How to know if the "social media expert" who started following you on Twitter is full of it

Imagine for a moment you've just arrived at one of those goofy social media networking functions. It's probably around 6:00pm and you're a bit confused as you enter the lobby of a suave downtown hotel but you'd prefer not to ask the younger girl working at reception to point you in the direction of the auxiliary conference room holding all the nerds. So instead you follow a guy in thick frames, sports coat and t-shirt to the right spot, where you write your name and Twitter handle on a sticker before dropping your business card in a fishbowl for the off-chance to win an iPad. Onward.

The free food and open bar are what pulled you in but, while there, you figure you might as well see if there's any other people interested in sports marketing. So what do you do?

You start yelling as loud as you can, of course.
HEY. DOES ANYONE HERE LIKE SPORTS STUFF? WHO WOULD LIKE TO LISTEN TO THINGS I HAVE TO SAY? WOULD EVERYONE WHO LIKES THE THINGS I LIKE PLEASE LISTEN TO THE THINGS I AM SAYING? IN SPEAKING TO ALL OF YOU I WILL MAKE LOOSE AND SCATTERED EYE CONTACT SO YOU BELIEVE I AM LISTENING TO WHAT YOU ARE SAYING. You randomly start pointing at individuals. YOU, I WANT YOU TO LISTEN. HEY. LISTEN. I LIKE THE SPORTS AND YOU LIKE THE SPORTS. I CAN TALK ABOUT IT.

Oh, hold up? You wouldn't act like that? You say no one would set out to network and connect with individuals by randomly shouting at various people loosely interested in the things you are without any personal knowledge of who they are or what they do? You think spitting information at people you don't know while not paying any attention to what they're saying is a bad idea?

Then why do so many idiots take that approach on Twitter? Because that's exactly what using "follower management" software is like.

Here's what set me off tonight. I got an email into my inbox from Twitter letting me know an account named WePost Media had started following me. Just from the name I knew this was effed right from jump street. They had roughly 30,000 followers and offer "a streamlined social media presence for any business." Here's that email with the arrow, of course, added.

Yeah, have a look at that. They started following me using a program called Tweet Spinner. In their words, they "help you find more receptive followers and identify abandoned/spam accounts." In plain words, they find people who mention subjects loosely associated to your interests and follow them. If they don't follow you back, they're unfollowed in order to maintain a healthy and fraudulent follower to following ratio. This automated process continues until you have tens of thousands of people you don't know to spit nonsense at.

And why is this case so particularly upsetting? Because this company, WePost Media, is actually offering their social media expertise to businesses. It's part of what they call "Audience Building."

Imagine this. You're a small business owner. Maybe you run a decent sandwich shop in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. You'd like to get the word out on your business and have heard social media is the key. Hey, WePost Media is offering to do it for you, for only a couple hundred dollars a month. They create a Twitter account, hook up the Tweet Spinner and before you know it, your small restaurant shop has a few thousand followers. The thing is, no matter what you do with that Twitter account, you keep spinning your wheels with social media because no one really has any relationship with you and you have no relationship with them. You have no idea who these people are, and because some of them might not even be in the same city, they don't know you. So, obviously, you assume this whole social media thing is a farce. Anyone who says this is the key is full of it. Pretty awful.

I will be the first to acknowledge I am no Twitter (or social media) rockstar. I've been on Twitter for years and have a measly 746 followers at the time of writing this. But you know what? I follow people because I'm interested in what they do and specifically would like to establish some type of connection with them. I've found Twitter's a pretty good way to do that.

As an anecdote, here's how I followed the one new person I followed today. A buddy of mine let me know a kid he went to school with, Tanner Gooch, got a promotion to Marketing Director for the Big Sky Conference, in which the University of Montana (my alumnus) plays. So, I quickly did a Google search for 'Tanner Gooch twitter', followed and added him to my private sports biz/social media group. I did this because I've found that's an easy and passive—but effective— way to connect; much like walking up and calmly introducing myself at a networking function. And it's much less weird than mentioning him in a blog post without personally knowing him.

My advice: if you're on Twitter, please pay attention to those emails and resist following anyone who follows you using software (excluding Tweetdeck and those types of applications), especially if they claim to offer guidance on social media. If you're using this software, stop and think for a bit. Is your confidence so lacking that you need a plush falsified follower count to fall back on?

Let's get it together guys. Social media is not a megahorn meant to be used to broadcast information at random people. It's not about false follower counts. Intentionally leading people to believe otherwise is plain wrong.

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Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Caleb Mezzy - March 9, 2011 8:49 AM

I hate the EXPERT tag, how can we be an expert of something that's ever evolving. I, myself, use enthusiast and have seen others use guru. The industry is open, endless and experimental. That's the intriguing portion of it all. Let's learn!

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