Stop chasing followers

The internet is not a numbers game. It’s about dialog, persuasion, and influence.

You don’t want a million people reading your HTML5 blog. You want members of the HTML5 working groups and key influencers from Google, Apple, and Microsoft reading your HTML5 blog. Likewise, it’s better to have twenty meaningful comments than a thousand +1s.

Ditto with Twitter follower counts. What it would gain you to acquire all the followers in the world? Bragging rights? Mysterious leverage? The ability to convince a not-very-bright business person that what you have to say matters, because n millions follow you?

Following doesn’t mean paying attention. You don’t want numbers on Twitter, not really. What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about.

This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs. Especially not eyeballs that aren’t even watching. Eyeballs is so 90s. And it was never the right metric.

This thing. If numbers are your strategy to win at this thing, you’ve already lost. This thing is not a game. There is no winning. There is only mattering. If you don’t understand that, you aren’t making a difference.


70 thoughts on “Stop chasing followers”

  1. Agreed, it’s an extension of the hits/conversions argument. People are often blinded by large numbers when they’re not the most important numbers available.

  2. A great post!
    When I first started using twitter a couple of months back, I quickly shot up to following a few hundred people and was “disappointed” to not have the same number of people follow me back. I’ve since then had the same realisation that you’ve had, and although I can’t stop people following me which I don’t think have a real interest (I get some pretty random, non spam followers) I’ve stopped caring.

    Unfortuneatly, metrics such as number of followers, comments or page impressions will still be used as metrics for measuring success for a long time to come, and that’s purely because they’re easy to calculate, where as it’s not easy to calculate how incolved a conversation in the comment might be, or the true success on the site without using such metrics

  3. I think there’s an “Onion” story lurking in that headline. “Pope chases followers”? maybe? Or “Unemployed Man from Ypsilanti Chases Followers”? Something like that?

  4. +5

    As always, very well Jeffrey. I’m also glad to see that you’ve not (as of yet anyway) closed comments.

    I don’t know if there was more to the closing of comments discussion but, I hope instead of closing comments you’d go the route of implementing some kind of ‘accountability’ plugin.. say facebook integration. (sorry for straying off topic).

    As Hillary stated above, preach it brother!

  5. The whole article is based on a false statement. Chasing followers… is that even physically possible?

  6. Hmm, I tried to comment but it got lost (I thought it might be in a moderation queue, but the above comments have a later timestamp, so I assume it just got lost) so I’ll just summarise the key point I made

    As you state, metrics such as number of followers, comments or page views will stick around as ways of measuring success for a long time, and for one reason only! Ease of use.
    It’s easy to see how many followers you have, it’s easy to track number of comments on this post. It’s easy to track number of page views on a site.
    It’s not as easy to track user involvement and meaningful contributions on twitter or in comments. It’s not as easy (but possible) to track how many of your users are genuine and interested in what you have to say/offer.

  7. Well said and in line what you and I have been saying since the 90’s. Build quality and something your target audience wants, not what you think you need.

    Many people lost this perspective when it came to social part of social media. Just like in the early 90’s people measured server hits as a metrics for success (a truly meaningless stat) because they didn’t know better. Now comes Facebook & Twitter and all people care about is a count again. How many friends, how many followers.

    They are forgetting this is a social point of contact. You don’t go around town bragging how many friends you have when they are really people you’ve only barely met or might have heard of you. Yet people believe that on-line that is what matters.

    Well said Mr. Zeldman, let’s get back to what this technology is for, having a conversation between friends, colleagues & those who share our interests. If you need to measure the benefit of this, measure thing like clout (a great tool Klout.com) or impact on sales or impact on customer service. Measure what truly counts.

    An if your bent on following as many people as possible follow me two (@aknecht with no illusion of me following you back, unless you are talking about something I’m interested in or at least start a conversation with some substance.

  8. >>”What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about.”

    I’d add to this slightly, it’s not just about being followed by humans who (already) agree on the same things, a following of like-minded peers is the easy part, like fishing in a barrel! Gaining the following of humans who probably haven’t considered the matters yet is the real challenge! ;)

    I agree with your main point though: with followers, it’s shouldn’t be a ‘numbers game’, it should be about relevance + influence.

  9. Really great point! It’s the ‘create content for money’ sites that drive me up the wall. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to make a little $ to survive or keep it interesting, but if you’re only creating content in order to monetize (hate that word ) it, then like you say, you’re missing the point.

  10. I find myself in this trap sometimes, trying to figure out ways to get more eyeballs. But for me it always comes back to just doing what I do best and sharing my experiences. If you do that, the right people will find you.

    Thanks for reminding me of that Jeffrey.

  11. There’s a better approach to meaningful conversations.

    I personally like the idea of using separate Twitter accounts for the various topics I’m interested in. Then, I can be authentic in a way that best relates to unique audiences. Compare this approach to a lifestream of jibba jabba that potentially risks diminishing an individual’s brand identity:

    Lifestream account: “I woke up, got out of bed, ran a comb across my head.”

    Subject matter expert or hobby topic account: “Attending XYZ conference, learned about new widget 2010.”

    Then, let the people subscribe to the topics they want.

  12. Well put, JZ.

    On an off-topic note, I noticed “A Book Apart” was recently added here as well. Is it any closer to reality? Last update I recall being “late March” as a general idea as to when we might see it happen. Any more news/updates on that?

    Thanks!

  13. With the following:

    “What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about.”

    you pretty much described my main reason to use Twitter.

    Thank you Jeff!

  14. I think you just said it in one sentence.

    This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.

    “Awesome” insight. You hit social media, blogging, twitter… whatever, square on the head: connections with real people. And that’s what the web is about, connections. It’s not about brand awareness, its about joining a conversation; a really big one.

  15. Things are more like today than they ever have been. Of course, that’s always been true. My co-workers tell me I look alike, but I still think there’s a resemblance. My brother is related, but I’m not. One half of two and two is three. One half of two and two is two. By now, you’re wishing for that +1, neh?

  16. While I agree whole-heartedly with this, can I just say the amount of conversations I’ve had that start out “I can’t believe how many Twitter followers you have!” is actually rather astounding.

  17. Thanks for this, Jeffrey. I especially like the last paragraph, because you could say the same thing if you were talking about life.

  18. Great article Sir ! This is why i always will come back and read your blog, it is honest and strait from the heart.

  19. Risky business publishing an HTML5 book right now.

    Is it a “live” book? One that can be updated? Possibly frequently?

    DRM free ePub?

  20. Beautifully put, Jeffrey. It’s nice to see others who don’t care about such childish hubris.

    I certainly try to keep my followers pruned to help keep out the riff-raff and spammers, but that’s about as much as I care for such things. I want followers who understand what it means to be “knee deep in @shwowp” or who get my stupid jokes like, “Wireframing: it’s not just for breakfast anymore.” :)

    Thank you once again for your candor and your insight.

  21. Why are these blogs about not seeking followers always written by people with a shitload of followers? In your case over 50,000. I’ve got 10,000 and that’s way too many. I think the real point to be made is that Twitter is not scalable except as a broadcast system. For dialogue and interaction a couple of thousand would be plenty and make your point.

  22. I think at times it can be hard to resist an urge to get a higher number — perhaps harkening back to school days — an “A” instead of a “B+” a 90 instead of an 87. Teams wanting higher scores. Golfers wanting lower ones. Higher sales instead of lower. More dollars instead of less. If more people follow you if they aren’t spammers perhaps it could be confirmation that your content or links are interesting to them. Or not.

    People use Twitter for a multitude of reasons. Do we really need to judge them for following or not following? I think not. As long as someone isn’t kicking in our @’s with spamming messages, peace.

  23. I feel more genuine having 40 + followers and following about the same number. I’ve been a tweeter for over a yr. Was feeling like a desease.

  24. I agree that numbers on their own a meaningless but if you are writing an HTML5 blog (for example) and none of your followers have influence on the HTML5 working group, Google, Microsoft or Apple does that really negate the value of writing it? Isn’t a conversation amongst non influential peers valid just because it allows you to organise your thoughts and express yourself? I think a Twitter conversation amongst the same peers is valid because of what you all get out of it even if you have little direct influence in the wider community. You and your chatter are the bulk of that community right?

    Of course I might just be trying to make myself feel better because only 7 people read my blog and I’m pretty sure I know who all of them are.

  25. True enough, although statements like these are easily made by people who already have countless followers. Numbers don’t matter, but writing for less than 100 people isn’t very encouraging either.

    Comments are something else. These are areas specifically built for meaningful conversation, so when they get polluted by +1s, pingbacks and twitter comments it really ticks me off.

  26. Jeffrey

    Your thoughtfulness and quality of writing has always managed to attract me to return. Also i’m always a sucker for the comedic post title :0)

    As stated by Scott LaPlant – Please keep this blog open for comments, otherwise the sense of dialogue will be lost. Also as stated by Niels Matthijs, don’t pollute that dialogue with pingbacks and twitter comments.

    Find the right voice and keep the quality high. The numbers will look after themselves.

    Also, as much as I can reason why this blog exists, I struggle with the likes of the following.

    http://favstar.fm/users/iA/status/12570794240

    What’s it all about? To me therein lies the road to madness

  27. Matt:

    I agree that numbers on their own a meaningless but if you are writing an HTML5 blog (for example) and none of your followers have influence on the HTML5 working group, Google, Microsoft or Apple does that really negate the value of writing it?

    Certainly not! And I’m sorry if I gave that impression.

    Isn’t a conversation amongst non influential peers valid just because it allows you to organise your thoughts and express yourself?

    It absolutely is!

  28. Niels:

    Numbers don’t matter, but writing for less than 100 people isn’t very encouraging either.

    Some of my best writing experiences took place in a small creative writing group of about ten people.

    I’ve written stuff only a teacher saw, and gotten a lot out of it.

    I’ve written stuff only a girlfriend saw, and later been glad no one else saw it! :)

    Small groups needn’t be discouraging.

    I agree, though, that you need to build *some* following. You don’t want to spend years writing a blog no one reads.

    Building an audience is natural and important.

    My concern is that invisible line it’s too easy to cross, where you’re no longer building an audience for an organic reason, but (like an addict) just going for higher and higher numbers as a narcotic drip ego feed. When it stops being about people and is just about numbers, that’s when it’s wrong, I think.

  29. When it stops being about people and is just about numbers, that’s when it’s wrong, I think.

    And I’ve been as guilty of it over the years as anyone. I’m not pointing fingers.

  30. True.

    However, is this the reality? We’ve made that argument an infinite number of times to would be advertisers, to no avail. At the end of the day all ‘they’ care about is the hard number not the soft connection.

    It’s data that companies crave, and rightly so. They need something to report to their boss, who in turn needs to report to their boss that is accountable to the board who answers to stockholders. What else is there?

    We’ve come to the point where if all an advertiser cares about is the number, we walk away. It’s a fool’s game. On the other hand, are we obligated to produce a quantifiable result? It begs the eternal question, who is our customer? The advertiser who will pay or our ‘friends’ who read our site for free?

  31. Thank you for writing with precision, passion and brevity.
    and for making a great point.

  32. I think the one things as some one who is up and coming in web and social media. Having a certain amount of followers makes you look credible. In the case of many people who would look at my twitter account and go, hm, 90 followers, nothing to see here. Where as they wouldn’t take the time to dig in and see who those followers are. For the most part I agree with you whole-heartedly, I’d rather have 5 web experts as followers than every stay-at-home-mom in the tri-state area, but, you do need a solid 500 – 1000 followers of any kind to look like you are worth something to casual visitors you might get the chance to connect with in the future.

  33. I will agree with you that chasing followers is kinda a shady practice, especially how a lot of people do it by offering random prizes to followers. I do think that this could pay off though. I launched a site a few weeks ago and have been trying to spread the word. I have roughly 70 followers and about 5 of them retweeted my post about launching the site. Those same 5 people signed up and caused a few other to sign up. If I had 1000 followers or 10000 followers it would mean a lot more exposure. The conversion rate may not stay the same but it would definitely be better exposure.

    Point is, it is easy to talk about this stuff when you already have 55,326 followers. For the rest of us, a little follower whoring might help.

  34. Very true. See it more and more on facebook as well people just grabbing as many friends as possible as some find as status symbol

  35. It’s not unlike the popularity frenzies in high school right? In the end — its your real friends, a.k.a. followers, who will click your links!

  36. If numbers are your strategy to win at this thing, you’ve already lost. This thing is not a game. There is no winning. There is only mattering. If you don’t understand that, you aren’t making a difference.

    Yes, but I’m still making a killin’ by selling ads.

    @Doug Adams

    Quality not quantity wins again.

    Why, thank you, Captain obvious!

  37. Well, it’s the one dimensional numbers that don’t give you the whole picture. Counting eyeballs is indeed misguided.

    But on the web the deep communication can be tracked with numbers. You can track the time someone spends reading your stuff, then retweeting, re-blogging stuff on the same topic with similar words.

    That type of connection certainly has more weight and can again be tracked with numbers. The number of neurons involved over time is a more accurate metric than the number of brains without a time metric.

    So the number of obsessed will catch up, only to be amazed at how far off their old approaches were.

  38. Amen brother.

    Nice to hear it from somebody who actually has the reach you have on Twitter.
    When somebody like I, who “only” has a few hundred followers, says it, it looks like excuses for a low number. When someone like you says it, it looks like common sense. Like priorities set straight.

    Let’s cut the bullshit: Twitter is about reaching to people, not reaching to metrics.

    It’s easy as hell to get 100 000 followers. All you have to do is follow everyone you stumble upon. Eventually, enough will follow back because they’re after the same race to the big numbers.

    Real respect comes from building a community, one human being at a time. Not accepting spambots and people you care nothing about.

  39. Thank you!

    As a relative newcomer to Twitter I did like (almost) everyone else does – followed people by the dozen. This article has opened my eyes to the real benefit of Twitter – interacting with people with similar interests, goals and ideals that I have.

    Much appreciated!

  40. Every time I get followed by someone on Twitter who’s following thousands and every tweet has words like SEO, Marketing, or Entrepreneur, I feel like a really cheap baseball card. Like Myspace’s Tom, these followers are part of the deal I suppose.

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