Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen

Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen

Summary: If you're trying to determine who to read and who to follow and who to potentially hire to guide your business to social media success, consider the fundamental principles of business decision-making.


Twitter popularity does not equal business acumenI'm supposed to be on vacation, but such is often the case with me, I didn't fully disconnect from Twitter and wound up with a thought process I felt compelled to blog. So here I am.

Clearly, given the nature of this blog itself, I'm a proponent of social media for business. However, I'm an enterprise technology girl first and I'm the first to point out the many risks of large businesses plunging themselves headfirst into the latest trend to arise out of the Silicon Valley bubble. I've consistently had three big concerns:

  1. Too many non-enterprise consultants are trying to drive enterprises to social media
  2. We social media folks are very busy talking to ourselves and there is a lot of repetition
  3. Many are measuring the impact of social media all wrong

Case in point: Two days ago I had a thought-provoking exchange with Mack Collier, who I consider to be a friend. Like with many of my friends, I often have constructive, educational debates as I learn such a great deal. This debate started with a blog post Collier published about "how I got a gazillion blog subscribers and Twitter followers." Overall, it's an interesting piece, but our subsequent Twitter conversation left me a little... lacking. At one point, Collier said that he believes Twitter follower numbers can indicate level of influence (though only one consideration). He went on to imply that it's often the delta between followers and "followees" that can indicate level of influence. Of course, I giggled and pointed out that Guy Kawasaki follows more people who follow him and asked the rhetorical question, "Is he not an influencer?"

Giggles aside, this is no laughing matter. These are hard times and we have businesses making critical decisions to stay afloat. At the same time we have social media marketers and software developers breathing down these decision-makers necks saying that social media can help them save money and improve their sales. In some cases, this is true. Social media presence could help some companies during this time (more consumer than enterprise, in my humble opinion). On both sides of the coin, however, it depends on the company. Those company leaders will then have to determine who to trust to help them lead this social media charge, and it's my estimation that trusting someone to help you because of a Twitter follower count or blog subscriber list is a gigantic mistake. Otherwise, wouldn't we all turn to Loren Feldman or iJustine for business guidance?

Next: What should I consider? -->

There are all kinds of reasons why a person might rise to online popularity. He or she may be a fantastic business person, or simply very funny, or endearing and attractive in some way. He or she might know how to leverage whatever strengths he or she possess to rise to the top, and that may be good or bad. Online popularity can be an example of someone who is a true thought leader and is changing the face of business -- I'll use everyone's favorite example of Chris Brogan for this one.  But not everyone can be an influencer and not everyone can significantly shift the landscape. We can contribute and we could do great work and we can become popular. But that does not mean that we are all suited to lead a business to success. There is a huge difference between the skills it takes to build a personal presence and what it takes to grow a company's strategy. Some might say "marketing is marketing" or "promotion is promotion" but that's just wrong. It all comes down to what you are marketing and the end-all, be-all objectives.

If you're a company leader who is trying to determine who to read and who to follow and who to potentially hire to guide your business to social media success, please consider the fundamental principles of good business decision-making. Don't get swayed by the smoke and mirrors and meaningless statistics (fact: many Twitter followers are bots). If you're looking at potential consultants, ask yourself the following:

  • Does he or she have a proven track record of leading a company to success?
  • Do the companies or organizations that he or she have worked with have any common themes with yours?
  • What are the challenges that he or she might've had to overcome with this brand or company?
  • If this person is truly being dubbed a thought leader, what original thoughts has he or she had?
  • Moreover, have these thoughts turned into any meaningful application or execution?

Now, again, I don't entirely disagree with Collier's post, as he is a thought leader in his own right. I also love the fact that he encourages people to not just follow the perceived "A-listers." I also think he makes good points and he calls out examples of actual rising stars. This also doesn't mean that I don't appreciate my own Twitter network. This isn't about them or me -- this is an issue of what's broken in social media overall. I merely disagree with the idea that a Twitter follower count should be a measure of success. While things like The Shorty Awards and Twitter Grader and such are in good fun, they aren't indicators of who is going to be the next scene shifter when it comes to social media and business. Let's not let the fluffy side of social media dictate our more serious business decisions.

Clarification 12/28/08 10:27 a.m. Collier indicates that he believes Twitter followers are only one aspect of determining influence. Unfortunately, many social media folks have made the "only" statement in the past. My point that it should be a very, very small consideration for enterprises still stands.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • Community does not a business expert make.

    Hi Jennifer,

    As usual, I really appreciate your level-headed perspective on these issues.

    Part of the trouble I see brewing in this space is the idea that if you understand the talking points about community, relationship building, and the importance of being human, that somehow makes you qualified to advise a business on these issues. What's seriously lacking in the large majority of "advisors" is experience within a business environment aside from social media.

    Without understanding how many of these tools and strategies might actually affect the inner workings of a company, it can be easy to stump for their value and importance from an altruistic perspective. But the fact is that company operations - even small ones - don't turn on a dime. There are considerations for private companies, public companies, non-profit organizations and startups that must be evaluated when considering social media as part of an overall strategy.

    I worry sometimes that well-meaning (or not?) "consultants" are taking their own experiences in places like Twitter or Facebook and using that as the groundwork for a social media "strategy" without really understanding how corporate communications, customer service, and other aspects work.

    Do I think there is room for social media in business? You bet I do, and I'm passionate about that because I'm passionate about what strong, well considered communication and customer service can do for a company. The philosophy isn't new. The tools are shiny, but only a few of them are going to stand the test and the rigors of business. What we ought to be focusing on is how shifting relationships with customers and clients in turn shifts the value of brands.

    But I certainly hope that, if someone considers hiring me to help them evaluate social media for their business, they're doing so based on my experience building brands and moving businesses forward and not some arbitrary and superficial criteria like follower numbers.

    I appreciate your perspective, Jennifer. Keep it up.
  • Required: Expert in corporate culture change

    Must be able to:

    Social media experience will be looked upon favourably.


    Social media is just a possible tool for use in aiding the REAL expertise required.
  • RE: Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen

    Brilliant post -- can be summed up in your sentence:

    "There is a huge difference between the skills it takes to build a personal presence and what it takes to grow a company???s strategy."
  • RE: Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen

    This is brilliant advice for corporate types thinking to take
    the social media plunge.
    As some who is growing their brand on twitter, I think
    reciprocity is part of the equation. I follow nearly as many
    as follow me, and am enriched by the conversation. As I
    tweet, I find that my followers are more and more my kind
    of people, and my target audience. They are self-selected
    which works wonders for my business. I might be able to
    help other pet-related businesses be successful at twitter.
    That's a far cry from being a social media maven.
    Bridget Pilloud
    twitter: petsaretalking
  • RE: Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen

    Participating on social networks only requires clicking. Building a business requires thinking. Just because one can click doesn't mean they can also think.

    Just saying.

    Nice post Jennifer! We only recently crossed paths on Twitter but I am enjoying your tweets and writing, and look forward to more of them in 2009. Have a wonderful new years!
  • RE: Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen

    If only people did come to me for business advice they would be in much better shape. 1938 Media is more profitable than oh let's see, digg, twitter, YouTube, Huffpo, Friendfeed, need I go on? I can't speak for Ijustine, but I would suspect she is as well.
    Loren Feldman