Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of the news aggregator Alltop.com, the former chief evangelist for Apple, and author of, among other titles, The Art of the Start. At the end of The Influence Project’s first week, Kawasaki sits comfortably in the top 10, so we sought him to discuss the power of social media, how Twitter followers and Facebook fan numbers can be misleading, and the benefits of artfully telling someone off on the Internet.
Mark Borden: Why did you join The Influence Project?
Guy Kawasaki: Without question, the most influential person on the Internet is Steve Jobs and he’s not going to do this. I’m in the midst of writing a book called Enchantment which is my version of Robert Cialdini's book Influence. That book is the defacto standard in social psychology books about influencing people. It’s the In Search of Excellence of influencing people. I was interested in the project to see how its findings could be applied to my book.
What is it about social media that is so powerful right now?
It’s because the nobodies are the new somebodies. The old theory is that you had to go suck up to Walt Mossberg, Michael Arrington, and Esther Dyson—the A+ listers. The theory was you had to suck up to them because they were the arbiters of taste and goodness in the world. If they told you this site was good, all the hoi polloi and unwashed masses would say, "God has spoken, I’ve got to use this."
I think that is completely turned around right now. It is more likely that lonelyboy15 is going to tell hillary75 that this is a hot site, and Hillary75 will text that to her 12 other 15-year old buddies and a movement will start that way. Some site will take off and then guess what, the former A+ listers have to write about it because otherwise they feel clueless. Talk about power to the people! The A-listers and the A+ listers, are reporting the news, they’re not making it. That’s the whole gist of this. That’s why I think it will be very interesting if someone like me doesn’t win The Influence Project.
It’s interesting that you say that because it is the nobodies, for lack of a better term, that are jumping in to engage with their networks on The Influence Project. The bigger names with the huge following haven’t jumped in yet because they might not want to know what they can ask their networks to do. What if you have 5 million Twitter followers and you ask them to do something and they don’t do it. Then you have a different number.
So wait, you’re saying that you think someone like Ashton Kutcher has a downside risk in participating in your contest?
I never thought about the downside risk, but now that you mention it, there it is. Don’t get me wrong, if I would have thought of it, I still would participate just for the fun of it. My attitude is, if I win, I’m going to say this was relevant research. If I lose I will say it’s a dumb-ass test (laughs). There’s no downside for me.
What do you think of people with huge Twitter followings?
2.5 million followers—5 million followers—it’s all bullshit. Those people were all on the Suggested User List, or what I like to call the 'Suggested Loser List.'
Two million people signed up for these celebrities not even knowing they were signing up for them. Up until the suspension of the Suggested User List, it was very tricky for a novice to understand that by clicking on the accept button, that they were signing on for a bunch of idiots. How are they supposed to know they’re signing up for Britney Spears when there’s a huge button with ACCEPT and a tiny button, that says, "No, I don’t want to do this, go to the next step." But don't get me wrong, I wish I was on the Suggested User List too—because I know what to do with 2.5 million followers.
I have 250,000 followers on one account, and 30,000 on another. Those people voluntarily, manually signed up for me. My 250,000 followers are probably more powerful than someone who has 2.5 million followers who signed up by accident and who are not active on Twitter anymore.
One interesting thing you can do if you find the person who will do it, I will challenge the person. Call up Ashton or whoever and say, here’s the challenge, you have 5 million, Guy has 250,000, we’re going to have a contest. He’s asks his buddies to click on a link and I ask my buddies to click on this link and let’s see who gets more clicks. You have 20 times what Guy has, let’s see. If you find somebody that’s willing to do it, I’m willing to do it.
Look at Dell Outlet. My numbers are off, but it will give you the gist of it. When Dell had 2500 followers, they were selling half a million dollars through Dell Outlet. Now that they have 1.7 million followers, they sell $2.5 million. That’s only five times more for 680 times more followers, and it’s because Dell Outlet was on the Suggested User List. Twitter wasn't really signing up people who wanted to buy Dell stuff. The sales quintupled, but their number of followers went up 680 times.
How do you engage people and have an authentic relationship with your people?
Not many people agree with what I do. I’m all about driving traffic to Alltop—that’s why I exist on Twitter. I’m not in there for social engagement. I don’t want to make more friends. I have four kids, I have plenty of friends, and all the personal relationships I need.
My intellectual argument is that my ghosts and I will find very interesting stuff before you would have found it. Probably you never would have found it. My role in life is to solve the Clay Shirky problem of lack of filtration. Look at my Twitter stream, it is almost all links, and I tweet out every tweet four times, eight hours apart. So I quadruple my links.
I’m like CNN. Some people read my tweets at 8am, some at 5pm. They’re not going to go back eight hours and look at what I tweeted. All my effort is about finding interesting links. I have a very interesting feed. Some of it is useful, some of it is educational, some of it is inspirational and some of it is downright funny. That’s the value of following me.
Of course, when people @ me or direct me, I answer. My ghosts or people working for me never respond as me. If you look at my Twitter feed it is 99% links, but 1% is me responding and 1% of a big number is a big number.
A lot of people accuse me of not engaging because if you look at my stream it looks like just links. But if you ask me something, I’ll answer. People accuse me of not engaging—of being a spammer—and I respond by asking if they ever asked me anything? The irony is, every time, they don’t respond to me.
What do you think about some of the criticism around this project?
My feeling is just let it rip. I don’t take myself that seriously. I’m a pragmatist. If I win, and probably the winner will be on the cover of Fast Company, that’s very good for me. If I lose and if I’m in the top 10, that’s still good, right? So far I’ve tweeted this out twice to my followers. If I get serious, I will tweet it out four times. When is the deadline?
I’ll spike it then. You can make the case that I will pervert your results because someone like me who is willing and able to do it can stuff the ballot box. Telling my followers over and over again.
It’s like direct mail. People read the first one and they say, “Sounds interesting.” Second one, “I don’t have time, right now.” The third one is the one that they click on. So I am willing to do that. Of course, some people will bitch about that and say the reason Guy won is because he tweeted his followers so much. But that’s like saying Barack Obama won the election because he had more kids convincing people to register as Democratics. More power to you Barack, if that’s why you won, halleluja!
The very fact he could get people to sign up as a Democrat tells you something. When I tweeted about this contest, some people asked me, "How can you have the chutzpah to ask people to vote for you?" My response was, "What’s the difference between John McCain asking people to vote for him and what I did?"
Do you think Fast Company has confused popularity with influence?
It’s hard to name a person who is unpopular who has influence.
The Influence Project has managed to piss a lot of people off.
Let me give you a piece of advice, from an old bull to a young bull. If you’re not pissing people off, you're not doing anything interesting.
Everyday I get five pieces of hate mail. Tweets or hate emails. The math I do for Twitter is that I get five a day, and I have 250,000 followers. More or less it will take 50,000 days to piss them all off. I don’t intend to be on Twitter 50,000 days.
There’s a theory that if five people are pissed off at you enough to tweet about it, there are really 50 people pissed off at you because only one out of 10 bother to write. I understand that theory. My theory is there are also tens of thousands who are happy and you can’t make every person happy.
I would also make the case that when you tell people off on Twitter, there are a lot of people who are sitting there saying, "I wish I had the balls to tell people off like that." You enchant people more by being blunt and honest than trying to ameliorate everybody—because there is a silent majority who is sitting there saying, "Wow, Guy has balls."