Twitterverse Navigation: Public Figures Who Get It Wrong (And a Few Who Get It Right)


I’ve been a participant on Twitter for several months now.  In that time, I’ve read dozens of articles on how to and how not to interact within the Twitter community.  It’s certainly safe to say that there are as many opinions as there are participants on how Twitter can best be utilized.  And, for each individual or company who chooses to set up shop, goals can certainly vary.  Heck, ask 14 people to describe Twitter and you’ll get nearly 14 different answers.

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When it comes to traditional brands, a handful are content to strictly abide by the Twitter mantra, “What are you doing?” Their tweets are often a continuous stream of broadcasts.  In other words, an on-going, one-way conversation.  Rare are the responses, or @replies, to the questions or comments from others.

Most would agree that companies using Twitter in this way would be better off not showing up at all.  No one wants a product constantly pushed in their face while at the same time feeling company X is oblivious to what’s going on around them.  Thankfully, it seems more and more companies are putting a great deal of thought into their Twitter strategy.

Are You Not Entertained?

I often wonder though why similar, traditional brand behavior seems to be the rule and not the exception for many of the public figures I follow on Twitter.  While I’ve been encouraged by the number of Christian musicians, authors, radio personalities and consultants I’ve discovered on Twitter, with most there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of interaction taking place between them and their followers.  In fact, the sense I often get from their tweets is, “Isn’t it cool being a fly on the wall of my life?”

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If you’re a public figure who uses Twitter in this way then that’s your call.  And I’ll be the first to say that, for some of your fans, it might be enough.  But have you ever given any thought to what it says about your personal brand?

Having said this, I realize that in the Twitterverse it’s entirely possible that those I perceive as not interacting very often with fans are indeed doing so via DM, or direct message (a message that can be sent only to people who follow you that no one else can see).  Michael Hyatt (@michaelhyatt) is a good example.  When he responds to a tweet from me he often does so by firing back a DM.  My experience though shows that he’s likely the exception.

Engagement vs. Convenience

This limited interaction on Twitter is often coupled with another phenomenon.  Most artists, authors and radio personalities I see on Twitter aren’t following even 5% as many people as are following them.  In fact, many seem to be following only other people within the industry (and maybe personal friends).

When asked about it, one artist I talked to expressed the difficulty in choosing one fan over another. I wonder if some worry about being inundated with DMs from followers.  There are certainly plenty of cons when it comes to DMs.  How about following everyone by default, then leaving yourself the option of blocking the occasional nut case if and when necessary?

To me there seems to be a desire for the best of both worlds as long as those worlds don’t intertwine.  It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George’s two worlds – the world of “relationship” George and that of “independent” George – threaten to do just that.  George views his independent world as his sanctuary and Elaine’s decision to develop a friendship with George’s girlfriend Susan may ultimately mean the demise of that sanctuary.

Twinfluence?

I recently received an e-mail from a record label rep touting the popularity of a particular artist’s Twitter stream.  According to TwitterGrader, this particular artist ranked in the top 2,000 out of over a million twitterers.  Now, I don’t pretend to understand all the algorithms TwitterGrader uses to calculate their rankings, however I do know your number of followers and the power of their networks plays into it heavily.  What is truly unfortunate though is that the number of people you’re following along with the frequency and quality of your engagement with them has little to nothing to do with it.  Shame on Twitter.

To quote @johnhaydon from CorporateDollar.org, “On Twitter, it’s less about how many followers you have and more about the ‘health’ of your conversations with them.”

Instead, try this.

Is Twitter a passing fad?  Possibly.  Will it exist in even 5 years?  Probably not in the same way it does today.  In the meantime then, I hope this post can serve not as an indictment, but a challenge.  While Twitter is in the mix and growing more popular by the day, why not make the most of it?  If you see some of yourself in this post, I hope you’ll accept the challenge and venture outside your comfort zone a little more.

Twitter’s Pied Pipers?

Finally, for fear of not delivering on the title of my post, I’ve compiled a couple of lists, in alphabetical order by first name.  The first is a list of those I think need to be challenged to follow more fans; fans they’ll attempt to regularly engage.  Keep in mind this list is by no means exhaustive.  Remember too that the opinions I’ve expressed here may in fact be mine and mine alone.  If you disagree, then say so by all means.  If you agree, tell me that too.

Please understand that I believe every public figure mentioned below is an absolute pro.  I’m confident each and every one of them goes out of their way for their fans/readers/listeners/clients.  All I’m saying is I’d like to see them take what they’re already doing in the real world and consider applying more of it to this platform.  That’s all.

Some you’ll recognize as recording artists, while others are radio personalities, authors and colleagues.  In each case, note their following to follower (F2F) ratio.  The number of people they personally follow is first.  The number of people following them is second.

  1. Aaron Shust (recording artist) – 13 to 701
  2. Alan Mason (Consultant, Good Ratings Strategic Services) – 3 to 90
  3. Bart Millard (recording artist, Mercy Me) – 26 to 2,250
  4. Bebo Norman (recording artist) – 21 to 856
  5. Carmen Brown, Dave Cruse, Bill Martin, Jayar and “The Morning Cruise” combined (On-air Talent, The Joy FM / Tampa, Florida) – 140 to 1,843
  6. The David Crowder Band (recording artist) – 18 to 1,697
  7. Jeremy Camp (recording artist) – 92 to 2,481
  8. Leeland (recording artist)- 24 to 1,574
  9. Michael W. Smith (recording artist) – 10 to 2,105
  10. Phil Wickham (recording artist) – 25 to 2,582
  11. Rebecca St. James (recording artist) – 61 to 1,287

I’ve noticed too that not everyone who strives to follow more than a few people is actually doing a lot of listening.  Glenn Lavender of Downhere, Shaun Groves, Bryan White, Melinda Doolittle and Phil Stacey have decent F2F ratios, however, all do quite a bit more broadcasting than actual engaging, at least right now. 

Lastly, here is a list of a few folks I think are doing a pretty good job of engaging and listening to their followers/fans.  Again, note their F2F ratio.

  1. Cameron Strang (publisher) – 552 to 2,127
  2. Charlie Neese (Newschannel 5 Meteorologist) – 209 to 304
  3. Jeff Cruz (Music Director, Z88.3 / Orlando) – 132 to 145
  4. Mark Lee (recording artist, Third Day) – 2,078 to 2,143
  5. Matthew Paul Turner (author) – 1,827 to 1,747
  6. MC Hammer (former recording artist) – 20,349 to 31,047
  7. Michael Hyatt (CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishing) – 4,948 to 4,700
  8. Pete Wilson (Pastor, Cross Point Church) – 1,220 t0 2,034
  9. Star 99.1 FM / New York (radio station) – 1,999 to 715

Max Lucado, Charlie Lowell (Jars of Clay), Stephen Mason (Jars of Clay) and Vicky Beeching don’t follow many people relative to the number following them, but they’re interacting with others constantly.  This is great to see!  Natalie Grant and Mark Hall are two others I’d like to see follow more people, but recently they both seem to be deliberately interacting more.  Same goes for Fee.

Still, for much of the industry, the focus seems to be on gathering more followers and not necessarly the conversations along the way.  I predict that if you’ll put more effort into the engagement part of the process, at least one residual affect will be exponentially more followers.  They’ll also likely be a lot more loyal and passionate about who you are and what you do than if you continue to view them as customers you can sell your message to.

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21 Responses

  1. You have a lot of information and valuable tips here, Jeff!

    Thanks, too, for the plug! How do YOU describe Twitter?

  2. Thanks Ari. I think, for me, it most resembles a coffee shop. In particular, the very busy Starbucks down the street. There’s plenty of noise to be sure, but I almost never leave without seeing a few people I know.

    Just last Thursday, I ran into someone who knew me that I didn’t know previously and we had the chance to connect. This happens all the time on Twitter.

  3. You’re welcome. Yes I did. Not sure how long I can keep this up if every post takes a week to write. :-)

  4. Thanks bro. You put a lot of hard work into this post!

  5. Great article. I’ve actually been thinking a lot lately about how I can use Twitter better. So I’ll accept your challenge and try to join in on conversing more. I’m humbled that my name was even mentioned! I’ve never really had a good way of doing this but I just downloaded Tweetdeck and it seems to be a good tool to help this out.

  6. You are very kind Glenn, and your response says a lot about you. I respect you very much. You’ll love TweetDeck I think. Since I started using it I haven’t looked back.

  7. Jeff…good post…well thought out. Let me give you another perspective from one who is followed by many more than I follow. I would love to do more, but, I keep tabs on Twitter from my iPhone. When I check in, there is usually a blur of a couple hundred twits. I really want to know what is happening with friends and new friends, but it becomes overwhelming. When someone comes up with groups for iPhone (aka Tweetdeck for computer), I will follow more, gladly. But until then, I may have to cut back even more just to keep up with the conversation.

  8. great post jeff! you’re definitely on to something. i would add that folks (especially radio station generic twitter accounts) need to be careful to not follow more than are following them. it’s tempting to use twitter as a marketing tool for a radio station…follow everyone who says anything about jesus in their profile. makes sense that they might like christian radio. but that’s what spammers do and that’s freekin’ annoying! all that says is “hey…pay attention to me!” and that’s not what twitter is all about.

    if you’re interesting or are serving your followers they’ll retweet you and your brand will grow. just takes time! gotta get in the trenches and have some patience. If your brand does grow…maybe you’re lame? i dunno. :)

    love your blog! keep it up man!

  9. Excellent point Greg. I imagine a lot of public figures use a phone app as well being on the road so much. Something I hadn’t considered.

  10. Jeff – Loved it. Read the whole thing. Clicked on “how not to” interact with Twitter and got all nervous that I’m breaking all sorts of rules I don’t even know exsit. Then I clicked on Personal Branding and got exhasted and came back to your blog and decided to stop clicking links. Sometimes I have the attention span of a hummingbird.

    That said, I appreciate all that you wrote! Now…how can I follow you?

  11. Great point Josh.

    With our station’s Twitter account (@wayfm_nashville), we generally only follow someone after being followed by them first. We use it primarily during the 6a – 9a time frame too as another way to disseminate traffic and weather. I’ve been encouraging Katie, who manages the account, to make sure it’s more than just information. She’s making it more of a habit of interacting with listeners that way.

    Occasionally we’ll do give-aways through Twitter or announce via Twitter that we’re giving away front row seats on the air at a certain time or something similar, but I try to make sure we avoid marketing-focused messages. People, I think, will un-follow you in a heart beat if there’s too much of that.

    Granted, some have un-followed us after realizing they’re going to get a few traffic and weather updates every morning (and maybe they’re in Africa). But I’m okay with that in the long run. Our stations, as you know, are very focused on serving the local community.

    We might ultimately decide than there are better uses that traffic and weather. We’ll see.

  12. You’re cracking me up Sarah. As I write this, I can see you found my Twitter stream. I reciprocated. Glad you liked the post. I’m really enjoying the feedback. It’s amazing what can happen when you write about your passions.

    Not looking forward to those posts where everyone disagrees with me and calls me an idiot.

  13. Great post Jeff. You captured a lot of thoughts I’ve had about pastors who follow very few, but gather masses of followers.

  14. Thanks Ron. Looking forward to seeing you and your church family this Easter.

  15. […] about whether now was the time to launch her own business.  Chatsky (photographed at left) Twitterverse Navigation: Public Figures Who Get It Wrong (And a Few Who Get It Right) – thejeffbrown.wordpress.com 01/30/2009 I’ve been a participant on Twitter for several months now […]

  16. Mark Lee (the only musician on your ‘doing it right’ list) commented on my blog about following everyone that follows you perfectly. He said this:

    The coolest thing about Twitter to me is that you get whatever kind of experience from it that you want. So you have some people on there having back and forth conversations of @ replies, some people sharing links, and other people literally telling you “what they are doing”. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong way to use it – do whatever works for you.

    I can’t think of a better response. The fact that you’d like to see certain artists follow more people is irrelevant. It’s the experience they want that they are getting from it. Again, that’s the beauty of Twitter I suppose.

  17. Thanks for commenting Brody. I disagree with your “irrelevant” conclusion. I think public figures, in just about any arena, are burdened with certain responsibilities the general public often isn’t.

    I would call selfish the approach, “It’s the experience they want that they are getting from it.” What about what the fan wants? This, in my opinion, should be first and foremost in the mind of a public figure.

  18. So you disagree with Mark as well then?

  19. @Brody

    I think what Mark describes is exactly what’s happening on Twitter for the most part. So, in that sense I think he’s right. I just don’t agree necessarily with the “do whatever works for you” part.

    That’s exactly what happens and probably what will continue to happen for the most part. But I just thought it might be cool if those in the public eye adopted a more “openness to their fans” approach. Mark has obviously done that.

  20. I really don’t think public figures are necessarily “compelled” to do anything. There are many ways to interact with your fan community online, and many times it starts with the community you create with your fans. I think there’s nothing wrong with making your own web site (or offshoots from it) your main focus for interaction, and making social (external) sites like Facebook/Twitter/etc secondary.

    Mark Lee is an extreme example of “connecting” with your fans. Everywhere he is on the web he offers “access.” He’s published an e-mail address (oft-times considered a “no-no” for all the filling of the mailbox it usually creates), responds to blog comments, accepts every friend request on Facebook, follows everyone who follows him on Twitter (which of course leads to the equivalent filling of the DM inbox), and even before that was actively @replying. Heck he’s even created a “community” site that he’s demanding interaction in. He is the epitome of stepping down from the pedestal, but I don’t think he’s doing it as much out of a sense of responsibility as much as he actually enjoys interacting in these ways (I think his latest blog is proof). Either that or he’s just plain crazy. :-P

    Let’s look at a counter-example: Bart Millard. He “scores low” because he doesn’t follow his fans. Neither does he @reply. But it’s clear from his Tweets that he does read the @replies. But beyond Twitter he is offering “more” to his fans. He’s the one who is actually doing “virtual meet and greets” with his fans, livecasting concerts and “chatting” with fans before and after. But that’s all (effectively) through his site.

    Twitter is a cool way to interact, and those who interact more are cool for doing it. I just think that a public figure needs to decide how much time they are willing to devote to Twitter and let that gauge how they interact. There is a step to make to jump from simply reading @replies (and perhaps broadcasting general responses) to @replying directly to them. I’m sure once you start, then people @reply even more, looking to get an @reply back. Then there’s simply the statement I remember reading from CC’s Juan DeVevo that said something about worrying about “getting into conversations.” Obviously once you’ve gone beyond @replies and actually start following followers, you’re not only making your feed a mess you’re opening up your DM box to getting really full really quick (something I never quite understood myself, but I guess I’m not that kind of a “fan.”).

    Bottom line (my gosh did I blather on this long? sorry): online fan interaction does not need to be limited to 140 characters. I think most fans who lived in a time before the Internet (where any “free” interaction was limited to snail mail and the occasional autograph) appreciate any bone tossed to us, and in fact reading the Tweets tend to remind us that they don’t “belong” to us, that they have other responsibilities besides their music and that we actually should be grateful.

  21. […] Comments Steffan Antonas on Alltop: A Magazine Rack for the InternetDan Gross on Twitterverse Navigation: Public Figures Who Get It Wrong (And a Few Who Get It Right)Jeff on Twitterverse Navigation: Public Figures Who Get It Wrong (And a Few Who Get […]

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