A write up for Design Assembly about scaling down social networks, Twitter practices and talking to your followers.
Keeping It Real
The design community was an early adopter of Twitter. Designers, freelancers and studios alike kept an up–do–date channel within a tight and supportive community. Promoting a product was, and still is, a valid play — but limits were always in place. That is to say, if a user would constantly promote an agenda he / she would loose points with their Twitter circle, even to a point of loosing their voice altogether.
As Twitter became a mainstream channel, the predictable flow of commercial forces started pouring in — even from Twitter HQ (e.g. https://business.twitter.com/advertise/start). That was expected to a certain extent, but alongside it a new phenomena started — generic, bot–initiated tweets, brands with no boundaries and cynical use of the medium.
Automated twitter communication is bad social etiquette — on and off–line. Imagine playing a recorded message to a person knocking on the door of your studio — that's clearly grotesque and would never happen. If someone is genuine enough to have made it to your front door, surely that person deserves more than a generic welcome message. The same principles (should/must) apply when it comes to social engagement (online). When a person interacts with you — whether by following, tweeting or mentioning — a set of social norms comes into play.
These kinds of generic practices are classic late–adopters tricks. Companies (and individuals) who didn't identify the medium early enough and chose to resort to an aggressive, marketing driven campaign, when it became too big ignore.
Cynical use of social networks is nothing new, however, the recent popularity with less than obvious players is what makes this so intriguing.
Following a favorite blog, book publisher or any other so–called social savvy brand is proving increasingly challenging — tweets are more often than not half–sentenced PR slips, plugin–driven notices and one–sided DMs.
We're all getting smarter. We are more technologically and socially versed — a simple PR stunt that may have had some effect 5 years ago is now obsolete. This, of course, is not something one would expect large companies (advised by larger marketing agencies) to take on lightly, as this alters business models and strategies. As smaller entities, with a much more limber approach, we should present the alternative.
Generic communication alienates the recipient from the message.
A response to any inquiry must be written by a human being (ref: NYT keeping It Real). The key to any successful communication is to engage the reader. Using generic, off–target jargon is bound to miss the goal, distance the recipient and discredit the message.
Additionally, the pursuit for followers should also be addressed. Rather than looking for massive growth in followers, the emphasis should be on the engagement level.
I have recently changed — or rather closed — my old Twitter account, instantly loosing 1500 followers and starting from scratch. I currently have around 200 followers and only getting an average of 10 clicks less per link.
Point being — the goal should be a close circle of followers, where communication happens as a dialogue, messages get the attention they deserve and growth is organic, and not orchestrated.
Further reading: * Everything Bad is Good For You * 1000 True fans