I was giving a talk on engagement and social media – a topic I assume many of you are familiar with if you’re reading this blog. One of the recommendations I made during the discussion was that one should not have separate accounts for work and personal use. The justification was that one should be authentic in their approach to social media. During the discussion, an individual posed the following question. If you have one account, how do you keep from annoying your co-workers with your personal tweets and your friends with your work tweets?
It was a rather interesting question. Perhaps, unlike other tools we’ve become accustomed to, it’s difficult to tell if you’re using Twitter well. With the exception of favorites and re-tweets, there are few measures of feedback beyond asking your followers how you’re doing (though I find the idea of soliciting feedback incredibly intriguing). Twitter itself offers little, simply stating that the more interesting your tweets, the more likely individuals are to follow.
I think a better way to frame the question is to ask, “what is your signal-to-noise ratio?” Meaning, of all the noise you generate on Twitter, how much of your intended signal gets through?
It stands to reason that the more followers one has, the more value they’re providing. Obviously, this is an assumption with exceptions (send your email to the editors), but on the whole it seems a reasonable one. The more interesting things you say, the more re-tweets you get, the more others are exposed to your account. This concept is even endorsed by Twitter. Therefore, if tweets earn one followers, we can assign value to each tweet. For example, if Account A has 1000 tweets and 2000 followers, their tweet-to-follower ratio is 1:2. If Account B has 20,0000 tweets and 1,000 followers, the ratio is 20:1. It would stand to reason that Account A is providing more value (subjectively) per tweet than Account B. This is not to say that both accounts are not providing value. In fact, it’s reasonable to equally assume that Account B is providing more overall value (with 20 times the number of tweets). However, using the example above, Account B is generating far more noise (20,000 tweets) than Account A (1000 tweets). Using the ratio, it is likely that Account A is having more of their message navigating the noise generated. In some ways, Account A is more of a “low-maintenance follow.”
This example of measurement is certainly not without flaws nor exceptions, yet I think provides prospective. At times, I think we believe that all of our tweets are interesting or providing value, when in fact, they’re creating more noise that lessens the likelihood of our message being received.
I would contend an example of this are Foursquare check-ins. I imagine some would argue that broadcasting your check-ins on Twitter provides value (I’m sure you check-in somewhere, post it on Twitter, and your followers come running to meet you all the time). But, I think we could all agree that to the majority of followers knowing that you just ousted the old mayor of your campus’ Starbucks probably falls a little lower on the signal scale and a little higher on the noise scale. Add updates on what song you’re listening to now, re-tweets of Amanda Bynes’ timeline, broadcasting your daily 106-word blog post, those “thanks for following” automated tweets, and almost any link to a Buzzfeed article, and you’re generating a lot of noise of somewhat questionable value. More so, it degrades your signal.
“Woah! Hold on Matt! If people didn’t like what I was tweeting, they’d stop following me.” That would seem like a reasonable assertion. In fact, I love idea of focusing equally on retaining followers as gaining followers. But, ask yourself how much more often do you start following accounts than stop following accounts. Truth be told, we rarely stop following accounts, we simply start ignoring them. Twitter’s own data supports this as the average number of followers per account continues to increase year-over-year, while the number of accounts we unfollow remains relatively low and stagnant.
Often we talk about the role Twitter can play in professional development, or the value in creating connections through various edu-based chats, or its ability to help establish our brand. It’s reasonable to believe we use Twitter because we want to be connected and we have something of value to contribute. We want to be heard. I would assert that the best way to accomplish this is not by focusing on gaining more followers, rather by leveling one’s signal-to-noise ratio, staying focused on your message more often, and retaining your followers’ interest.
How do you find balance? How intentional are you in your Twitter usage? Are you a “low-maintenance follow?”