Unfollowing those who don’t follow back? You just don’t get it…

“You follow me and I’ll follow you back”

What a load of rubbish.

People on Twitter who say that in their bio – or in their tweets – really don’t get it. Tit-for-tat following adds no value to you or to the social web. It tells us nothing about you, apart from the fact that you want to be liked – a lot. And mostly by people you don’t really know.

Follow Friends Back - Twitter Profile

I don’t think I’d want them to follow me back…

Opportunity

What an opportunity we have with the social web. By finding like-minded individuals, and sometime not-like-minded individuals, with whom to interact, we can become informed and enriched. And used appropriately (there’s a loaded word, but I’m choosing to be optimistic) by businesses, we can also discover things that we might not have otherwise found, from new bands to new books to new services.

How will these things work if we are connected to anyone and everyone? We’ll never find anything or know anything. We’ll see nothing but a blur of status updates and useless ephemera whizzing past our eyes. It would be unsustainable and complete insanity.

We few, we happy few…

I’m proud to only follow 227 people on Twitter. I’m only going to add someone new if they add something to my life; through quality content or simply quality content curation. And sometimes I’m going to remove some of them. It’s nothing personal, they just don’t fit in with what I’m looking for anymore.

I’d expect nothing more the other way around.

Back in 2009, GigaOm produced an article asking why people didn’t follow back. There were lots of reasons – you can read them here – but here’s a clue: if people aren’t following you, even though you follow them, it’s probably because you’re not sharing anything that appeals to them. Let’s stop chasing followers and be proud of the followers we do have, and hopefully share content that will keep them following us.

So, thank you to those 227 people I follow. And thank you to the next 227, whenever you come around. And for those that don’t follow back: it’s okay, I forgive you…

People who I follow, but who don't follow me back

I follow all of these people, but they don’t follow me back. That’s okay.

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When 5000 followers isn’t enough: the future of Twitter

Twitter Bird

Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon UK time, America gets online.

I have no need for a clock. I know it is around 2 o’clock because my Twitter feed suddenly goes apes**t. I see it accelerate exponentially over the course of a few minutes. I can no quicker press the ‘(x) new tweets’ banner to refresh the page, than it appears again.

I follow only 200 people (give or take a few).

Which leads me to wonder what your Twitter feed must be like if you follow 5,000 people. Or even 10,000? I daren’t imagine.

At this point in time, I can only see two reasons why you would follow 5,000 people:

  1. You are hell bent on gathering a massive following yourself. And you are following people in the vain hope that they will follow back[1].
  2. You have the latest cyber-implant from Sarif Industries which allows you to directly upload and pre-process Twitter’s firehose feed into your brain, so it’s no issue.

The end result of this is always the same, an unmanageable torrent of content. How are we supposed to make anything of this? How is it in anyway ‘useful’? Surely following a small number of people whose opinions and judgement you respect and value would be a better way to go? Yes, you’ll miss out on a few links here and there, but the majority of information you get will be useful to you.

However, there are opportunities lurking in the large datasets that Twitter is home to.

Twitter’s opportunity

Let’s face it; having a constructive conversation over Twitter is about as easy as playing pat-a-cake with your arms cut off. But what Twitter does do very well is facilitate the sharing of content. Even back in September 2010, a whole year ago, Twitter was sending 22.5 million tweets containing links.

Twitter Trending Topics

Twitter's Trending Topics in the UK (22/11/2011)

Twitter’s Trending Topics (TTs) are a fairly feeble attempt at uncovering the trends within their dataset, and suffer from being self-referential; as soon as a topic starts to trend, it immediately trends more as people start to investigate it and as the Twitter spam accounts start broadcasting tweets that simply repeat the TTs. They do nothing but scratch the surface of what is possible.

TTs incorrectly focus on common words and hashtags, instead of looking at something much more valuable: what people are sharing. Twitter could be seen as a content producer in some (limited) ways, but its value lies in its ability to distribute content quickly to large numbers of people. And it is here that the opportunity lies.

Social content

By mining its data stores, Twitter can understand the most popular content at any one time, across the whole network, by country, or even within our own sphere of interest.

Imagine a Twitter where we could see the most influential content available, ranked and ready for our attention. Suddenly, following 5,000 or even 10,000 people is not an issue, because we are being presented with the salient data from those people without having to wade through every tweet.

Twitter has enough data to be able to do this. It can provide its users with targeted and valuable content because:

  1. They know who we follow and who follows us
  2. They know what we have shared in the past (first tweet and retweeting)
  3. They know who we engage with most regularly, either through DMs or open tweets.
  4. They know what content is being shared (even that which is obfuscated behind URL shorteners)

From this they can provide us with a new view based on content relevancy and social importance. Alongside our standard view, of course, because this isn’t about either/or, it’s about augmenting what we have with a layer of intelligence.

Twitter always argued that they don’t want to lose the simplicity of the product, but by enhancing the third party tools that people use to access Twitter they can have the best of both worlds.With the purchase of Tweetdeck earlier this year, and with the greater control it is now exercising over the third-party applications that work with the service, Twitter is now well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. As in, right now.

One step further – Goodbye Google Ripples, Goodbye Klout?

No, not really…   but kind of.

Google Ripples is an experimental visualisation of how a piece of content is shared, emanating from the source like the titular ripples from a stone thrown into water. It enables you to see how content moves through your social ecosystem and provides valuable insight to marketers. But compared to Twitter in terms of the amount of content, it’s a minnow. Imagine seeing ripples for Twitter; they could do that right now.

Klout purports to be the standard for measuring influence across the web. It’s going through a little bit of a sticky patch right now due to a change in the way it works (although I’m not complaining. my score went up from 45 to 69), but it could get a lot worse. Its weakness is that it measures from the outside and only has access to a limited set of information from each of the networks it interfaces with. Twitter has access to everything you do on their platform, so could easily understand who is producing content and how it is being shared. If it is true that Klout base their scores heavily on your primary network, why have a Klout score if you could have an ‘official’ Twitter ranking that shows the true value of the content you produce? They could do this right now.

Opportunities, opportunities

Twitter hasn’t ever had a problem with its product, but it has always had a problem with understanding what its business is.  As one of the principle ‘big data’ companies, now is the time to start making more of its most valuable asset. Content suggestion and referral, arm-in-arm with their nascent advertising model, could be a powerful product.


[1] The sad fact of this is that there are many people out there who profess to ‘Always follow back’. Quite why you would offer to follow someone back without at least looking at their content first, I don’t know.

This article is also available at , also available at Business2Community.

Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

Back in June I discovered that ‘Social Reading’ site Scribd had been using Facebook to personalise my user experience, but in all the wrong ways.

It’s three month’s on and I was reintroduced to the subject through a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below). It seemed that Scribd wasn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything. Not good.

As a result I decided to look a little further into the Instant Personalisation program.

Is this as far as it goes?

Instant Personalisation launched in 2010 with eight partners in tow. The eight were:

  1. Scribd
  2. Bing
  3. TripAdvisor
  4. Clicker
  5. Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Docs.com
  7. Pandora
  8. Yelp

A year on, I though it might be good to see how things had worked out for them.

Scribd

Hmmm…. I think we know about this one.

Bing

There was much fanfare about the launch, but as of today, I don’t get any Facebook personalisation. I can find the ‘Social Search‘ page, but when you try to connect to it, I get the following message:

Bing and Facebook - not working right now

Maybe it’s a UK thing, but I’ll take that as a ‘not working out right now…’

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor - home page menu

I can sign in with Facebook on TripAdvisor, but there’s no ‘instant personalisation’ going on as far as I can see. Another one that hasn’t worked out.

Clicker

Clicker - home page menu

Again, I can log in with my Facebook account, which all seems pretty sensible, but there’s no personalisation on accessing the home page. Scratch that one.

Rotten Tomatoes

Yep, we know about this too.

Docs.com

Docs.com - home page menu

At Microsoft’s Docs.com site, there’s a Social Plugin displaying activity from the Docs.com Facebook page and the ability to log in via Facebook Connect. No instant personalisation though, maybe it’s catching.

Pandora

Sorry, I can’t check this one, as it’s US-only. If someone could give me an update I’d be happy to publish it.

Yelp

Yelp - home page menu

Wow! This is a good one. At Yelp it seems that Facebook never existed. Not only is there no mention of Facebook on their home page, but when you try to create an account there’s no option to use your Facebook account. That’s a quick turnaround: launch partner to estranged relative in just 12 months.

6 out of 8 isn’t bad

So it looks as if the majority of the launch partners have seen sense. I have to say that I’m glad. I’ve got nothing against using my Facebook credentials to create a more social experience on the web, but it has to be my choice, not some faceless organisation’s.

Maybe it’s time Facebook updated the Instant Personalisation page at http://www.facebook.com/instantpersonalization/.

[…] would like to use your current location

use_your_location_featured

If you have an iPhone, you’ll have seen this message plenty of times. If not, well, you have probably answered without even knowing.

Location-based services are set to be the next ‘Big Thing’. FourSquare is setting pulses racing, Twitter knows where you are tweeting from, and Facebook is set to launch ‘Places’. But why the big fuss, and what does it mean for marketers?

In a way, we should have foreseen this, the world can only become so globalised; at some point it would have to bounce back the other way. We’re now seeing that bounce, and it’s in the form of localised information. Having pushed information to the biggest audience possible, service providers are now trying to increase the relevance of the information they provide by understanding you and the people that surround you.

Let’s look at the three players:

FourSquare – Takes a much more relaxed and game-like approach to using location, users are awarded ‘achievements’ as they use the service. You can earn everything from the ‘Newbie’ badge to the title of ‘Mayor’. Already they are seeing success with advertisers, with Starbucks offering discounts on coffee to the ‘Mayors’ of their stores.

Twitter – I think we all know Twitter very well. But did you know Twitter stores the location from which each of your Tweets emanates? At the moment it’s used to create local trend information (see Trendsmap for a great example), but as Twitter seeks to monetize itself effectively, location-based advertising will follow.

Places – Facebook has been talking about location-based services since 2007, but has put off until now. Why? Well, apart from the fact that there is now competition from the likes of Foursquare – their patchy record over privacy has led them to be cautious. Facebook has now reached a point where its hand has been forced; if it wants to keep up the pressure on Google, Facebook have to stay current. Places will open a host of opportunities for them to generate revenue from location-based advertising, with communities growing around specific places. A spokesperson for Facebook said: “There are currently no plans to add marketing partners to this product. We may consider working with marketers to enhance the experience in the future, but have no plans to do so at launch,” At launch… expect this to be available to marketers very soon.

And what of Google? Covered by Techcrunch’s Eric Schonfeld on the 16th April, Google has made updates to its ‘Google Suggest’ feature that tailors search results to your location – not just your country, but your city. In collaboration with a December update to personalised search we’re now in a situation where we can’t take search results for granted, and with it our efforts at SEO and targeted marketing (unless of course we use Google Adwords!)

So, what does this mean for marketers?

These services come with a fair share of concerns, the top of which is privacy. Why should you share your location with these service providers? But the value proposition attached to them is powerful and may hold sway over users in the long run.

The world is moving towards a more mobile-based digital experience where location-based services will become the norm, and the ability to leverage these to create a better or more intimate user experience will pay dividends; whether that is through timelier message delivery, the creation of local communities, or something as simple as customised promotions for individual retail stores.

Preparing now for these changes will stand Marketers in good stead, because as the big guns of the information world come on board everything will start to accelerate. With the ability now here to provide highly targeted advertising and promotions, we must be aware of these possibilities.

Next time… the rise of the robot…