Why Guy Kawasaki Is Wrong About Twitter

Let me start off by saying that Guy Kawasaki is smarter and more successful than I'll ever be, he leverages Twitter like a master, and over the years I've learned a lot from him and his columns.

However...

I was recently reading a post from Guy entitled How to Use Twitter as a Twool. There's a bunch of great advice in the post, but I found one piece of advice that I just couldn't swallow:

"Get as many followers as you can. I recently explained what I do to get more followers. Ignore people who tell you that it's the quality of your followers not the quantity. They're trying to make friends, not use Twitter as a tool. And, truth be told, there are only two kinds of Twitter users: those that want more followers and those that lie. You can follow me here."

Mr. Kawasaki, for the record, my pants are not on fire. Twitter is the Swiss Army knife of communication tools; not everyone needs that big ol' knife to get the job done.

For some businesses his advice makes sense: the bigger your following/audience, the more people you can reach. That works if you've got a product or service that can be used simulatenously by tens or hundreds of thousands of people, like Whole Foods, Marvel Comics or Alltop (Guy's business.)

However, having a big Twitter following is time consuming. It's not like getting new subscribers to your ezine where there's no expectation that you'll subscribe to their ezine, or even check out their profile.

I don't have anywhere near the followers Guy has, but I still get 40 - 50 new followers a day. I then check out the profiles and recent tweets of my new followers at the end of the day to see if I want to follow them back. That adds about 30 minutes to my day, every day! I could set up an autofollow back, but I strongly recommend against that as it just increases the number of spammers who clog up your Twitter feed.

If your business doesn't have that size client base--at flyte we generally have 20 active projects at a time, and do business with just over 150 companies during the entire year--quality trumps quality every time.

If this is the case for your business, you might use Search.Twitter.com to find people who need your products or services, or who are talking about your business or industry. For us small business types with a small customer base it's more likely we'll find people talking about our industry than our business by name. Professional organizers might search on "clutter" or "mess", accountants might search on "1040" or "tax rebate" and college admission consultants might search on "SAT" or "college application".

Similarly, if you run a business that's geographically challenged--like a florist, dentist or a restaurant--I'd recommend focusing on local Twitter users. You can use tools like Nearby Tweets or Local Tweeps to uncover tweeters in the hood. Additionally, many smartphone Twitter apps have a "nearby" feature. Follow these local people and chances are they'll follow you back. Also, find out if there are any "tweetups"--where Twitter users get together in real life--in your area and attend those.

Currently there's an army of Twitter users with 15K or 22K or 40K followers who are all following that number plus 10%. This is due to the limits Twitter puts on users to prevent spammers from overwhelming the system. These people are constantly following and unfollowing people to increase their number of followers. What value do these people bring to your business? Will they ever buy from you, or will they just clog your Twitter feed with unnecessary noise?

Twitter is a conversation, not an arms race; despite what Ashton Kutcher might think the first one to a million (or even a billion) followers doesn't "win." Also, a large following of people who are only there to get more followers is not the kind of "engaged" audience that most of us small business owners want.

If I had a business like Alltop.com I'd want as many followers as possible, but as a small business owner with a well-defined audience, I'm more interested in quality over quantity...even if Guy thinks I'm full of it.

If you'd like to learn how to get started on Twitter and build a quality following, check out my collection of how-to videos at The Ultimate Twitter Video Guide. Here's one of the videos about, ironically, how to get more followers on Twitter. ;-)

Oh, and follow me on Twitter!

Rich Brooks

Related: Is Twitter's Marketing Power Going to Waste?
Related: How to Get Fired Using Twitter
Related: Innovative Giving: Leverage Your Twitter Network
Related: How to Monitor Your Brand 24/7

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19 Comments

  • Pipo Thinkin

    Twitter is something thats going to change the Social Networking Application development space for sure.

  • Joe Kohli

    I can't agreea with you more. A recent UC Berkley study that influence in online social networks may decline with increases in # of contacts. My own experience has convinced me that I need to focus on building relationships on Twitter rather than aggregating a large number of followers. Let Guy speak for himself.

  • Deborah SMith

    I totally agree with you. I would never advise one of my small business clients to just blindly seek out followers. Local businesses need local followers. My Kayak retailer needs sports enthusiasts, etc. Guy needs to realize we all don't own Ecommerce sites.

  • Michelle Tripp

    Hi Rich, I love that you mentioned the Swiss Army knife analogy: "Top 10 Tools of the Social Media Swiss Army Knife" http://tr.im/smknife

    And you're so right about Guy Kawasaki and his follower philosophy. It's a shame to see users play the follow/unfollow game. Today I came across a new follower with fewer than 50 tweets, joined less than 30 days ago, and has 6,000+ followers. Unreal.

    Obviously Guy Kawasaki's call for Tweeters to get as many followers as possible has not fallen on deaf ears. Not surprised. I called him out back in March for a lack of Twitter authenticity. Your post confirms it's business as usual.

    twitter/michelletripp

  • Ritchie Pettauer

    There's another factor to be taken into account: twitter is changing so rapidly - these days there are a lot more spambots around then one month ago. So the same quick-and-dirty follower-building techniques which lead to immediate success in the beginning have become pretty worthless by now.

  • David Bradley

    Isn't how many followers you'd like to have whether you engage with all of them equally if at all is a personal choice. You don't have to be a major brand or celeb to see the benefits of huge follower numbers. But, if you're worried about following back then there's always the Twitter Decision Flowchart - http://bit.ly/flow-chart - to help you decide

  • Desiree Scales

    Rich, great article. You might want to add that Twitter is also bringing small business owners together in a very unique way. There are "get-togethers" called Tweet Chats for small business owners every Tuesday night. #sbbuzz is every Tuesday from 8 pm to 10 pm and business owners can chat with each other about business related topics. We are able to learn from each other and share our own knowledge about 6 or 7 questions that revolve around a main topic. This is a very powerful way for people to come together. There is even a couple of guys who met and then started a company. Guess we won't be expecting Guy on the next one tonight! More on Tweet Chats here: http://smallbiztrends.com/2009...

  • Don Makoviney

    You don't need to spend 30 minutes a day looking through all your new followers to see if you should follow them back. A much less time consuming method would be simply letting them initiate the conversation. THEY followed you so let THEM start the conversation. If they start conversations with you and they are worthwhile - THEN follow them. Plain and simple. Otherwise just let them continue following you. Once they contribute meaningful to YOUR Twitter stream (via replies) then it might be a worthwhile follow. The only exception might be if they are an "A-lister" or a name you recognize right off the bat.

    Save yourself that extra 30 minutes a day. You don't HAVE to do that.

  • Mark Czerniec

    Keep in mind that according to the New York Times, Guy Kawasaki is an "unabashed user of ghost Twitterers" -- i.e., he has a two-person paid staff doing his tweeting for him: http://bit.ly/SqaFm

  • Henre Rossouw

    I think how you may interpret Guy's article is by selectively following everyone. I don't follow everyone that follows me necessarily, but when I do a keyword search for people I generally try and follow every single person related to that keyword, regardless of the size of their networks.

    There are also ways to "get as many followers" as you can for a related term. I don't see problems with automating that if you know how to do it, and also if you still maintain a healthy dose of "live" tweeting. You cannot automate twitter entirely, but you can automate simple tasks such as attracting people related to your niche and following people related to your niche.

    Not automating certain systems is as clever as manually replying to incoming e-mail messages when you're on leave...stating that you're on leave.

  • Wan Kim

    In the end, people connect to people... people you like. So if you're going to tweet all day long and not reply to anyone, even aston will loose all his followers. afterall, every time i see his face, it reminds me, there's another guy that thinks he was too good to reply to me. @journik

  • Jessica Lorti

    Thanks for the comments, Rich! I do social media for a major corporation and my husband runs a small business. Our Twitter strategies and social media considerations are definitely different. Good insights for the small/medium business set.

  • Autumn Walden

    sure, it makes me feel like i have a bigger "voice" when i accumulate followers but i feel even better when i can engage in a dialogue with other tweeple. i have a lot of fun @usernaming tweeple in response to something they've tweeted that is either useful, helpful, funny, shocking, etc. i feel like part of a huge, knowledge-sharing community when i use twitter and the more friends and followers i get, the more opportunities there are for sharing, re-tweeting, DM-ing, referring and participating. yay social media :)

  • Pemo Theodore

    Rich I appreciated your post & much as I respect Guy, I agree with you. Also I find the mass following & unfollowing anathema to my spirit of communication. I prefer real conversation not internet marketing spam & blurb fired at me. I also prefer creative output which often these twits dont have anything of the like. It is just boring rather than interesting & uplifting. Obviously Guy has access to lots of different & interesting conversations but a lot of the marketers that mass follow & unfollow dont have access & maybe dont even care. Its good to hear someone else with a similar viewpoint. thanx again.

  • Robyn McIntyre

    I definitely agree with you and the other commentors; thinking your brand has to be as popular as @Zappos is missing the point of social media and ignoring the fact that many of these Twitter rockstars came into the application with a huge fan base - they were already stars because of what they did outside of Twitter. I have no business, am not a recognized expert on anything, and am not a well-known artist or writer. Yet, I have a brand - it involves comments, retorts, links, support, praise, and thoughtfulness - interaction. I think this is why (although I continue to scratch my head over it), I get new follows. If you're just collecting people, you're focused on the wrong thing. And if you think serious Twitter users won't notice, you're mistaken.

  • Suzi Craig

    Guy is equating gathering a high volume of Twitter followers to building a mailing list. It's an old school approach and it makes sense for him - he is already a celeb so for him it's about collecting names once they get on Twitter, not building a fan following from scratch.

    For us small potatoes, it is conversation, connection and charisma that we're building. You do that by one-to-one-to-one-to-one-to-one relationships. Otherwise it's no better than buying a mailing list and sending out a random email to people who don't want to hear from you anyway.

  • Jason Sandifer

    Hey Rich, Good points...not all Twitter followers are created equal! While I don't get the traffic of you or Guy, I do think the folks that follow me appreciate what I offer and pass my name to others that might too. I rarely follow someone that is not offering me something that I don't already have...so producing good content aimed at your niche is important. Terrific article and title :)

  • Andrew Brinkworth

    Thank you for your post, I plan on showing it to all my clients who dream of becoming the next Ashton Kutcher. Companies must be more selective about their followers and following or the message gets lost in the stream!
    Thanks Again.