August 2013 Update: It’s clear I had some time on my hands back in 2009. This post was my silly attempt to understanding Twitter after 1.5 months on the service. Anyways, I don’t feel the same way now. Guy Kawasaki is a rock star. He’s Asian, I’m Asian. He has adopted kids, I have adopted kids. End of story.
I’ve been on Twitter for 44 days now. In sum, I love Twitter: I find it to be a very helpful utility for both consuming information as well as for contributing to a conversation. But, I have some other observations too that I’d like to share in a series of posts. This is Part 1 of my observations on Twitter, and here are Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4.
Tweets come in all forms — useful, useless, agnostic, and bizarre. People who tweet also fall into the same categorization: useful, useless, agnostic, bizarre, and [use your imagination]. One observation is that there are some who tweet that have a lot of followers. As I’ve scoured the people with a lot of followers and tried to make a judgment on the value of their tweets — in general — I came away lacking: why would anybody follow these people?
Case in Point: Guy Kawasaki has almost 47,000 followers. As a former follower for 2 days, I noticed that his tweets were robotic; unnatural; it felt like a bot was tweeting for him. So, I happily unfollowed him — he wasn’t interesting at all & just added noise to my already overcomplicated life.
Then, it dawned on me — that Guy Kawasaki’s tweet behavior was like a rambling drunk at a neighborhood bar: he couldn’t stop tweeting and was, for the most part, rambling stuff nobody wanted to hear. I also became curious about the quantitative nature of Guy Kawasaki’s tweets — so, I ran some numbers.
- Guy’s earliest tweet I could find was dated November 8, 2008 — 64 days ago.
- Within 64 days, Guy Kawasaki has 16,457 tweets.
- This means the following:
- 16457/9.14 weeks = 1800 tweets per week (tpw)
- 16457/64 days = 257 tweets per day (tpd)
- 16457/1536 hours = 10 tweets per hour (tph)
- 16457/92,160 minutes = 0.17 tweets per minute (tpm)
- 16457/5,529,600 second = 0.003 tweets per second (tps)
Looking at the raw numbers above, it’s pretty astounding that a human can tweet that much. It’s pretty overwhelming and, hence, I unfollowed him. But, why does he have almost 47,000 followers?
The Guy Kawasaki scenario led me the following hypothesis:
- Those who tweet the most useless noise have the most followers1.
Perhaps my hypothesis can be displayed as a simple table like below:
- the top-left quadrant says that “there aren’t very many followers for low-value tweets”
- the bottom-left quadrant says that “there are a bunch of followers for low-value tweets
- the top-right quadrant says that “there aren’t very many followers for high-value tweets”
- the bottom-right quadrant says that “there are a bunch of followers for high-value tweets”
Based on this table, I’d consider Guy Kawasaki to occupy the bottom-left quadrant.
I’m not picking on Guy Kawasaki at all — in fact, my comments are more of an indictment on the followers than on Guy Kawasaki, the man. He can tweet whatever he wants — but, people have a choice to follow or not to follow. For some reason or other, he still has 47,000 followers.
Let me generalize even further: beyond Guy Kawasaki — my hypothesis is a generalized theory on twitter as a community: maybe twitter is subject to the laws of Game Theory, namely, the paradox of conformity —
Conformity: People in a group often believe and do the same thing as people around them. This leads to an Information Cascade ” that is, you do what other people do, etc. For example, if you are eating at a fancy restaurant and don’t know which fork to use, you naturally look to see which fork the first person used, and you use the same one. Then, the third person notices which fork you and the first person used, and he does the same. And so on.
In other words, perhaps Guy had a bunch of followers, so more joined his bus thinking that, if they didn’t follow him, they might be missing something or not be in the “in-crowd”.
So, I only use Guy Kawasaki as a case study for this post. He can obviously do whatever he wishes with his tweets. I actually like him. He is Asian — which helps and, more importantly, he’s an adoptive father — so am I (baby 1, baby 2, baby 3). So, I like him and my observations are really more on Twitter as a community of conformity than it is anything personal about Guy Kawasaki.
- It would be easy enough to make this quantitative, such that we can actually prove or fail to reject this hypothesis. What is required is to increase the sample size to something statistically significant and complete the cells in the chi-square categorical table above. Using the Chi-Square hypothesis test and distribution, we can then conclude whether or not we can fail to reject this hypothesis. Since I do not that, please take this post with a grain of salt, have a sense of humor, and have some fun with it. ↩
Become a Lean Six Sigma professional today!
Start your learning journey with Lean Six Sigma White Belt at NO COST
Scott Edwards says
I’m pretty sure the 16K+ tweet are all time, not just the past few weeks or so. Still, he is a copious tweeter. I like to follow him because while he has many tweets, it only takes me a brieg moment to scan them and occasionally there is something of interest I’ll look into.
I’ve been using twitter for 8 months now and I find my usage changes over time. I’m using more and more for info gathering, and I’m trying to get away from posting repetitious tweets. It’s been a fun, ongoing experiment. It’s interesting to me to know exactly where twitter will go from here.
Scott Edwards says
Oops, I should proofread better. I meant it’s interesting to NOT know exactly where twitter will go from here.
Thanks for bringing tweetstats to my attention — I stand corrected on my numbers above. I simply search Twitter, looking for Guy Kawasaki’s earliest tweet; it looks like Twitter doesn’t render older tweets.
Lee Stacey - tw: @LStacey says
It’s funny, for me it keeps boiling down to the same thing.
It is true that the spammy ones and the nonsense tweeters have the most followers but their followers are worth nothing.
If you produce valuable content (and remember that is highly subjective) you will get more valuable followers.
Sure, you won’t rack ’em up as fast as Mr. MassFollow or Miss RandomHottie but you will get more out of them by way of engagement. You can also sleep soundly knowing they are getting more from you too.
Advice I gave someone last night: Don’t collect followers for the sake of collecting followers. Just do what you do and the right followers will come. It will be slow but organic.
Look at it this way: Lovingly prepared, slow cooked roast beef or microwave meal?
Richard Metzler says
Thank you for this great post.
Actually Guy Kawasaki was the first one I unfollowed on Twitter. He uses TwitterFeed in a very excessive way only promoting his AllTop page. Alltop just aggregates a lot of well known blogs about one topic per site and counts visitors via FeedBurner. He does the same thing with Adjix. Begging Twitterers to volunteer for being seeders for Alltop made me unfollow him.
What I recognized afterwards: I didn’t ever see Guy Kawasaki retweet any other Twitterer or post personal stuff on Twitter. This behaviour annoys me.
Richard Metzler says
After leaving my comment, I was curious how much Guy Kawasaki retweet. But how much does he retweet other Twitterers?
Mark Graban says
It seems like the most popular, most followed Twitter users are those who are “famous” in the real world (like Kawasaki, very well known in tech circles). Tech folks are going to gravitate to Twitter more than those from other industries. I followed Kawasaki because I liked his work and knew his name… but might unfollow his tweets, as there’s a high signal to noise ratio.
Molly Gordon says
My company is small, myself and an office manager. Our chief value is connection. For myself, ideas and methodologies flow when I’m connecting with people I care about who have challenges I can do something about. For my office manager (aka the office angel) making people feel good about themselves and about their work with us is paramount.
In the past few weeks I have gotten more intentional and focused about social media. I feel like I’m beginning to hit my stride in terms of understanding the idiom and feeling like part of an emergent organism rather than an individual with self-directed motives mashing it up with other individuals and their self-directed motives.
My initiative now is to develop a large-scale, deep, fluent, and intelligent network so that my goals of distributed intelligence, amplified vision, and connection continue to be met.
What does this to do with a following strategy? I follow a large number of people from @shaboom and a tiny number of people from @mollygordon.
I dip into the @shaboom tweetstream for random refreshment and inspiration and serendipitous connections, as well as to request help and inject whatever humor and intelligence I can into the conversation.
I monitor the @mollygordon tweetstream for tweets from friends and — occasionally — some individual that I want to get to know in more depth.
Conformity plays a significant role in the development of any culture. This shows up not only hive behaviors, such as following twitterati, but also in debates about twitter strategy and etiquette.
Mark Drapeau says
This is so stupid. What starts as a possibly interesting scientific analysis settles on a sample size of one. And no one can generalize from looking at G.K.’s tweets, or anyone elses.
There are people who tweet a lot and have many (or no) followers. There are tech people who follow back and don’t, reply back and don’t, self-promote and don’t, retweet others and don’t and so forth – and the spectrum of # followers is all over the map.
This is not a defense of G.K., though I like him fine. Yes, there is certainly conformity, but also for people like Tim O’Reilly, Gary Vaynerchuck, Peter Shankman, and Robert Scoble – who all use Twitter in different fashions. And all have a ton of followers.
Mark Drapeau says
This is the worst kind of pseudoscience. I refuse to even tweet out the article link to say I commented on it. Boo.
Wyatt Peak says
I don’t know that robotic tweets are such a bad thing. I use twitter for two things, primarily – conversation and a filtered feed reader. I really appreciate people who send through interesting links, as it helps sort through the noise of the rest of the internet, which is much louder than Guy’s aggregate tweets.
While I agree that a lot of people follow him because it’s popular (and also because he follows them back, that’s a winning combination on Twitter), I think you may be underestimating the value of his tweets to some of his followers.
Scrappy Upstart says
Great post, great analysis. I try to listen to the little guys and be as helpful as possible, keeping a lot of tweets in DM and filled with answers. None of the top guys are really helping anyone tactically – and sadly the ones helping will never be the top guys.
I will say someone as popular as @copyblogger continues to offer the most helpful impersonal guidance.
PowerHungry Film says
I like Guy Kawasaki’s posts.
His full time business is one of aggregating interesting articles and links on certain subjects, so he has access to an extraordinary amount of information organized for his interests.
I find many of his posts to be interesting articles, information, news that I might not otherwise have known about. In fact, his posts and other top twitter posters have taken my learning to a faster, more rounded level in just a few months. Learning that might have taken years if I wasn’t reading posts on twitter.
Mark Graban says
Follow me at @leanblog 🙂
Mike Ashworth says
Actually guy kawasaki is a great example.
I subscribed to his blog, bought thigs he published and then started following him on twitter. more fool me. I tried to engage in conversation with him, commenting upon a tweet that he might make, no response at all 🙁
Result, i no longer follow him on twitter, i no longer su
bscribe to his blog, I will no longer buy his books.
There are other examples too of people who spout all things “social media” however they do not practice what they preach.
Kevin Novak says
Conformity almost certainly plays a role in following Guy Kawasaki, but there’s more than that at play here. Consider that he almost always follows his followers back. Because of the size of his network, this increases his followers’ scores at twitter.grader.com and twinfluence.com.
He was also listed at the top of the recommendations from MrTweet.com when I used the tool to strengthen my network. So in addition to me-tooism, he has third-party recommendations working for him.
Another reason you dimiss completely is that some people, myself included, might enjoy his tweets. They tend to be provocative. He seems to be emulating a newsfeed like AP on twitter, and it’s clearly working for him. I wonder if he analyzes his tweets for clickthrough by time of day and content. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
Guy Kawasaki says
I never analyze my tweets for clickthrough. I just find interesting stuff and tweet away.
Nice huge obtrusive Yahoo ad in the middle of your post. Who is going to blog complaining about that?
Guy Kawasaki is a famous person, so he naturally has a lot of followers, he is using Twitter to promote his own business. I followed him before but unfollowed for the same reason than you. he is like a fortress, unreachable. So he is not interesting to follow. He only uses the microblogging aspect of Twitter, not the chatting aspect.
Myron Tay says
Well, Guy is like the boingboing of twitterville.
Joe Schmitt says
I think someone has mentioned it, but Guy has been on Twitter a lot longer. However, you are dead on about the garbage tweets. He even talks about recycling his own tweets and how it’s a feature, not a bug:
I among others took exception to this, and heard about it from many Guy disciples. Our complaint was that he was telling people to be more spam and robot like.
But really, advice from Guy about Twitter seems besides the point. Guy was famous before Twitter, so people were going to follow him no matter what. It’s exciting when someone famous follows you, and all you need to do to get him to follow is to follow him first. He follows everyone back.
But so what? He isn’t listening to all 49,000 people he’s following. Basically if they don’t mention him, or aren’t on some short list, he isn’t responding. It’s pretty empty following. And yet Guy is considered some kind of Twitter guru.
I suppose it’s not unlike Donald Trump being considered some great businessman. Right. The guy starts out with $100 million from his father. That’s just like what the rest of us face. And Donald has had more than one of his companies file for bankruptcy. Maybe the analogy doesn’t work – Guy is no Trump-like idiot.
Of course, what do I know? I’m just there for the jokes. I’m @joeschmitt
Mark Drapeau says
Guy – You are completely right about the “different crowds.” I recycle my very good/informative tweets in that way. I nom’d you for a Shorty if for no other reason than for, “Twitter is a weapon.” Brilliant (and this is from a guy who works for the military as a science consultant and writer!)
While I agree that there are a lot of people on Twitter with nothing much to say, I have found that following people like Guy has helped me professionally. As a marketer, people like @guykawasaki @armano @jowyang and @scobleizer offer endless insight to what’s going on in the marketing world.
At first, I thought that their tweets were overwhelming to follow, but then I discovered Tweetdeck and have placed these guys into my Marketing group so I wouldn’t lose track of tweets from my friends which I have put into their own group. I also have a News feed group to further organize my incoming tweets. Twitter has helped me more than any other social media tool ever has.
Lucretia Pruitt says
Firstly? A couple of items you should note:
1) Twitter only archives 3,200 tweets at present. You can only go back 50 pages on the website (at 20 tweets per page) or 1,000 tweets.
2) Noise to some is signal to others. There are no “rules” on Twitter that say one must use it in a particular way. You get to control your Twitter experience. If you are looking for informational links? Guy’s stream is amazing. If you are looking for 1-to-1 communication? Perhaps not as much as others. If you are looking to know where you coworkers or family members are or what they are doing? Not at all.
That said – I’m no Guy Kawasaki – but I update way more often than he does. Some people hate the way I use Twitter: they don’t follow me. Those who do? Tell me not to change.
Twitter is something you figure out your own comfort level with.
Guy Kawasaki says
The volume of tweets means that there are really several different Twitter audiences during the day. Definitely, there’s a morning crowd, an after-dinner crowd, and a night-owl crowd.
I believe you can tweet the same thing during these times and not have a problem in most cases. It’s not unlike CNN running the same story over and over during the day.
Guy Kawasaki says
Thanks! I don’t know why people get so bent when I say Twitter is a weapon for me. I don’t get bent when they say they just want to know when their friends cats roll over or the line at Starbucks is long. 🙂
Steven Fisher says
I follow Kawasaki because I find enough quite a few of his tweets interesting. I don’t really know about the other 46,999.
On the other hand, I don’t follow some of the other popular folks because I think they’re boring, assholes, or some combination of the two.
I’m capable of deciding who i want to follow on my own.
Joe Schmitt says
Guy’s response: “I believe you can tweet the same thing during these times and not have a problem in most cases. It’s not unlike CNN running the same story over and over during the day”
OK, let’s say Guy is right. Then Guy is a news feed, not a person. And him giving advice on how to do Twitter to the people with a hundred or so followers makes no sense then. Most people on Twitter can’t keep followers by being a news feed. Most people on Twitter are connected to so few people that repeating themselves is pointless because many of their followers read every tweet.
Guy’s advice boils down to this – when you become famous and have thousands, this is how you do it. Why do people follow? Maybe because they like the idea that they will someday be famous and have to make these decisions. Probably why they like Trump too. It’s daydream and ambition.
And again, I am no fan of Guy, but it is unfair to compare him to Trump. Trump is an idiot, whereas Guy is very smart. I know that. I just don’t agree with Guy on this little matter of Twitter. I bring up Trump because they have similar appeal, not similar skills or styles.
What I can say that I’ve learned is that while Guy is correct about there being time of day crowds and retweeting so each crowd sees your message makes a certain amount of sense, he is missing an essential difference between a broadcast medium where you can only see it right now and you have to pay attention, and a medium in which everything is recorded and you can go back after the fact. Twitter is all recorded. If you have a high signal-to-noise ratio (meaning fewer, meaningful tweets – some people have used this term here, but got it backwards), then people will go back and read everything. In October I tweeted 100 times per day and people only kept up with what I tweeted right then. When I cut back to 15-20 per day, people actually go back and read every tweet. Not every person, but lots. And I can tell, because they respond to me or favorite them hours later. And this is true for anyone who has little to no noise in their tweet stream. And most people without a large following will find they will build a stronger connection to their followers by having a higher signal-to-noise ratio than a low one.
Finally, if you look at the members of broadcast mediums like @ColonelTribune, @maddow, and others, you will not find them retweeting themselves all day. They tweet something once. It’s true they do not engage their followers either, but they don’t flood their timelines with reruns.
OK, now back to the jokes for me. I’m @joeschmitt
Matt May says
Besides the fact that the math seems, um, way off, I’m not sure why this is a seemingly big issue. I follow Guy because I know he’s always on the move, scanning new stuff, bringing it to my attention, and yes, promoting. I happen to find that interesting. I think the whole point of Twitter is to follow people you’re interested in, for whatever reason. There’s no objective value. (Why do people read People magazine?) Most importantly, I find Guy practices exactly what he preaches. I learn a lot from his techniques. Case in point: in his innovation talks, he preaches emotional polarization. Make people love or hate, but a shoulder shrug gets you nowhere. Pretty obvious there’s no shoulder shrug here.
Had an intereting experience on Twitter? Still waiting.