Monday, January 08, 2018

My recent Twitter experiences

I began a "specialization" of sorts on Twitter about 2007, when I met early Apple employee and "evangelist" Guy Kawasaki at a "Publishing on the Web" conference at his alma mater, Stanford University. We were between his sessions and I had a few minutes alone with Guy in the hall. He was a big World Vision fan and supporter (still is, as far as I know), and so I introduced myself as part of the World Vision contingent there, and asked him my typical bleeding-edge question:

"Guy, if there was one up-and-coming technology you feel holds great promise that World Vision should explore, what would that be?"

Apple (and Twitter) evangelist and World Vision supporter Guy Kawasaki.
Apple (and Twitter) evangelist and World Vision supporter Guy Kawasaki.

Guy answered, without hesitation, with a single word: "Twitter."

I was too sheepish to ask the question that immediately entered my mind: "Twitter? What the heck is that?" But, I think he saw the hesitation in my eyes, so he immediately began to explain why he was so excited about this very recent technology.

He convinced me. That day I created (which has 1.24 million followers today) and shortly after that I created, (606,000 followers), and (no longer active), and several more Twitter streams related to various projects and ministry efforts. (Be sure to visit, which has a whopping 81 followers!)

I've never really had professional designs on the @LarryShort Twitter account, but I have used it instead primarily to "evangelize" for other things (and People) I believe in, and to experiment with ways to manage and grow your Twitter stream. About five years in, I stumbled on a method for steadily growing my own Twitter stream, and described it here. But basically, it involves: 1) Finding and following people with like interests, in hopes that they follow you back. 2) Stop following them after a time, if they don't. 3) Follow back most others who follow you. And 4) Acknowledge/greet all new followers (by name) in a tweet. (I try to be creative about these daily tweets.)

Using this method, I've grown my Twitter stream to about 13,500 followers presently, and for most of this time I feel like I've had a relatively high-quality follower base. I've been able to share nearly 10,000 tweets and have had lots of great conversations.

Now bear in mind that the average Twitter user only has about 208 followers (as of research done June 2016 ... probably more now). And also bear in mind that many of those with large volumes of followers are either celebrities (who rarely follow others back, and probably, with the unfortunate and notable exception of our President, don't pay much attention to their Twitter accounts); or are using "junk" methods of increasing their Twitter streams, which may be inhabited by 90% or higher "bot" and basically junk accounts. (And believe me, there are lots of those out there on Twitter, being used to dupe people into spending money to gain more followers.)

By the way: @realDonaldTrump has about 46 million followers. But he's not "the biggest," at least as far as Twitter goes. It must really tick him off that he's in a distant 20th place behind Barack Obama (with about 99 million followers). Who himself is behind both Katy Perry (in first place) and Justin Bieber (in second). At least he's ahead of Hilary Clinton (with "only" 21 million followers).

My Recent Tipping Point

Recently I feel like I've hit some sort of "tipping point" on Twitter. Prior to this point, I was getting maybe a dozen to 20 new followers per day, and perhaps half of these were "dropping" me after a time (I assumed because they were seeking to get me to follow them, then adjusting their follower volumes to look favorable in their regard by quietly dropping followers). I didn't at all mind "unfollowing" these sorts, although I rarely if ever unfollow others who keep following me (unless they get abusive ... more on that later).

The tipping point came maybe a month or two ago, when I hit about 13,000 followers. (Currently I'm at about 13,500). Mind you it took me nine years to get there, and until then my new followers were primarily real people I had followed. After this "tipping point" I started getting large numbers of followers who weren't necessarily like-minded. The focus of their account is not necessarily a human being, but a topic like cute puppies or love and romance, or other popular "fuzzy" topics. Their handle is frequently misspelled or nonsensical, which probably relates to the difficulty in finding creative new account names among the millions already taken (current estimates put that number at 974 million!)

In March, according to CNBC, USC researchers wrote that "'our estimates suggest that between 9% and 15% of active Twitter accounts are bots.' Since Twitter currently has 319 million monthly active users, that translates to nearly 48 million bot accounts, using USC's high-end estimate."

I'm wondering if those 48 million are flagged to go after people like me. No doubt when I crested 13k it put me on some sort of list, inhabited by Twitter users who follow back most if not all of their followers and who have succeeded in growing their accounts to a certain threshhold.

Part of the unfortunate dynamic of this recent effect is that I have less time now to find and following like-minded accounts (managed by real human beings, not bots).

So, I'm seriously considering simply not following back any account that follows me that appears to possibly be a bot.

Also, another recent phenomenon is the increase in both socially unacceptable and "phony" Twitter streams (such as those mimicking a certain celebrity). By socially unacceptable, I'm referring to gambling-related streams or streams apparently designed to "hook" people into following porn or engaging in some sort of "escort" (aka prostitution)-related activity.

In other words, lately I've been followed by lots of provocatively-dressed women (sometimes with names like "MistressBrandy," "CamQueen," "DomGirl" etc. (though not always that obvious). If I follow them back they invariably (and almost immediately) direct message me in a provocative, lonely manner. Sometimes it's outright flattery "Ooooh, you are such a handsome man! I love your profile pic. We should get to know each other." Other times it's less obvious, but trying to start a conversation: "Hello there, how's your day going?" It pretty much feels like bait either way, and probably is.

At first I wasn't sure, and I'd respond in a polite manner. When things escalated, I'd then cut it off quickly. I told my wife about these, and she was concerned. "Hey, that doesn't happen to me! Why is it happening to you?" I'm guessing it's because I'm a 60-year-old professional, an American male with a lot of followers, but I'm not sure. I'm hoping I didn't do anything to trigger or deserve this!

I also mentioned fake celebrity accounts. One guy followed me purporting to be a daytime soap star. He seemed very interested in a conversation so I chatted amiably. I also checked him out, he seemed to be a legitimate star on a daytime soap.

But I grew suspicious when he began pitching me. At first it was "Hey, have you heard about this great government grant?" Yes, I've heard that one before. Not interested. "Why not?" Because I'm perfectly satisfied with what God has provided. I don't need to pursue scams and schemes. Then he graduated to, "Well, if you are so well off, how about investing in my foundation for the poor?"

At this point, I decided to take a second look. and I discovered that his account was a very, very close look-alike to the "real" account of the celebrity. I contacted the real celebrity and gave him a heads-up about the poser, and also reported him to Facebook. They banned him, and the real celebrity thanked me. Jeesh. Who woulda thunkit?

My Dilemma Now

I've always had lots of qualms about Twitter. Is it really worth investing time and energy into? Is it really a good way to get to know new people, and to influence others? Or is it just a bunch of people broadcasting, never listening, never learning anything new? Or worse, is it merely a bunch of bots talking to each other? If the humans completely left the room, would it be immediately evident?

Obviously my recent experiences have magnified those qualms. I appreciate having a steady stream of new followers (which I've always felt helps increase my own "cred" as a social media professional and evangelist), but this means more work (if I am to keep up my regimen), and weeding out the "junk" followers is becoming increasingly more difficult, if not impossible.

My desire (on Twitter) flows from the same dynamics that influenced me to become a writer way back in the 1970s: to have an honest and authentic dialog with real human beings, who can be influenced (and who can influence me) as a result of this dialogue. In light of recent events, that seems more and more difficult.

Your thoughts? (This will be an interesting test to see if anyone is listening! I blog mainly because I have to write, but I've also had the same qualms about blogging. Is anyone really listening, and willing to dialogue?)