Holy grail or Emperor’s new clothes? An experiment on Twitter

Posted by s.hettrick on 17 August 2012 - 2:00pm

TwitterBirdy.jpgBy Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

There’s no questioning the success of Twitter. When you wake to John Humphrys telling you about the Today programme’s hashtag, you have to admit that social media is embedded in everyday life. There is an aspect of Twitter that fascinates me: the expert aspect. Can you be an expert in Twitter and, if you can, what does that mean? I haven’t been able to find an answer, so I decided to go back to my physicist roots and conduct an experiment.

My job is to let people know what’s going on here at the Software Sustainability Institute. Twitter is purpose built for this task. From the humble beginnings of a few followers, we’ve now got over 200 (not bad for a young institute, not so good if you’re Stephen Fry) and we are steadily accruing new followers each week. But I wanted more and, like so often in life, that is where my problems started.

The four tenets of Twitter (I reckon...)

There are lots of people out there who will tell you how to gain more followers – if you wish, you can even hire a Twitter consultant. Having looked at quite a few websites and talked to other Twitter users, it appears that the advice boils down to the four tenets of Twitter:

  1. Make tweets interesting
  2. Don’t send out too many tweets, or too few
  3. Retweet others and they will retweet you
  4. Direct message people with interesting content to show that you’re worth following

So far, so common sense. What about more advanced Twitter strategies? I recently attended a workshop on social media and listened as every single person – including the presenters – explained that they were attending the workshop to learn how to use social media. They had Twitter accounts, blogs, Facebook groups and suchlike, but they didn’t know what to do with them, or how to grow their followers. It was like going speed dating and finding that all the attendees were male.

The experiment

I’ve not yet had any advice from a Twitter expert, so I thought I’d devise an experiment. I shall dedicate time each day for a week to following the Twitter tenets above. I shall seek out interesting content, I shall retweet, I shall direct message and I shall do this with a pleasing regularity. After a week, I’ll see whether it’s been worth it. I will then throw down the gauntlet to the Twitter experts: can you do Twitter better?

By the end of this experiment, we’ll finally have an answer to a question that has troubled mankind since the dawn of Twitter time (that's 2006): can you be an expert in Twitter?

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