Twitter fame: building community or pushing an agenda?
Now that I no longer have the relentless work pace of an editorial director of a monthly magazine, I actually have time to read the few that I subscribe to. One magazine that I always have on my bedside table and read cover to cover is WIRED. In the February issue there is an article by Clive Thompson, “In Praise of Online Obscurity” which made me contemplate the Twitter community. Basically the thesis of the article is that the more Followers a person gains eliminates the sense of community among that group. It made me think of Lance Armstrong and his 2.4 million followers. People are still replying to his Tweets or giving Facebook “thumbs up” to updates whether they are about his musical choices, cleaning his closet or fulfilling his contractual duties by alerting us that his new Michelob Ultra commercial will be broadcast during the Super Bowl. But is anyone in the Armstrong/LiveStrong entity listening or caring to the Followers? Do people who reply think that Lance is looking at each Tweet and crafting an answer? In all fairness if he did take the time to reply to even a small percentage of replies his training time would be slashed, he’d be suffering from carpel tunnel of the thumb and going through BlackBerry phones every other week. His online presence has become a faceless corporate entity. There is no sense of community or exclusivity of the Followers to enjoy. No longer is it a select group privy to the minutiae of his day. Everyone knows his every movement and journalists quote his Tweets like they are breaking news flashes.
So what can someone of Armstrong’s stature do? Is it his fault that his online popularity is among the top ten in the world? Of course it isn’t and there’s no way he can disappear into obscurity. However I will say something that is rare for a journalist; Lance you don’t need to tell us everything. Dial back the Tweets and create anticipation for your next post. Your Twitter response on the team time trial returning to the Tour in 2011 implies that you’re contemplating competing in that year’s race. That’s interesting. You watching the football game and announcing the scores that most of America is watching quite frankly isn’t. Rest the thumbs and make us look forward to your next post instead of them arriving with the frequency of an egg timer. I know that not everyone agrees with me. Some people enjoy getting those Tweets of Lance’s daily life which makes him seem more like “one of us”. But hey, maybe I’m jaded and people love to hear and see that stuff. It sure hasn’t stopped people coming in the thousands to his Tweet-Up rides. Perhaps it’s a little of both: having millions of Followers and creating a few events to keep the sense of community alive. As my own Followers grow I wonder how much of a “conversation” I’m having.