After all, social media is just that — social. It’s not one size fits all. You choose with whom you wish to interact and what you want to share. Your experience will never be quite the same as the next person. And as long as you’re not causing other folks grief, the “rules” of social media are as individual as they are mutable.
So I was mildly irritated to get a Direct Message to our Lighter Footstep account on Twitter from Kyle Lacy. It was a link to Turn This Thing Off, a one-page site with a pointed message in giant letters.
Great: finger wagging. I was using a third party service which sends a message to everyone who follows the Lighter Footstep account — a welcome and an invitation to share Green Living tips at the site. Twitter is experiencing a period of explosive growth, and the Lighter Footstep account is currently adding several dozen new followers each day. It didn’t seem practical to welcome each new person individually any longer.
A grand experiment
But after a cup of coffee, I decided to test Kyle’s point. I asked our followers what they think about automatic welcome messages. There were quite a few replies, both on Twitter and FriendFeed. The opinions were mixed. Overall, though, more people either liked even an automated message or were ambivalent toward them. The strongest negative remarks came from the heaviest social media users — online professionals and people who follow hundreds or thousands of others across multiple services.
This latter group isn’t Lighter Footstep’s core readership. The only reason we’re involved with Twitter is that the service is clearly moving into the mainstream. While I have no research to support this, it seems to me that casual social media users are less likely to be annoyed by the volume of automated responses they currently receive. So I decided to leave things as they were.
Sending something of value
I shot Kyle a note thanking him for making me think. I was left with the impression that perhaps I could use automated direct messages to offer something of immediate value — a free eBook, perhaps. Maybe I was missing an opportunity to connect with a new follower.
And that could very well have been where things stayed. I kept coming back to the “something of value” part, though: What is it that a new reader would find useful? Something free, which can be communicated within Twitter’s 140 character message format.
That’s when it occurred to me. In the middle of the night, I turned off the automated messages and attacked the accumulated stack of Twitter notifications. It took a few hours to clear the backlog, but I went to each new follower’s profile page, scrolled back through a page or two of their recent tweets, and visited their blog, if one was listed. Then I wrote a brief personal welcome, using that person’s real name. I found something to comment on or asked a question. The thing of value would be paying attention to the other person.
What happened next
The following morning, my inbox was full again. This time, it was direct responses from the people I’d written. There were two offers to lend a hand on Lighter Footstep, several good tips, and a lot of goodwill. While in most cases I hadn’t even mentioned our site in my welcome messages — there just wasn’t room — it was obvious that people had sought it out, anyway.
Kyle Lacy was right. I’ll take quality engagement over quantity any day. It may not always be possible to personally welcome each new Twitter follower, but I’ve turned the automated responses off for good. Instead, I’ll make the effort to demonstrate a little mindfulness. Everything else will follow.
Social media, after all, is just a tool — no different from the telephone. It’s not an end unto itself. What matters is the two people on either end of the line, and answering machines are poor conversationalists.