If you’re not famous, joining Twitter is painful

Twitter is great if you are a celebrity. Jerry Seinfeld joined a few days ago and already has 180k followers. But what if you are a random person who joins Twitter today? What’s in it for you?

Let’s say I’m Charlie Bucket and I see Seinfeld’s page. Awesome, I want to join Twitter and start interacting with people. I create an account and I’m shown a screen like this:


Ok, I know Chris Rock but I don’t want to follow him. Who are these other people? Take me out of this screen. Skip. Next step, Interests:


Ok. Chocolate is not there. Golden Tickets? Nintendo? Boring. I have an option to search by interest so I try chocolate. I see a number of accounts that supposedly will talk about chocolate. But, can I chat with them? Will they care about me? I click on the first suggestion (@divinechocolate) and see that he/she/it has 8k followers and doesn’t follow a lot of people. Ok, I’ll skip this section too.

Next step, friends. I don’t want Twitter to start looking into my Gmail and follow people who are on Twitter. Let’s jump back to reality for a moment. I’m not really Charlie Bucket, I’m creating this account for fun. My friends won’t know what’s going on it if Charlie Bucket follows them. Ok, back to Charlie Bucket. I click on “Search Contacts” for Gmail and I get a Fail Whale. Whatever, I’ll find my friends later.

So, after confirming my account this is what @charlucket’s home page looks like (after he unfollowed Seinfeld because he cluttered his timeline):


Charlucket’s avatar is also an egg, which is appropriate because he has 0 followers, 0 tweets and 0 listed.

So much for telling the world what’s happening! Nobody’s listening. So Charlie drops out of Twitter never to be seen again. Opening random Wonka bars is a better way to spend his time.

What I would do if I were Twitter

First, let’s admit that part of what makes Twitter interesting is egos and follower counts. There is clearly a pecking order on Twitter that doesn’t exist in other social networks. If you have 10k followers you can tell off some loser with only 500. When you join Twitter you are the new dorky kid in school. This is a direct result of how Twitter chose number of followers as an indicator of karma, along with number of tweets. That’s ok and shouldn’t change, but it does create the problem that new users need a way to build karma, and currently that doesn’t exist.

As a new Twitter user, it’s extremely hard to gain followers. I know, I’ve tried. People who happily respond to my tweets with my real account ignore witty comments from my “nobody” ones. People I’ve never heard of come and follow my official account. Nobody follows @charlucket.

I don’t know what Twitter’s business objectives are, but let’s assume that they want to create network connections and incentivize people to remain engaged. Here’s what I would do for a new user:

1) Don’t expose them to celebrities, or care so much about showing them people to follow. It’s ok to suggest a few people, but two screens of strangers who won’t give me the time of the day is too much.

2) Force me to introduce myself to the world. Do an ice-breaker. Let me put something out there about me that may help others find me and follow me.

3) Help me find newbies like me, who want to follow and be followed! It’s not hard to suggest pairs of newbies who should follow each other based on location, language or a few things they just said. Help me bootstrap my audience.

Remember Twitter, people want to be heard. There’s enough broadcast crap in the world. Celebrities don’t need another soapbox. This is why you should be very afraid of Google+, they give people an instant audience. That’s very powerful.

Speaking of, go follow @dbasch on Twitter now 🙂

12 Replies to “If you’re not famous, joining Twitter is painful”

  1. It’s a good point – I don’t think I’ve started following many new people on Twitter in the last year or two… Probably 90% of people I’m following were added in the first year of using the service.I have more followers on G+ than on Twitter already on the other hand!

  2. Try this – go to the online Twitter profile of someone you want to follow in your industry, whether that’s a CEO of a startup, dev, etc – on the sidebar you’ll see ‘Similar to ‘@xxxxx’ click on that, then find more people in that list, then that will produce a whole different set of ‘Similar to’ on their page. Keep repeating until you’re following people that you like and can engage with.Guess it depends what you want to get out of Twitter

  3. Nice idea about giving users the chance to introduce themselves. And then imagine a page on the website where new users can meet and follow other new users.Twitter’s great for broadcasting, and maybe that’s the direction they want to go, as opposed to community-building. But with G+ on the scene giving the option of catering to smaller, intimate groups/communities it’s going to leave Twitter with a smaller size of the pie (i.e. celebrities).

  4. Twitter should probably make it easier to find your friends that are already on there: that would help ease the transition to the site for newer users and provide more value to people. Also, as with everything in life, there are shortcuts such as http://twitter.popularfans.com that can help you gain more followers quickly if that is what you are interested in. I think that Twitter is caught in a difficult situation right now with Facebook so dominant and Google+ capturing the attention of a lot of early adopters and they will have to continue to roll out more features to stay ahead of the curve.

  5. The concept of location-based communications is a very powerful one. Imagine that you were new to an area, and you wanted to meet locals with similar interests. You should be able to create a tag about something that interests you, and broadcast it out to people within, say, 1-2 miles and invite like minded people out to coffee, or a movie, or some sort of similar event. This provides a way to create real-life followers and build interests off of that. If nothing else, I my end up writing something to do this myself…

  6. I thought the procedure for a new Twitter account was as follows:1. Create account.2. Tweet “I finally have a Twitter. Now what?”3. Post to your blog/facebook/lj/zanga/whatever “uh hey I have a twitter now, I dunno if I’m gonna use it. It’s @foobleheimer”.4. Wait for people you know in other contexts to reveal their Twitter accounts by following you. Follow some of them back.5. (Optional) Start posting stuff to Twitter.But on the other hand I also figure that the most important step is to quit caring about how many people you’re following and are being followed by. Just keep doing what you have to do until you do it so well you’re awesome, and people will follow you. Nobody’s going to bother consuming your output stream if it’s nearly empty and only full of me-too.

  7. Joining Twitter doesn’t have to be painful. Just like what mutlu82 (earlier comment) suggested, I followed people who tweet about topics I’m interested in. It didn’t matter if they followed me back or not. My initial goal was not to broadcast anything. Rather, I wanted to listen and learn from the people I follow. Mission accomplished. It really depends on what you want to get out of Twitter. And to echo Margaret Trauth’s comment, “quit caring about how many people you’re following and are being followed by. Just keep doing what you have to do…”

  8. Well, I am totally sympathetic to both of you, @dbasch AND the persona non grata @charlucket First, I will disagree stridently with the prior comments, who say the number of followers is irrelevant and should be ignored. Ah vanity! Maybe their moral fibre is of a tougher sort than my own. But one is constantly reminded of follower counts and following/follower ratios on Twitter. I seriously wonder if a large portion of recent noSQL, event processing and graph database development is motivated by Twitter. Not overtly, nor conspiratorily, of course! But Twitter is fun, as you know.Now for the good news: I just read about the sale of your company, IndexTank. Congratulations! I also noted some of your previous accomplishments, modestly embedded in prior posts see http://dbasch.posterous.com/going-full-stack as well as your savvy, droll observations on The Bitcoin contretemps. I am duly impressed. I followed you on Twitter just now, after scanning your glib, amusing, but (mostly) modest and never mean-spirited stream. And noted your follower count. It does not exceed 3K, nor 5K, though your ratio could be considered commendable. You have accomplished much in your life, in terms of productive work output, as well as that much-maligned yet meaningful yardstick, monetary success. Yet there are others who have done neither, nor are celebrities, nor politicians, just “social media guru’s” or “to the Twitter born” yet have HUGE follower counts: 5K, 10K. Why? Who knows? Most would be better served following you.Final thought: Don’t let Charlie Bucket become discouraged. I follow a clever sort, @ManchurianDevil He deliberately chooses to use the novice egg, just like your Charlie. But makes it his: The bland white oval is resplendent on a dark vermillion background.Best wishes to you with LinkedIn!– Ellie Kesselman a.k.a. @EllieAsksWhyon Twitter, of course ;#)P.S. Don’t feel obligated to follow back, I will follow you as long as you have your same brilliance and joie d’vivre.

  9. Sorry, one more thought. Twitter did pick a single winner in that list of suggestions for Charlie. @SmartyPig is a friendly sort that is not a celebrity, nor marketing sales bot. I don’t know why Twitter chose him for inclusion in such august company. But I haven’t chatted with @SmartyPig for nearly a year. Maybe he has ascended to the ranks of Twitter social elite in the interim!

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