Last night, I had a surprise: my follower count on Twitter dropped by 148 in one fell swoop.
At first, I thought it was something I had tweeted – oversharing about the Forrester tweetup, or disinterest in sharing a clip of Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor. That didn’t jibe, however, with my gut.
What was inflammatory? What had I done that resulted in a huge loss of followers? As I drifted off to sleep, I thought: how important is this, really, in the grand scheme of things?
I’ve long since learned one hallmark of netiquette on Twitter (Twittiquette, if you will) was not to talk about one’s follower numbers. (If only I could retrieve some of the replies I received back in 2007 after doing so, I’d be thrilled. No good.)
A paraphrase of most of them essentially boiled down to this: are you here to get followers or here to connect?
It didn’t take long to see where the real value was. And, more than two years later, I’m elated to look back and see how many marvelous connections I’ve made, many of which have led to friendships offline. Why is that important?
For me, that’s a a simple answer: we live in a number-obsessed culture. Thinks about how many metrics we track, filter and can recall: poll numbers, net worth, MPG, CTR, Web uniques, 0-60 in __, GPA, APR, circulation, P/E ratios, DJIA, TCO, Mbps, R/W speed…on and on.
And, naturally, for those in the social networking world,we count subscribers, friends and followers. I’ve received far too many messages and spam promising me thousands of followers if I use this software or that service.
Honestly, they all leave me with the taste of fermented cough syrup in my mouth, with a healthy side of cod liver oil.
It’s not about the numbers: it’s about the connections.
Every follower or friend I’ve made has been through a conscious choice or organic growth. I’m proud of that. I’ve done it in what I might term the “new-fashioned way,” using much the same approach that Chris Brogan describes in his Twitter FAQ: “be helpful, share, communicate, use @replies a lot.” I tend to attribute “by @username” or “via @” nearly as much as directly @reply these days but the sense is the same.
Yesterday, I met Josh Bernoff, co-author of Groundswell. I had dinner with Shava Nerad and her beau, “Fish Fishman,” with Laurel Ruma joining in a bit later. I saw dozens of other friends from the local social media scene at two different tweetups.
I shared some groundbreaking journalism tools and advice, like best practices for journalists curating the Web. I shared messages and stories with newsies at the New York Times, Guardian, Wired, Gizmodo, Slate, The Register,The Center for Democracy & Technology and many others.
I shared a lovely bit of science fiction made real, via the irrepressible Steve Garfield, watching the latest in augmented reality:
I reviewed my sources, notes and interviews from a conference earlier this week and wrote an article. I enjoyed a two hour workshop with my colleagues, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our journalism. I even enjoyed a late night cocktail with someone I love deeply.
In all of that, what does a dip in follower numbers mean? Not a helluva lot.
And, as it turns out, the scuttlebutt that Twitter is doing another purge of spammers and bots, a process that I recall from last year as well. My existential angst was unwarranted, my concern without merit – but the thought process and recounting it led me to was worth it.
I’m proud of my connections and my friends, of the social news network we’re all collaborating upon, and up the quality of the communication within it. I’m glad to bring it with me to Washington in a few short weeks.
The spammers can go live on whatever lower circle of digital Hades is reserved for ’em.