Wednesday, 18 February 2009

How to lose influence

I am on twitter. For those of you who are not, it is a micro-blogging site for which I cannot see any reason. And yet I still use it. Each entry is 140 characters long, so "blog entries", or tweets as they are known, are short and often pithy. There are two types of people, those you follow and those who follow you.

I do not often tweet and never anything of note. I do not really see a reason to tweet and so unless I am asking a question, why would I bother? Despite this I have followers. I only follow people I know in some way, so clearly some of them follow me out of politeness. It is hardly much trouble as I am not going to appear on their screens that often, as most of them are following hundreds of people. What is suprising is that I have other followers. My followers out number my followees by more than two to one. This is silly, I have nothing to say.

There are many measures of what influence on twitter means but it seems to generally come down to having lots of followers who retweet (pass on) what you say.

I have noticed that if I start tweeting often then my following (small to start with) goes down. This could be because my tweets lack focus, they do not have a central theme so people who have followed because of one tweet may well be put off by another tweet and leave. That said, having noticed this I became curious about how best to lose influence. Dan Zarrella has done some work on the viral nature of twitter which offers some insight. As does which talks about how to get your tweets retweeted. It is worth noting that both of these have an underlying assumption that you put some text in your tweets and actually want followers and influence. Having spent much of my time with more influence than I like I am coming at this from the other end. To that end I am going to list my thoughts on how lose influence and avoid being retweeted.

How to lose influence: the rules

* Be rude (asking people politely to retweet sometimes works, as does treating your followers with respect)

* Be random (have no one topic where you could gain a set of followers interested in your usual/main topic)

* Be boring and mundane (the bizarre and interesting gets retweeted)

* Never explain ("How to do X" is useful stuff)

* Be the last to break the news

* Be obscure. If you must have a link (which might add dangerous amounts of credibiliy) then do not explain what it is a link to. Otherwise make bald statements with no backup. Having an explanation and a link is asking to be retweeted.

* Be an outsider (Insider news is difficult to get hold of and so has value)
Tweet when your followers are tired or busy. Busy people will mever see your tweets and tired people will not bother retweeting.

* Do not ask to be retweeted (people might actually do it).

* Avoid times when your followers may be free to retweet and have the energy to be interested in doing it. Middle of the business day or late at night is good. Avoid lunchtime and just after lunch like the proverbial.

* Ungramatical, mis-spelt and trypo-ridden good is.
* Do not retweet. Anything that you retweet has not only value but also can be seen to have value. It is sort of pre-approved.

* Have no followers (so there is no one to re tweet)

It is worth noting that "Have no followers" is last for a reason. Not only is the level of retweeting not as strongly correlated to having lots of followers as you might think, but having no followers is actually hard unless you cheat by blocking everyone. If you are going to cheat then you might as well not botther. I know it is hard because I created a false twitter ID and told no one about it. It has never tweeted and has followers. Most of them are really spambots, but sadly not all of them. Why do people follow a non existent ID that does not do anything???

One final question that I have not tested but if someone draws this to the attention of Dan Zarella he might be able to answer:

Does making your tweet appear to be a retweet of someone elses tweet (even though it isn't) increase your chances of getting retweeted. If you set up multiple IDs to tweet the same things does that have a compounding effect?

Rufus Evison

P.S. It is worth noting that to be boring one must avoid the following topics like the plague (though whether the plague is considered interesting remains to be seen).

1. Sports News
2. US (and possibly other) political parties internal news
3. Cool computers and gadgets (Apple, iPhone, ...) news and developments
4. Insider news on well known companies such as Google
5. Media and entertainment insider news
6. Social media (particularly twitter)
7. New media insider information
8. Mash up and Twitter tools
9. Lobbying within the UK
10. Coupons discounts and offers
11. Collaboration and networking tools

P.P.S. I have followed some of the rules above in this blog post. I just want to state that this is deliberate and not just me being bad at this (although I am bad at it).