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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thanks for the follow!

Twitter is a service model build entirely on the strength of the relationships of the community. They’ve enabled the conversation with technology, and effectively stepped aside to let the users completely co-produce the experience. Very few companies have the courage (or the ability) to get out of the way and let clients produce the experience, and in that regard, Twitter (and social media) is revolutionary for us all.

But as with all co-creation efforts, if the co-creators have different agenda, they can subvert the experience, undermine its overall effectiveness and leave people feeling unsatisfied.

Ironically, it is the marketing people that are doing this on Twitter. The people who advocate building close, one-to-one relationships with customers, are, by their actions doing the opposite – resorting to the mindless bullhorn as an attention grabber.

When I choose to follow someone, it’s because they’ve either said something interesting or are mentioned or referenced by someone in my existing network. In other words, through direct advertising or word-of-mouth, I’m saying I’m committed to trial of what you have to contribute to my experience.

Sometimes I get followed back. Great. Reciprocity is a good thing, though it’s no loss if I’m not. Other times, I get an auto-generated direct message, something along the lines of “Thanks for following. I'm a tech blogger making money from blogging and tweeting. DM me anytime.” or, “Thanks for the follow, I look forward to Tweeting with you. Check out my website and let me know how I can help.”

That’s at least a warning sign, and depending on the message, may be enough to get me to unfollow. I haven't reported anyone yet, only because I've been too lazy to read up on the ettiquette. I'm sure I've had the opportunity.

Instead of purposefully building a relationship to contribute meaningful context in areas I’m interested in, they use automated tools to expand their reach, make themselves seem more personal than they are, and setting me up for what they're selling me next.

It’s the very behavior we rail against – marketers casting a wide enough net to live off of the trickle of relevant respondents, disregarding the flood of annoyed people who aren’t your consumers.

These people & companies treat Twitter like a popularity contest, hoping to build the biggest brand as defined by followers. But the dynamics of value creation in social media are pretty much the same as everywhere else: create your position – what value you have to contribute – and craft its message. Work at finding those people for whom that value and message is relevant, and then work at providing enough relevance to them that they find your offering compelling and engage you meaningfully.

Resorting to the bullhorn to create that trickle of relevance may seem like a shortcut, but it is counterproductive waste. It diminishes the service experience of my fellow cocreator customers, and is the sort of thin that turns people off to entire media.

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