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The Pitfalls of Inorganic Growth on Twitter

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With the rise in Twitter usage and the publication of a plenitude of stories on influential news sources, there has been lots of guidance provided recently on how to get thousands of followers using “follower-pumping” practices. These usually recommend using “pyramid-scheme-” type tools, following people with similar interests who will follow you back, writing press releases, among other approaches. The more followers you amass, the greater the likelihood that the new people that you follow will follow you also. The use of Twitter-related rating services like Twitter Grader can also work in tandem with having a large number of followers to attract even more people, since numbers of followers is one method such tools use to calculate influence scores.

So what is the downside to such approaches compared to getting followers organically? Getting lots of followers increases your influence, right?

These tactics can be likened to startup companies that obtain venture capital funding early in their existence but don’t have a compelling value proposition. Just like VC funding can speed the development of promising platforms, rapidly increase a company’s market share due to spending on advertising and help a company grow rapidly in size, tactics to increase followers using schemes do work well enough to guarantee that one builds a large following.

But what happens after that? What do you do after you get a few thousand followers? Are your tweets interesting enough or valuable enough to sustain that number? Have you interacted directly with enough of your followers that they’ll remain with you even as you focus on gaining more followers? Are you producing enough content on other channels to sustain the number of followers you’ve amassed?

If your answer to these questions is “no” then you run the same risk as a promising startup that has created initial market momentum through outside funding, but doesn’t have a good enough product or management team to continue building profitable growth. Inevitably the funding runs out and since the company doesn’t generate enough revenue to remain profitable with a less-than-compelling product, it goes out of business. Likewise, on Twitter your followers will eventually leave you if you cannot sustain your follower count with authentic and useful interactions and you’ll be left with little credibility. Building a new audience when your reputation has been compromised is even more difficult than building that audience organically, one person at a time, through authentic and direct interaction.

5 Responses to “The Pitfalls of Inorganic Growth on Twitter”

  1. Oliver Nassar says:

    Very interesting post. I’m a little late to the game on this one, but wanted to add something I’ve noticed lately. Twitter’s momentum in the past 2 months has picked up at a ridiculous pace, but I think that’s because it’s usefulness is really starting to become clear.

    The average user trying to amass 1k followers seems fairly ironic to me, since the purpose of a personal twitter account is to be personal. How can you be personal with 1k strangers. But it’s usefulness in the media is really amazing. I’ve been a critic of Twitter for a while mainly due to it’s self-promotion ideology, but it’s effectiveness to gage the public during the election and over the past few months with the economy has really been stellar. CNN or BBC amassing thousands of followers makes sense. They have a message that they are broadcasting that is always changing, and like you said, they create so much original content through other networks that it’s sustainable. People follow them because they know that original content will keep coming.

    Followers for the sake of followers though can’t be sustainable. It will really be amazing to see it’s usefulness shine in other ways in the coming months/years.

  2. Simon Kuo says:

    Absolutely agree that news outlets spreading information is a different model. There has also been a slew of celebrities using Twitter like Demi Moore @mrskutcher and Ashton Kutcher @aplusk. Since they already have large followings on other channels, the dynamic for them seems to be another channel of communication to their fans, thus they generally have hundreds of thousands of followers within a short period of time after joining the platform but follow few people. The fact that Hollywood looks a bit down it’s nose at people who have to self promote (big stars have agencies or fans that promote on their behalf) but that these stars still feel comfortable using it perhaps means that they feel this is a bit different than their traditional means of promotion.

  3. Oliver Nassar says:

    I see what you’re saying. If you are in a privileged position to have people follow you based purely on your name, then I can understand the situation. The real power will definitely come from the pace at which information can get around due to larger ‘power users’ who keep on coming up with original content.

    Although the personal side of things can remain creative, and will definitely engage a huge base of it’s users, I hope that it’s B2C angle will become stronger. It really is amazing that if news breaks, millions of people can be alerted within seconds through dozens of different mediums (eg. sms, televsion, radio, on twitter, through twitter api, through fbook, friend feed, etc. etc.)

  4. Simon Kuo says:

    The B2C side is very powerful for twitter though most businesses aren’t using it to the full extent that they can. Though businesses are also beginning to use third party recommendation as a growing way to make purchase decisions, it’s difficult for me to see B2B interactions taking off in the same way. Finally, what becomes of the channel at some future date when everyone is using it? Does it remain a powerful method of connecting or is does it diminish in importance because like being on the Internet now, supporting tools like Twitter will just be a cost of doing business?