Twitter Makes a Great News Aggregator. Why I Don't Subscribe to #TeamFollowBack. (Plus: Pay-Per-Click Tweet Data)
Yesterday over coffee at Puccino's in New Orleans, I helped my Grandfather @DocTyree setup his Twitter account. The irony is that two years earlier I helped him setup his Facebook account, and now I've sworn off the Facebook, and preach about the effectiveness of Twitter's open forum. It's like a big chat room, with more specific features.
My argument for Twitter is very simple, and it completely circumvents the drama behind Facebook's privacy changes. I don't care about Facebook much. I go into great lengths about why I deactivated my account, and although it was tough bumping into all these family members, over Christmas dinners, that were still catching up via Facebook, I still hold to the principles I outlined in that article above, and am holding strong.
Twitter Makes a Great News Aggregator.
That's my number one case for using Twitter. From my Twitter feed, I get distilled headlines (since their character limit is 140 per post) from media sources, companies, and people that I'm interested in hearing from. I follow @TheMotleyFool, @Gizmodo, and @CurbedNY just to name a few. I follow updates from some of my business partners, updates from investors in the city, updates from business icons I look up to, and also some about SEO, etc. Most of these updates will include a link for further reading, if I want to dive deeper than the headline.
There's something for everyone there, and it's all distilled. I'm hitting that point a couple times and will get back to it. My Grandfather, for instance, flies small prop planes. He can follow his local aviation groups in New Orleans, he can follow news sources he likes, and he's also a fan of Engadget. They're there too (@Engadget).
Why I Don't "Follow Back."
This brings me to my headline point. It's become popular on Twitter to "follow" someone just in hopes that they will follow you back. I find the idea ridiculous.
When you read crappy SEO articles, or "How To Get More Twitter Followers" articles, that's usually the number one piece of advice. Follow a TON of people that are related to your topic, and they will follow you back. It's become a popularity contest, which was my biggest beef with MySpace, and my second biggest beef with Facebook.
One big name comic that I run into often even lamented, almost offended, that he was going to "unfriend," and "unfollow," anyone who didn't follow him back yet. He was gonna do it!
I think that's missing the point of Twitter.
If you follow 2,657 people, you will never be able to catch up with all those headlines! Now your Twitter becomes one way, where you just use it to post about your most recent blog post to your 2,000 followers, without considering the fact that they're really not "following" you since they have an equal 2,000 "followers," that are only following since you all played that stupid #TeamFollowBack game. Nobody is reading anything there. It doesn't create any value.
Data Based on Cost Per Click Tests.
I've tested this, and measured this from two angles. I recently started pursuing paid, or sponsored Tweets as an avenue to drive traffic to this blog. The method does fit into a larger marketing scheme, but the way it's advertised it misleading until you see the actual data.
I used an acquaintance's account to Alpha Test the idea. He has over 20,000 followers...but he also follows over 14,000 people. Him and I have discussed the fact that he in no way can keep up with the people he follows. He just goes to specific accounts that he knows he wants to read now. Unfortunately, that negates any real use of a Twitter mobile app, or website experience. Where I have all my data in one aggregated news feed, he has to browse to different pages.
Data wise, we ran a series of Tweets using Google Analytics to track incoming traffic. The numbers are much lower than advertised on major ad platforms that will let you buy a Tweet. One Tweet brought in 18 clicks, another 30, and another in the 40's, but it was much less than the advertised 75 to 80. Granted this varies wildly based on content and headline, but I feel like the four or five trials we ran setup a good base.
If the cost per Tweet would have been a flat $30, that cost per click would range from $1.66 to $.75. For this blog, I really can't justify more than .30 per click. My only point in that data though, is that number of followers really doesn't say much without factoring in the ratio of followers to following. If someone is following 2,015, and they have 2,040 follower, I would rough estimate that they only have about 50 actual followers.
Twitter is Rife With "Follow-Me Spam."
The follow-me Spam phenomenon is my second observation for our data. When I started getting more active on this blog, and on Twitter, more people started "following" me. But not really people, per se. They are marketers. They have handles like "BestSEOman," or "AdsenseGuru," and their descriptions don't describe them so much, they describe a pseudo why-you-should-follow-me-back pitch. They are propagating the one way Twitter.
Some people even put in their descriptions that they are a member of #TeamFollowBack, and this is where we disconnect. I'm just not interested.
The result is a sea of Twitter users, Tweeters, that are Tweeting in the wind. The dialogue aspect of Twitter is lost, and you get no real value out of your timeline, your news feed, when there is so much potential to digest small relevant bits of info on topics you actually want to follow, from people you would actually care to hear from.
The 140-Character Gem.
One of the most confusing aspect of Twitter to new users, right next to the Hashtag business, is why updates are limited to 140 characters. I've always had a strong hunch, but I tried to dig into Twitter's blog archives for a definitive answer, and I can't find it.
Without corroborating my assumption, I believe Twitter's limit was based on the fact that the service was heavy on SMS text messages in its infancy. When I was stationed in Bahrain for a year, there were extensive networks of texters. We would text the crap out of each other...and these text always had low character limits. Before smart phones came out, the text message had a definite length you couldn't exceed before it broke up into other messages, and that would start eating into texting plans.
No matter what the actual reason though, the 140-character limit is actually my favorite part of Twitter now. It forces you to distil your message. A headline like "Why #TeamFollowBack Drives Me Nuts, and What I Think is a Better Way to Use Twitter," has to be shortened to something more direct like, "Why #TeamFollowBack is Stupid, Use Twitter as an Aggregator," instead.
This is good for the writer and for the reader.
The writer is forced to evaluate his words, and boil points down to their most salient points, and the reader get's very precise sound bytes that they can act on or pass over. As long as you keep your following to under 200, you can digest news and topics from all over the world in about 10 minutes of surfing your timeline on Twitter.
Twitter Fits Well with the Bigger Picture.
Twitter is great. But it doesn't cover everything. It's not as personal as Facebook, but at this point in my Internet relationship, I'm OK with that. I don't want that. Twitter does a fantastic job of distilling ideas, though, and distributing news across the world quickly! It becomes a good part of the blogosphere when you use it for micro-blogging, and quick networking.
I use it as a news feed, but recently I've been using it as a bookmarking tool also. When I stumble upon blogs that have good stuff, I'll look for the author's Twitter feed and follow that for a while to see if it creates value for me. When I determine that the posts don't cover what I'm looking for, or that I'm getting it from a better source, I unfollow. It's that simple.
You can use Twitter for a variety of reasons, and it fits into a larger marketing and networking plan, but please don't fall into the #TeamFollowBack nonsense. Use Twitter to glean valuable information from the world and Internet, and to pick up on emerging trends. It's good for that.