Twitter and Unintended Consequences

I love twitter.   It enables a public conversation via its low barriers to participation.  While traditional blogging is asynchronous communication, twitter is intended to foster banter and new ideas.  Participants deliberately choose to expose their conversations for all to see, opting not to communicate via other private mediums such as phone, email, sms or twitter direct message.  In doing so they are indirectly keeping the door open for other people to participate in the conversation.

However, there is a price associated with using twitter.  When one has achieved a level of twitter stardom, it becomes almost impossible to engage with all the people who try to converse with them.  The law of unintended consequences then rears its ugly head when those ignored people feel snubbed by the “cool kids”.  I beg you to read Clay Shirky’s thoughtful explanation of this phenomenon of power laws and inequality he wrote about in a post back in 2003.

This popularity brings with it a high degree of influence.  The correlation between one’s number of twitter followers and one’s authority was heavily discussed last month, and I will not beat a dead horse here.  Jeff Jarvis summed it up well when he asserted that a plethora of twitter followers is not indicative of authority, but rather a proxy for influence.  These days, when one’s path from zero to hero can be vastly shortened by a shout-out from an already-respected individual, I have even greater respect for the people who achieved stardom without the help of twitter.  Enter Seth Godin.

Seth needs no introduction; but for those who are not familiar with him, he is an accomplished author, successful entrepreneur, and highly regarded as an expert in marketing.  He is one of my heroes in the business world.  The strength of his influence can be seen in the following example:  on January 14th Seth wrote a post on his blog asking people to vote for his friend’s entry in a contest.  His friend’s name is Becky.  On the date of his post, Becky was 100 votes out of first place.  When the contest ended the next day, Becky took first place with 72% of the 5,000 votes!

Even with all the attention he receives, Seth keeps in touch with his readers and fans.  I have emailed Seth three different times [Feb 25, 2005 / May 20, 2005 / Dec 9, 2008] and each time he has replied promptly.  They were very succinct replies, but replies nonetheless.  You may speculate that he has people responding to emails on his behalf.  But I really don’t think so.  That would run completely in the face of authenticity – a virtue he highly values.

Seth Godin is not on twitter.  As such maybe he receives less requests for his attention than the twitter stars who are constantly pinged by their followers.  Who knows.  But I do know that he is a stud who takes the time to respond to his fans.  In doing so he strengthens the bond with his “followers” and does not jeopardize alienating them.

I believe the net effect of being a powerful member of the Twittershpere is positive.  This post is intended to show that unfortunately it does possess its drawbacks.  In an ideal world, people would have the capacity to behave more like Seth Godin.  They would be able to engage with all of the people who admire their opinions.


2 Responses to “Twitter and Unintended Consequences”

  1. spicymiss Says:

    Nice post. Caught my eye on alphainventions and I hit the pause button, skimmed and then opened it in a new tab. Thanks

  2. billcode Says:

    Interesting take. I recently started twittering after semi-refusing to after over two years (when I first heard about it). But it’s hard not to continue now – I use it for work purposes, and am a shameless self-promoter. But it appears everyone else is too, and yet no one seems to mind….it’s a strange world.

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