It’s been fun to, ahem, follow all of the rather serious Twitter research (isn’t The Science of ReTweets just the best title?). The studies that seem to get the most attention are those that examine the ego-boosting or deflating number of followers – what’s too many, too few or just right.
“In Praise of Obscurity,” Clive Thompson’s column in the Feb. 2010 issue of Wired, states the obvious to anyone who’s ever been in a class of 15 people and then in one that has 500:
“Once a group reaches a certain size, each participant starts to feel anonymous again, and the person they’re following — who once seemed proximal, like a friend — now seems larger than life and remote….Social media stops being social. It’s no longer a bantering process of thinking and living out loud. It becomes old-fashioned broadcasting.”
At his Twitter Boot Camp last June, Tim O’Reilly chided the New York Times, saying that “just using Twitter as an RSS feed for your site is a missed opportunity.” Twitter’s supposed to be all about building communities by having two-way conversations between the followers and the following.
At the time I instantly agreed with him. But Twitter is no longer an amusing recreational hobby. It’s now a business juggernaut – and that implies a company should use it tactically any way that it wants.
The NYT doesn’t claim it wants to be your friend and talk to you. Its Twitter bio states right up front that the NYT is “Where the Conversation Begins.” It’s not where conversations continue, are facilitated, passed on or anything else connected to being a personal relationship builder.
I do think news orgs must build closer relationships with their audiences. But Twitter isn’t – and shouldn’t be – the only way to do it. What is important, however, is transparency in how a news org is using its main Twitter handle. If a news org is just not that into you, it should say so.