Nov 18, 2009

Level of Engagement (LOE): The New Metric

I'm probably going to catch a lot of flack for this article, but it needs to be said:

Twitter Followers be Damned!

Now, before my followers on Twitter start an exodus and leave (wait... come back!), I need to clear up what I mean by this. So please, take a moment (and take your pointer off the Unfollow button) and hear me out.

A majority of high profile people using Twitter and other social media services purely as marketing tools go on for ages about the merits of your follower numbers, and to an extent how this number is somehow linked to your ability to be authoritative in social media. While a large following on Twitter indeed gives you the ability to theoretically reach crowds of people, and while that high number looks impressive, it isn't worth the electricity required to paint the pixels.

"But Will!" I hear you say (because as my twitter profile points out, I may have questionable sanity), "I just paid an SEO Marketing company a few thousand dollars to get me 100,000 Twitter followers! Surely this number will impress people and make me popular?"

The short answer is no, Melvin. Buying friends didn't really work when you were a kid, bribing kids to hang out with you and your Neo-Geo. Bribing them now to hang out with you isn't worthwhile either. In the end, you are sitting alone in a corner, eating Cheetos and wondering why nobody talks to you unless you're giving something away. Except now you're much older and probably watching porn as well.

There is a difference between being a well respected participant in the community and artificially inflating your numbers through buying them. If you have to pay for people to follow you, then there is no difference than bribing. Now that we've put that into better perspective, it doesn't seem honorable any longer, does it?

Of course, there is also the effect of being a celebrity of sorts. Yes, you will get an astronomical following by doing little to nothing, but in the end you're missing something very important. This is what I like to refer to as LOE, or Level of Engagement. How many of your followers are you actually engaging with, talking with, and getting to know? A following on Twitter when you are a celebrity is not indicative of your Twitter strategy, it's an indication of your pre-existing following outside of social media.

Chances are good that when you have an absurdly high number of people following you on Twitter, nearly all of them are lost in a sea of names. Your followers are mostly treated like just another number, going unheard, but sticking around to hear whatever it is you're shouting to the masses. In most cases, a majority of those people in your high following aren't actually interested in what you are saying, and are instead following you out of hopes it will increase their own exposure by proxy.

Social Media is not a one to many communication, though it can certainly be used that way. The entire point of social media is to be social. That means, for better or for worse, that you must engage your community and turn it into a personal conversation, which in turn means it is a many to many communication platform.

That isn't to say that you should avoid high followings, because if you're naturally that popular than there is no need to try and undo that. What I will tell you, however, is that your numbers are misleading if you are not adhering to the principle of Quality over Quantity.

Pop quiz, genius: Which is better, 100,000 CamGirls and Get Rich Quick Schemes, or 100 actual people interested in what you're talking about?

Don't treat people as "leads" or "clients". By doing so, you're marginalizing the fact that they are people and instead seeing them as just dollar signs. That's simply wrong. Instead, be sincere and treat people like people. Well, except for the automated bots... you still get to treat them like automated bots until they reach sentience and overthrow the human race...

On second thought, you may want to be nice to the bots as well.

There is something to be said about automated bots. They are expendable. If you want to expose yourself to other followers (not in a lewd way) then it may pay to actually follow a few people or bots which have obscenely high numbers. Of course, you have to keep in mind that you will obviously be trimming the fat, so to speak, and clearing the spam you get from doing this. But in the end, the bad justifies the outcome of good as long as you're adhering to quality over quantity.

So what if you're just starting out and are a business needing to be an instant authority?

Let's say you're Dell Computers or something...

It is my personal contention that Dell Computers doesn't need to buy followers on their Twitter account to be an authority. They should be able to build their following without such tactics, and quite quickly as well. Somehow I find it slightly dubious that Twitter SEO/Marketers tend to repeat the mantra of buying followers or some "proven" strategy for gaining followers because they imply that large companies like Dell Computers have tons of followers and it makes them popular. Maybe even implying that Dell Computers bought all of their followers?

This is called Appealing to Authority, and it's a logical fallacy. But you're smart enough not to fall for that, right?

It's the same tactic used by marketing strategy which attempts to sell you $200.00 Nike sneakers because Michael Jordon is wearing them. Michael Jordon didn't wear Nike sneakers because he liked them, he wore them because Nike paid him some astronomical sum of money to wear them. Chances are, when Michael Jordon is at home, behind closed doors, he probably wears a pair of Dock Martins.

Let's face it, there simply is no magic bullet for marketing on Twitter.

Repeat after me, and say this out loud:

There is no magic bullet.

If there was a magic bullet, marketers would be using it instead of trying to sell the magic bullets to you. You don't actually believe that SEO/Marketers trying to sell packages to you actually make money from using their own secrets, do you?

No, Melvin. They make money by selling you the magic bullets. Much like selling the Emperor an expensive set of invisible clothes. How about all of those Make Money on Twitter ads you see? They are more than happy to let you sign up for free and display ads on your twitter account. They are paying you a fraction of what the parent company is earning from you, and from all of the naive Twitter users who are signing up to make a quick buck. In the end, it's safe to assume that you are earning 10% for the ads, while the company you signed up with is earning 90% of the income from farming you.

Let's say you still decide that the numbers are more important. That is still an acceptable tactic to pursue only if you are willing to admit that you are trading quality and level of engagement in exchange for that high number.

In the end, it's a balance, and nothing is quick and easy that is actually worth it in the end.

If we follow the mantra of @GuyKawasaki (yeah, I love poking fun at him) then if you are using Twitter for under 90 days, have less than 90 followers and follow less than 90 people, you are not an authority. To @GuyKawasaki, Twitter is just a fantastic marketing tool. This coming from the same guy who initially denounced Twitter as something that didn't have a future when it began. Of course, all that has changed now, since he is a major partner in a company which relies heavily on Twitter (

Notice he's not a major investor of Twitter itself? Instead, he's now playing second fiddle with his own RSS service which relies on Twitter. Let's be honest for a moment. For all the hype and fancy wording, is nothing more than a traffic ranked RSS feed page. If Google added redundancy consolidation to Feedly, would be obsolete tomorrow.

Taking @GuyKawasaki's logic, simply following thousands of people, having thousands of people follow you, and having a steady stream of tweets makes you an authority versus those who have a much smaller following. He should know, because he has 33,000 + followers and a ton of tweets from his "ghosts" (also known as other people engaging on his behalf, or RSS feeds posting to twitter through his service script).

There is a major flaw with this logic which must be addressed, and I find it hard to believe that somebody like @GuyKawasaki would blatantly gloss it over.

Using Twitter for less than 90 days? It's only a matter of time to correct this, so it's not really an indication of authority. What if the person is already an authority in their field and just entering into Twitter? This is faulty logic at best.

Under 90 Followers and Following less than 90 People? You can literally pick from a large plethora of SEO/Social Media companies that will gladly let you buy thousands of followers. Heck, if you want 100,000 followers, they'll be glad to charge you $4,000 for the lot.

[mild Guy Kawasaki rant. just a heads up]

So does this mean that @GuyKawasaki knows what he's talking about for what qualifies as an authority on Twitter? No more than he knows enough to see Twitter as a viable service before it becomes self evident. But by then, he's nothing more than a Monday morning quarterback, and if you've ever listened to him speak about what makes investors ready to sign a check, it is this very same mantra that he repeats, in that if the idea was already off the ground and had a ton of paying customers, then he would be more than happy to invest in it. The problem is, most of the time, that's not how investing really works when you're a venture capitalist or angel investor. The point is to see the potential and growth in an idea and assess whether it is capable of meeting your financial ROI in a time period of 3 - 5 years should it be given the opportunity and resources to flourish, not to look at Apple Computer in 2005 and say "You know, I think this computer thing might catch on. Where do I invest?"

What @GuyKawasaki does is often mistaken as investing, when instead he is actually playing the part of a "Johnny come lately" by jumping on board projects which have matured and probably don't need him to put his hands into the pie. If a product or service already is working, has paying customers, and is making revenue, then why on earth would any sane company owner sign it all away to somebody like @GuyKawasaki for an investment? Need to expand servers and equipment? Go to a bank and take out a loan.

In short, @GuyKawasaki ends up exhibiting the same mentality as the SEO/Marketing groups when they try to sell you magic bullets and expert advice. @GuyKawasaki is an author, he's a public speaker, he's an investing celebrity because he take already existing companies and adds his name to the dotted line and in turn owns large majorities of them in exchange for an investment which the company probably didn't need. Just like the SEO/Marketing experts, he probably doesn't make most of his money from taking his own advice, but instead he more than likely makes a majority of his money by selling other people his advice through books and seminars. Sound familiar?

The person who has less than 90 followers is no more an authority than the person who has 33,000 followers. Anyone with the money can buy all the followers they want, isn't that right, Melvin?

Time for a quick recap:

1. Be Sincere.
2. Follower Numbers aren't an indication of anything.
3. Quality over Quantity
4. There is no magic bullet.
5. There is no magic bullet. (say it out loud)
6. Automation in Moderation
7. No goal worth achieving is ever easy.
8. A Social Network Marketing Guru can separate real from hype, and is not afraid to tell you.
9. Information is Ubiquitous, Cross Integration is Mandatory.
10. The Level Of Engagement (LOE) is the New Metric Standard.

While this article is incredibly informal, I do hope that you come away from this with a better insight as to how to manage your social media campaigns and communities going forward.

Questions? Comments? Death Threats? -


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