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Social media is great. I’m a huge fan of Twitter. Facebook I use, but mostly to keep in touch with a few people. I have quite a few family members both here and abroad that I like to keep track of. And, admittedly, I share the occasional image of my children for family and friends to keep track. In regards to Twitter, it’s amazing what you can be tapped in to at any given moment. The protests and events in Ferguson, MO were made more real by the sharing of real-time images on Twitter and Vine. No doubt, the events in Ferguson will have some sort of historical significance, and with Twitter you’re brought more near to experiencing history. Heck, the world initially learned of the raid on the compound housing Osama bin Laden via… yes, Twitter. An IT consultant working late heard the helicopters descending upon the compound and essentially began live-tweeting the whole thing, unbeknownst to him that it was where OBL was living and, well, be dispatched from this earth. It just boggles my mind how social media can better understand the events taking shape in our world. 

For all the good social media can be used for, it also comes with its fair share of ills as well. 

Social media can also be a haven for people who’s sole aim is self-promotion. For some, they have adopted the phrase of “building a following” or “building a platform.” And that is primarily done through gaining followers. The general thought being that the more followers, the bigger the platform. The bigger the You. And, in a lot of cases it’s a game. 

I think my biggest pet peeves in this game is what I call the Follow/Followed/Unfollow game. It essentially plays out as such, and we’ll use Twitter as our social media network of choice for this piece. 

We have an individual who wished to build for himself/herself a platform in social media, likely in order to gain influence within a certain industry or movement. They need followers in order to achieve this goal, and lots of them. So how do we do that? There used to be a time on Twitter when one would simply just follow everyone and anyone and hope for a follow-back. So what you ended up with was 10,000 people you were following, and 8,000-9,000 people following you back. Half of them may be bot-accounts, i.e. not real people. But, that doesn’t necessarily gain you much influence for obvious reason. Then users got savvy. There is now the means to simply go out and purchase a social media management tool that allows you to search a network, such as Twitter, for individuals who note their involvement in an industry or movement in their profile, or have tweeted about the industry or movement in the past. Then it simply becomes a game of managing the list of people you follow. The management tool your using generates metrics and data you can use in order to better manage who you are following vs. who is following you. Follow those individuals who turn up in the search return, and then wait for what is typically 24-48 hours. There’s a good chance that over the course of that period, quite a few of those users will in return follow you back. Now, our subject just simply has to go back and unfollow all those individuals. And, just like that, through the process of mass following, waiting, then mass unfollowing you can build a platform for yourself that has 10x as many followers as you do users you are following. Now, this may not be exactly how users playing this game do it, but there are several different strategies, this just being a way of doing it. 

And let me tell you why some folks are duped into this game: It’s sort of flattering or interesting that someone who has thousands of followers, but only follows a couple hundred people would want to follow little old you, right? A Twitter user seems more legit when they’re only following 372 people, but have 4,372 followers. Again, that seems pretty cool when a user with such a bigger following than you wants to follow you. Maybe you even check out their profile, read 20-30 of their tweets and nod in approval. Okay… follow. 

The problem is it’s not real. Most people aren’t following you because you’re actually an influencer or big name in a industry/movement, it’s all predicated on the idea that you are based on a numbers game. Tweet some trite platitudes, play the Follow/Followed/Unfollow game and watch your “platform” grow. It’s silly, and the reality is that it’s akin to chasing the wind. It’s more recently come to light that Twitter, like Facebook, doesn’t deliver every single tweet from every user you follow in your feed. So, you better hope that the algorithms Twitter is using to determine who receives delivery of your tweets into their feed is better than what Facebook is using. It’s been said of Facebook that you may reach 10% of your following without using any of their promotional (read: paid) tools. So, if you have 1,000 followers, you may reach 100 of them. But, hey… numbers and at least it was free, right? And it’s all because of this idea that if you want to get anywhere in the world, you have to have a robust followership on the web. Whatever. 

Just two weeks ago I had a user follow an account I manage, and I could tell it was purely a Follow/Followed/Unfollow game, so you just let it go. A week later, ONE WEEK LATER, he follows… again. That’s pretty lame when you’re not even keeping it straight anymore. You’re either A) Really bad at this game, or B) So caught up in it that you can’t even see straight anymore. 

And, furthermore, I don’t think it gets any worse than when they use the social media management tools to send a generic, pre-fab automated private message thanking you for following. Oy vey. 

I think it can be said that in today’s increasingly social media conscious society, the currency is follows, favorites, likes and shares. Everyone is chasing the almighty Follow. Or, as one person I follow on Twitter called it, “fools gold.” Tip of the hat to you, Paul Nevison, for that spot-on assessment.