogWorld 2010, and getting to meet him was definitely a cool moment for me, since I respect his work. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, and it led me to realize something important that I wanted to share with you:

Scott Stratten doesn’t know who you are.

Furthermore, Darren Rowse doesn’t know who you are. Chris Garrett doesn’t know who you are. Brian Clark doesn’t know who you are.

And I would even go a step farther and say that none of these guys even cares who you are.

Chris and Darren don't know who I am because I am a supporter of theirs. They know who I am because I marched up, introduced myself, and *told* them I am a supporter.

Why? Simple:

  • You lurk on their sites or as a Twitter follower.
  • You comment sporadically or never really say much in a comment other than “I agree.”
  • You RT them, but never actually comment on their tweets.
  • You’ve never introduced yourself.
  • You’ve never approached them in any way other than with the question, “Can you help me?”
  • You’ve never linked them on your blog, or even referenced them.

Do you know every single person online? Of course not. Even if you’ve been online longer than Peanut Butter and Jelly Time, you can’t possibly know everyone in your niche, even. Do you even know all of your Twitter followers? Unless you only have a handful, probably not.

So you sit there and fume that Scott Stratten (or whoever) doesn’t engage. “His entire stance on social media is that you have to engage with people. What a poser – he never once said anything to me, and I’ve been a fan of his for years. Waaaaaaah.”

Ok, I hope you aren’t actually being that melodramatic. Still, I think we all find ourselves thinking these thoughts. We feel ignored by people who, frankly, have no idea they are ignoring us.

If you do actively try to engage with any of these people (or the people you look up to within your niche) and they outright ignore you time and time again, ok. I stand correctly and they’re assholes. But I’ve never once met someone in the social networking/Internet marketing/blogging world who is like that. In fact, I never once met anyone considered to be “kinda a big deal” in their industry who is like that. You don’t get to be a “big name” if you refuse to acknowledge people.

Have you ever just tried being a friend? Have you ever walked up to Scott or Darren or Chris or Brian or (insert your favorite blogger here) and just said hello? I have.* And guess what? They know who I am now. Are they going to be my new bff in real life or even on Twitter? No. That’s just silly. Building a relationship is a slow endeavor. Meeting me once at a conference does not mean that they are now going to recognize every single thing I do or say. “Oh my god, I just tweeted that I’m going to bed. WHY HASN’T SCOTT SAID GOODNIGHT TO ME?!?!”

If you want someone to know who you are, 99 times out of 100 it is not their fault if they don’t. You want the relationship, so initiate it. These people all want to meet their fans…and more importantly, these people all consider you as a peer, not as someone on a lower level. They’re more than happy to get to know you if you actually take the time to get to know them, as a friend, not just as a follower. Say hello. Reply to their tweets. Comment on their blog posts in a way that adds to the conversation. Propose well-written, interesting guest posts for their blog, if they accept them. Write a blog post that names them in the title? I don’t know – do something to show them that you support whatever they’re doing. Y’all are creative people. Be creative.

I would like to make one other point before I leave you with your thoughts for the night, and to be honest, this point deserves a blog post to itself, which I’ll probably end up doing in the near future:

If your mindset is “What can he do for me?”, Scott Stratten may come to know who you are, but he will never care who you are.

And that’s true of anyone. Even me.

*Well, I almost. I never actually found Brian Clark at BlogWorld to say hello…hopefully next year!

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