Should InformationWeek Follow Anyone On Twitter?

Over on FriendFeed, we're having a discussion of a <a href="">mystery</a>: Why does the <a href=""> Twitter account</a> have fewer than 300 followers? It's a popular Web magazine -- why don't more people follow it on Twitter?

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

December 9, 2008

4 Min Read

Over on FriendFeed, we're having a discussion of a mystery: Why does the Twitter account have fewer than 300 followers? It's a popular Web magazine -- why don't more people follow it on Twitter?One popular answer is that the Salon account lacks followers because it's a broadcast-only account -- they have a headline-and-link stream, apparently automated from their RSS feed. The account doesn't follow anyone. They're doing a cardinal sin of Internet marketing: Using the Internet as a broadcast-only platform, shouting their message without listening to replies.

That's a tempting explanation, but I think it's simplistic and wrong.

Many of the most popular accounts on Twitter (according to Twitterholic) are broadcast-only, just like CNN Breaking News has 64,700 followers, and follows only one person. The account NASA set up for the MarsPhoenix probe has 39,900 followers, and follows only three people. The Twitter account for the popular Apple blog MacRumors has 37,500 followers, and follows only three people.

Setting up a Twitter account without following anyone is far from bad practice -- it seems to be standard for media and organizational Twitter accounts.

It's how we do things at InformationWeek -- our Twitter account has 801 followers and follows no one.

I'm the guy who manages that account, and I struggled a little bit with whether to follow anyone with the account. For months, I monitored who was following the account, and followed anyone back who looked like a legitimate Twitter user. I blocked spammers, but I followed everybody else who followed InformationWeek.

However, that was getting to be time-consuming.

Moreover, it felt a little dishonest. To set up an account with a lot of followers would be to imply that we're actually following those people. That we're checking the account, reading the messages, responding to them, and participating in the conversation. And that's just not happening; we don't log into the official InformationWeek account for months at a time.

Does that mean that InformationWeek isn't participating in the conversation on Twitter?

Because in this Web 2.0 world, failure to participate in the conversation is the biggest sin that a company can commit. It's OK if you dump toxic waste in lakes and rivers, outsource your manufacturing to sweatshops employing children, and bribe government officials wantonly. But failure to participate in the conversation -- that's just wrong.

Well, we do participate in the conversation on Twitter: We just don't do it through the InformationWeek account.

One tool we use is that we (meaning "I") monitor for mentions of our brand, and our nicknames: informationweek, iweek, infoweek, info week, even "info weak." The overwhelming majority of the time, what comes through that channel is simply people linking to our articles with minimal comments. But if someone says something that would benefit from a response, I respond.

The other way we participate is that quite a few of us have Twitter accounts, and use them regularly. To name just a few of our most active Twitterers: me, company CEO Tony Uphoff, editor-in-chief Alex Wolfe, news editor Michael Singer, managing editor/labs Michael Fratto, and editor-at-large David Berlind.

Another person -- or group -- with an unusual approach to Twitter is Britney Spears. Like a growing list of celebrities, Britney has a Twitter account; unlike most, she is upfront that she's not the one inputting messages. She has a Social Media Director named Lauren Kozak who pilots the Twitter account, as well as Britney's Web site, her Facebook and MySpace accounts, her Circus VIP Ning Community, and her "very successful" YouTube campaign, according to Jesse Stay, writing on the blog Kozak writes Britney's tweets, with input from the star herself, Britney's personal assistant, and the rest of Britney's entourage.

At first, that seems crazy. Putting yourself on social media is -- or should be -- a personal matter. If you're on Twitter, you should be entering the tweets yourself, and reading responses, no matter how rich, famous, or powerful you are.

But thinking it through further, it starts to make sense. A celebrity isn't just a person -- a celebrity is a corporation, a business, with a person, like the person named "Britney Spears" in the front, and a team of managers, assistants, producers, and sponsors in the background. Maybe Britney Spears the person has a Twitter account somewhere, under a pseudonym, locked and private, and run by the person named "Britney Spears" and that person alone. But the @britneyspears account on Twitter is a group effort, just as the celebrity named "Britney Spears" is.

When businesses go on Twitter --, InformationWeek, or Britney Spears -- they find innovative and weird ways to use the service.

What do you think? Should InformationWeek be following people on Twitter? And what weird and interesting ways have you seen businesses (and celebrities) using Twitter?

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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