All the days and nights that we know will be."
Oh Phil Collins, you balding seer of online social networking. How could you have possibly known that thirty years after Genesis released ...And Then There Were Three... a band of raging Twitterati would be anguishing over who to twit and who to qwit? OK -- technically speaking, Mike Rutherford wrote the lyrics to "Follow You Follow Me" and I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking of Twitter, but I've got a soft spot for bald guys (or a bald spot for soft guys) so I hope you'll let me off easy...
Anyway, if today is December 2nd then it is also "Who and Why I Follow Day," a not-quite-national day of celebration cooked up by horror author, IT guy, LOLcat enthusiast (and Twitterer) David Niall Wilson. Dave hopes that, if you're on Twitter, you'll take a few moments to let the rest of us know who some of your favorite "follows" are and why. If you tag your post and tweet it using the #whoandwhyifollow hashtag, other twitterati can keep track of who's recommending who and maybe even find some new connections. To give you an idea of how it works, he kicked the 'event' off with a series of posts detailing some of his personal faves.
Dave's goal? To get people focused on the quality of their Twitter network, rather than just its size. It's an interesting endeavor and one that hits the nail (or the Niall, perhaps) on the head. Although we social media dorks may slavishly refresh our Twitter Grader page to see just how important we are right now (vs how important we were one minute ago) and use services like Mr Tweet to find more people to follow and amass new followers for ourselves, at the end of the day the real value lies in the depth of the interactions we have, the relationships we have made, and the ways we use a service like Twitter to create a win/win for our online friends and followers. And sometimes, it takes someone who is not a social media pundit but simply a passionate user to remind us of that...
As someone who has been kinda stingy in terms of following people on Twitter (as I write this I have 1,500+ followers but follow only 323 in return), I figured I would do Dave a proper and chime in with a bit of the old 'who and why.' But given that I'm never one to follow rules to the letter, I thought I'd talk more about the types of people I follow and why -- giving some examples along the way, of course.
Here's who I follow, and why...
My co-workers. I've heard at least a few social media thinkers refer to Twitter as a virtual water cooler. I've used the phrase myself and it is indeed a useful analogy to help the uninitiated understand what Twitter is and why people do it. Working at a remote/virtual company makes the phrase ring all the more true. Twitter is one of several technologies I use to stay connected to (and make idle hallway chit chat with) @jaffejuice, @jquig99 and @adambroitman, not to mention great clients like @britrock and @kazchi.
People I've met. How often do you meet someone at a conference or mixer, only to lose touch shortly thereafter? Often. What about the people you used to work with but can't find the time to email anymore? You get the point... So if I've met you face-to-face and I know you're on Twitter, I am probably following you to keep in touch. Hi there @jonburg, @shweri, @armano, @seantiner, @happyhourboston, @scottmonty, @dmscott, @mattjmcd, @thenewbie (she and I actually met in Second Life, but that counts for me), @dougmeacham and @cc_chapman.
Fellow social media students. You might think of them as thought leaders, experts or pundits -- but the truth is we're all figuring this thing out as we go along. I tend to follow people who 'live' and 'love' this space, who are learning things about it every day and who share their ideas, insights and links with their Twitter communities. Because of what I do for a living, there is bound to be lots of overlap between this category and the first two -- but if you're not an old Web 2.0 hand, this is a great group of people to keep an eye on and learn from. Follow @mackcollier, @peterkim, @chrisbrogan, @tdefren, @servantofchaos, @pauldunay, @marketingprofs, @bethharte and @ambercadabra. (Honestly, there are too many to mention so I just picked a handful that caught my eye as I wrote this post. You might start with these few and keep an eye on the tweeple that they tend to interact with online to find some that float your boat.)
People "near me." At the end of the day, networking is still best accomplished face-to-face so I like to use Twitter (and my other social networks, for that matter) to stay connected to people in New York (where I live) and Boston (where I spend a lot of time.) Sometimes these are people I have already met, sometimes I just figure our paths will cross sooner or later. Either way I'm thinking of people like @brett, @ozsultan, @ceonyc, @innonate, @dherman76, @stevegarfield, @aquentminister, @thegirlriot and @juliaroy. Twitter is also a great way to meet and connect with friends-of-friends like @repcor, @lillyj, @alexa and @pamelump. I'm not suggesting that you follow these particular people (although I'm not suggesting you don't either.) All I'm saying is that I find value in following people who travel in my circles and think you might find value in following the people that travel in yours.
People who make it interesting. I like that my Twitter network is jam-packed with likeminded people who do the same kind of work as I do; it makes for a fantastic professional resource. But life can't be all business and no pleasure, so I love that my Twitter network isn't all business all the time. Plenty of my 'business' contacts use Twitter to talk about the latest news, their current personal interests and just about anything-and-everything that strikes their fancy. Some of my most interesting "follows" are those that I'd be friends with even if I didn't give a rat's ass about Twitter. Most of these actually fall into one of the categories above, but as Twitter mainstreams I'd like to find more great, smart, passionate, funny, interesting people that I probably never would have met if it weren't for the 'social media serendipity' that Twitter allows. People like @david_n_wilson and (I think it goes without saying) @amandagravel. OK - not like Amanda exactly, but I think you understand what I mean. Good tweeple...
Hopefully I've given you some insight into how I decide whether or not to hit the 'follow' button.
In a nutshell, I see Twitter as a high value network (unlike a more casual network like Facebook where I'll accept pretty much any friend request) and I follow people because I have a reason to connect - not so much because a web service suggested I do so or just because they are well known influencers who use the service. This works for me - it might work for you too. If you fall into any of my 'categories', we should be connected. If not -- well then maybe you'll be one of those people who 'make it interesting.' And either way, I hope I introduced you to some fresh Twitter faces that you may want to add to your own network too.
I'd love to see some of you chime in. Let your community know "Who and Why I Follow" -- it is December 2nd after all and, according to Phil Collins, all the cool kids are doing it.