Obsessed with your Twitter follower count? You're not alone!

Recently, I’ve had quite a few people ask me how to get more Twitter followers and came across many ranting about how no one is following them.  Apparently, these days even interviewers are asking for number of Twitter followers as a qualifier for social media-type jobs. Add to the mix, our intrinsic human nature to be competitive even about meaningless contests for some real (or mostly perceived) gain, and voila, we have an explanation for  the growing  obsession with number of followers/friends/connections on various social media sites.

In the real world, it’s all about money and materialistic things but in the online world, it has become a contest over who can get more followers, even when the quality of the followers and so-called ‘friends’ is highly suspect. To help the number-obsessed Twitterati, there are tools that help track Twitter followers, measure your Twitter ‘grade’ and there are folks who have figured out how to game the system and will even help you out with tips.

If you look at the folks in the  Twitter top 100, you’ll find that many are real-life celebrities and their offline achievements make them worthy of adulation. On the other hand, there are very well-known folks like Seth Godin who are not even on Twitter.

Given that my real job involves metrics and measurement, I get it. Yes, numbers are important and they do matter. Say for example you’re a blogger, having a large number of subscribers is critical for getting ad revenue and garnering more exposure for your blog. Same for a company, larger the number of folks who follow you, more  opportunity for you to spam… er…pitch your products to them. But padding your follower count just for the heck of it, isn’t very smart or best use of your time.

Don’t forget that many Twitter power-users make a living off social media-related activities such as platforms, tools, consulting etc. They spend a ton of time building their network on social media networks and they should, given that’s their job. But that’s not realistic for many regular Joes/Janes with jobs that require them to actually do some work that doesn’t involve a social media site.

I can see making more money or  being a better parent or world peace might be a commendable life goal (although the first one is iffy), but what does having 10,000 followers on Twitter really get you? Does it make you more happier than the guy with 9,999 followers? Does that somehow make you smarter or more of a celebrity? Twitter has millions of users but zip to show for revenue, so what does that tell you? Numbers can’t buy you happiness. Heck, it can’t even get you a sustainable revenue model.

Here’s a suggestion, STOP obsessing about your follower count and start connecting/engaging with the folks who already follow you. And if growing your Twitter follower count is still your life goal, do as Benjamin Franklin once said,

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

In other words, give people a legitimate reason to follow you. If all folks see in your Twitter stream is monologue about your personal life, they’ll probably be turned off. So unless you have an extremely entertaining personal life and can give the reality shows a run for their money, you might also want to rethink what you tweet.

This holds true for real life as well as in our new social media world, it’s not about surrounding yourself with random people but being around people who actually matter. So, next time someone asks you about your Twitter follower count, take a deep breath and tell them straight up - it’s the quality of  Tweets and Tweeples that really counts not quantity.

To blog or not to blog?

There are plenty of blogs and articles out there with advice on how to blog but not many that answer the most important question – Why should you blog? Blogs have become as ubiquitous as websites but in all the hype, blogging is losing its purpose, which is to provide a medium for two-way communication and engagement (via comments).

It’s very easy to set up a blog and therein lies the problem. If it was complex and expensive to set one up, then everyone would think long and hard about whether they should invest  resources in it. New bloggers underestimate the time and effort it takes to consistently churn out great content. Without interesting content, you can’t keep your audience engaged and if there’s no engagement, then we’re back to my original question - why have a blog? Why not just have a static website and keep it updated with content?

Here are some good reasons, why having company blog/s is valuable:
- To provide unique insights on the company and connect with external stakeholders. Ex: J&J – Interviews with employees
- Provide unique point of view that your users would find interesting. Ex: Sun Microsystems - CEO blog
- Get product feedback,  feature suggestions, and test new product ideas. Ex: Tweetdeck – Product updates and feedback
- Engage users by sharing expertise and information on some interesting and relevant topic. Ex: Intel – Software Network blogs
- Answer questions related to the company’s products and explain service disruptions. Ex: WordPress - Product blog

What I haven’t called out explicitly is that all these are also good reasons for your community to engage with you. Of course, you can start  a blog just because you want to or everyone else is doing it. While that might be a good reason for a personal blog, that’s not a valid justification for a business decision.

Before launching a new blog, start by ‘listening’ and ‘participating’ in your target community. Evaluate if your blog will add value or just add to the noise in the blogosphere. Let’s take my favorite and most commonly used analogy, say you’re at a cocktail party, do you want to join some ongoing conversation or do you want to start a new one in the corner, even if it means you end up talking to yourself? Chances are that as you start listening to your audience, you’ll know the right way to engage with them. You may soon find that some have started conversing with you directly because what you are talking about topics that are interesting and relevant to them. 

Here are some ways to listen and participate:
- Follow discussions that are relevant to your users
- Start sharing interesting content with your community
- Contribute to discussions on social aggregators and blogs
- Participate in Q&As on professional forums

These are just a few ways, but the bottomline is that there are many other ways to engage with your community without setting up a blog. Also, thanks to social networks like LinkedIn, micro-blogging sites like Twitter and social aggregators like Friendfeed, two-way engagement has become so much more easier and efficient. While you can build a sizeable Twitter community in a month, it can take years to build a loyal subscriber base  of comparable size for your blog. 

Given that there are only so many working hours in a day, do you want to spend it engaging in a meaningful discussion with your users on their preferred forum or would you rather spend that time working on a blog post that only a handful of people might actually read. A bit more introspection and some research on your target audience, you may even find that some other social channel might be a better fit for your company’s needs.

However, if you find that blogging is the way to go, then extra effort upfront will help guide your blog in the right direction and get it off to a good start.

Thoughts on work, life, and layoffs

Layoffs are in the news and on everyone’s mind these days. Techcrunch’s tracking the numbers, Robert Scoble’s tweeting about it, Jeremiah Owyang’s blogging  about it, so I was inspired to chronicle my thoughts on the current downturn and layoffs, in general:

#1 It’s not you, it’s the company: Remember that layoffs are a business decision and do NOT let your company’s dismal performance undermine your confidence. A senior manager I admire greatly once said, “If your work is not appreciated by the company, do you still want to continue doing it?’ If you’ve been laid off, think of it as a opportunity to do work that’s meaningful and more importantly, appreciated. Nothing is more demotivating and demoralizing than  working on projects that get killed or never see light of day.

I disagree with folks who think being laid off has some sort of stigma attached to it. How can anyone believe that millions of laid off workers are all somehow incompetent? I know someone who got laid off within 4wks of being hired, as part of a major restructuring at a tech company. I also know folks who got rehired at other companies within weeks of getting laid off and some got rehired at the same company in a different group.

I know plenty of talented people who went to their management asking for a package to leave because it was too depressing to stay, but they didn’t get the deal so consider yourself lucky. Companies don’t always know what they’re doing and will have to do a lot of work to build morale  and foster loyalty in the aftermath of these massive layoffs. 

#2 Get over it and get out there: That’s nothing more tacky than badmouthing your old employer, it makes you look immature and disgruntled. Life’s not fair, get over it! Don’t sit around griping and complaining to everyone who’ll listen. Don’t over-analyze and don’t waste your time trying to figure out ‘Why me?’ Firstly, it’s unproductive and secondly, it doesn’t matter any more. It’s over, the deed is done, focus your energy in finding that next opportunity.  

The most important thing you can do once you’ve been laid off is to get out there and network. Yes, it is difficult and you probably cringe every time anyone asks you what you do. You don’t have to shout it out from rooftops that you’ve been laid-off, but make sure you have a compelling story to explain your ‘job transition’. Use networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to show off your expertise and knowledge. Answer questions, offer to help folks with their business problem, start a blog or set up a website where you can refer folks who want to know more about you.

# 3 Keep your chin up:Don’t let the news of massive layoffs get you down. Remember this – there’s still work to be done and companies need good people. Make sure you’re expanding your search beyond full-time jobs. Contracting is a great way to get your foot in the door and while you’re exploring different options, why not start your own company? Saying you’re self-employed is so much more positive than saying you’re unemployed.

I had lunch with a friend whose company recently got funded and now they have enough cashflow to keep them afloat through the downturn. There are plenty of qualified people out there who are looking to change the world and who knows, they might actually succeed. Check out my Twitter feed 0f opportunities from a Bay Area Girl Geeks dinner, going to these small  events is very energizing and you find many pockets of opportunities once you’re out there.

#4 What doesn’t kill you…: I remember a good friend of mine who went through a messy divorce, got laid off, was facing bankruptcy and the last straw was when his car broke down on way to a job interview. He completely lost it that day but piece by piece, he managed to put his life together again. We all have it in us and we’re more resilient than we think, but it often takes a catastrophe or adversity to bring out the best in us. You may look back on this some day and think that perhaps this was the best thing to ever happen to you.

Use this downtime to upgrade your skills and position yourself for that next great opportunity. I loved hearing from an ex-colleague Roderick Jefferson, a consummate go-getter who is using this transition time as an opportunity to help other folks as a career coach and he also started his own training/consulting company. If you or your company are looking for a great sales/product marketing/technical training firm, you can get in touch with Roderick at www.premierbusinessstrategies.com.

#5 There’s more to life than work: I loathe those cheesy commercials where they’re trying to convince you that losing your job is a good thing. I am not going to sugarcoat this – it sucks to lose your job especially when you’re doing a great job and you don’t have a say in the decision. But you have  to admit the downtime gives you plenty of time to reflect on whats most important in your life ie. your health, your family, your sanity. 

Going through a bad patch kills bad relationships and makes strong relationships stronger. You’ll find out who your real  friends are and who were just along for the ride. The stress from a bad job would have killed you sooner rather than later, but now you’ll probably live longer and enjoy time with people who really care about you and whom you care about.

Lastly, once you get that job or opportunity you’re looking for, make a note to yourself that you’ll NEVER forget what you went through. If you’ve been laid off once, it may happen again. You have to keep your skills fresh and don’t assume that just because you have a job, you can get complacent. Someone once told me, ‘The day you find a job, start looking for your next one.’  That may sound harsh but on the day you get the news, you’ll wish you had taken this advice more seriously.