Twitter Lists will change the social dynamic

Lists will either be the great equalizer, or create a pseudo ‘class’ system within Twitter.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

* Jennifer Leggio is on vacation

Guest editorial by Mitch Lieberman

Twitter lists are absolutely going to change the way people use Twitter – exactly how is not really clear yet, it may take a little while before the dust settles on this one. Lists have added a new social element to Twitter, which did not exist up until now.  Lists will either be the great equalizer, or create a pseudo ‘class’ system within Twitter.

A ‘Class’ System, how so? Those included on the cool Lists and those that are not, the influencers and the influenced. There are some lists that are purely factual, for example, people who work at XYZ company. Twitter, by its nature, does have a self policing mechanism, but I am not sure if it will work here. Needing differing perspectives, I decided to ask some friends and collaborators; Josh Weinberger (@kitson), of DestinationCRM has this to say:

“Sure, but that's no different than the situation with a personal Twitter account. But if there's status or "class" to be derived from whether others value your curatorial efforts, that's something new, something Twitter itself doesn't really provide. I may not want to follow @scobleizer in my main Twitter feed, but I might value his knowledge of the startup scene and want to follow his #List of entrepreneurs -- and leave it to him to maintain it going forward.”

I framed my question a bit differently, when I asked Nicole Ravlin (@pmgnicole) a partner with PMG, a PR firm in Burlington, Vermont. I was seeking input in regards to how she might guide her clients, as they create lists.

“I think before you can address any of this you have to consider your [Company] overall strategy for using Twitter. Building Lists thoughtfully so that they are useful to you and your followers is key here.”

With respect our conversation in general, Nicole had this to add “From a stand point of organization of data and people, it [a List] is great, but what is more intriguing is what it will/might do on Google Ranking. I also think that it would be helpful for new users [to Twitter].”

Not yet convinced I was seeing a common theme, I spoke with Martin Schneider (@CRMoutsiders, also of SugarCRM) we tried to think of Lists in the context of a company [or vendor]. “Here Lists represent something a little different.” Beyond creating a List of people who are ‘on’ Twitter from your company, or who represent your brand, companies risk alienating people by way of exclusion. This brings out the emotional side of Lists. Companies will need to remain objective regarding Lists. Companies will likely have lots of private lists, just sayin’.

A Social Experiment So, I am going to try a little social experiment, which I would encourage others to try as well. The end result could be very interesting. I use Twitter as an innovation and interaction platform, your use may alter how you go about this experiment. Personally, I try to actively engage with people I am connected to, through @ replies, and then move from Twitter to other channels blogs and now even Google Wave). Those that I frequently collaborate with, will not be affected by the experiment – I hope.

Up until now, there needed to be a natural asymmetry, some people follow News, Influencers and people who they respect. We take some of those tidbits and pass them along to our 'Twitter Community'. These actions are still going to happen, but now it can be done without “following”. I do realize you could do this before either by using search, groups in Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. These tools will, very soon add List features, but the social dynamic will be new for a while yet.Here is the core change; a List can be private we can use that to our advantage.

We will soon see if follower counts, matter to people, who say it does not I can just imagine the conversations: "I have 10,000 followers, but I am on 1500 lists, which are followed by 100 more people". Yes, you can do the simple math, but the number of conditions and permutations gets interesting (for example, am I following @jowyang once, twice, or four times based on the lists I follow?)

How does it work? I went through an exercise of adding about 30 people to my private "DoNotFollowBack" list, I then 'Unfollowed' all of these people from Twitter directly. I am obviously still 'Following' them, just privately - and if I made the list public, it would be rude, and miss the point. Now, the number of people who did not reciprocate was closer to 60, so I did not do this for everyone. There are lots and lots of good reasons not reciprocate (not going to debate that here). If I do this alone, it would have personal impact, but not make much of a difference to anyone’s ‘follow numbers’. I will certainly take a hit myself, as I do not follow everyone back - for the most part because many (not all, please do not be offended anyone) are broadcasting, not interacting.

As an aside, I do not have many public lists. Others were quicker to create lists, which I now follow, and some actually speak to my core point. For example, @palafo/Breakingnews List is great, I do not need to follow lots of people who like rebroadcasting breaking news – just the list. But, since Lists are not yet supported in tools, which many of us use, we need to go to the Web URL to actually use Lists. Adoption will certainly pick-up as the tools all include support for Lists.

Mitch Lieberman, is vice president of strategic solutions for SugarCRM. He is passionate about solving problems at the intersection of people, process and technology. In the context of customer relationships, he focuses on helping businesses design systems which are optimized for ease of use, foster information sharing and customer acquisition and retention. He's a husband and dad living in Williston, Vermont.

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