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Do Tweets Change Behavior? Probably not much.



I read an interesting CNN article today (yes, I know. Shocker. CNN is mostly trash). It talks about a small, (very non-scientific) experiment that the authors conducted on Twitter, using Alyssa Milano, Bill O’Reilly and another not famous person. The authors wanted to see if a tweet from a person with a million followers would increase sales of their book.

As I said, the scientific method in this experiment is non-existent. But their observations ring quite true to me, based on what I know of behavior from years of reading university research articles and books on behavior. The article actually backs up what I told WHYY in Philadelphia as an advisory board member to their new Newsworks project: Go after the smaller big wigs on Twitter. The people with 100 followers have way more influence with those 100 followers than I have with any 100 of my 5,800 followers. If the Newsworks team can engage the hyperlocal chatters and solidify them as believers/community members, then the Newsworks word will spread.



My other “high-follow” friends on Twitter and Facebook have reported the same observation, that their influence seems to change once they get over say, 5,000 followers. They get less replies, less conversation, more spam, etc. Unless, like the CNN article suggests, there is something at stake. My friend Cecily Kellogg (@CecilyK) felt the impact of her influence online lately when she tweeted about the pedophile book that was up on Amazon (that Amazon at first refused to take down). Her tweet spread like wildfire because there was a very important debate behind it. Then Cecily received lots and lots of internet hate from personalities whom I call FAFWs: First Amendment Flag Wavers, probably because they (mistakenly) saw Cecily as the origin of the tweet and the debate. So, in this case, Cecily’s influence went far, but if she only had 100 followers, she wouldn’t have been attacked by the FAFWs. Those kind of myopic posers see Cecily’s follower count (around 37,200 at this writing), and see her as one of those kind of authorities one may attack.



At around 5000 followers, I get only small versions of that kind of hate. But flaming someone online is easy, and it is an accepted, even expected behavior. Buying something or spending actual money is a behavior that takes a few steps and involves financial standing. As any marketer knows, that’s a much different thing. Put an actual cash price on each flame comment and you’ll see the comments disappear. We all know how that works.

Anyway, check out the article and tell me how you experience twitter, influence, and what it really takes to influence people to buy your product.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • cecilyk 17 November 2010, 11:06 am

    Yes! So true. I got retweeted some 1,500 time for the Amazon thing, but now I’m trying to help a friend reach 1,500 fans on Facebook, and it’s like pulling teeth. If only 1% of my followers fanned her page, we’d be done. But I can’t spur them to action there. I don’t know why.

    Additionally, not only do I notice a distinct decrease in the number of @ messages I receive now compared to, oh, 35,000 followers ago, but not as many people click over to my blog. I get roughly 300 hits to a blog post from twitter, and about 400 from Facebook (where I only have 2500 friends). In other words, a FAR higher percentage from Facebook (16%) than Twitter (less than 1%).

    But I can create a major butterfly effect with a tweet.

    I think, basically, that social networks are generally far better at disseminating information than they are actual sales. Of course, they are also a great place to practice good customer service as well.

    Anyway, all in all it just proves that Twitter “fame” buys you nothing, not even a cup of coffee. 🙂

    • PurpleCar 17 November 2010, 5:57 pm

      Very interesting, Cess.

      The authors’ book, Connected, is on order, so I’ll let you know what their research says after I read it, but I’m guessing that you need to tie your request for your friend into a time-sensitive need. e.g., “If my friend gets 1500 likes on Facebook by Friday, she will win an ad account with Pampers. She really needs the income. Can you help?” It seems like a request that is specific like that, demonstrates a bit of desperation, are the things that get people’s behavior to change. I would make the request as humble, specific, and time-sensitive as possible.

    • quiklives 24 November 2010, 11:32 pm

      For what it’s worth, I find that most people are stingier with their Facebook likes than their Twitter behavior (whether that’s retweets or follows). Even teenagers who click on dozens of silly, mildly amusing things on the dedicated “Like” sites are hesitant to associate their profile page with actual facebook pages that they don’t feel strongly about.

      Retweeting is easy, and more importantly, it’s ephemeral and dynamic. Pages that you like on facebook are part of what people use to evaluate you when they look you up.

      • PurpleCar 24 November 2010, 11:39 pm

        That’s an interesting observation which I have to admit is true for me, too, for the most part. I don’t hand out page likes easily. I can’t say I believe in all of the pages but I do hesitate to like businesses and such. On twitter, though, I don’t hesitate to retweet as often. Cool catch.
        Sent from Yahoo! Mail on Android

  • Carol Cain 17 November 2010, 11:16 am

    What I have found, even though I am not even close to C’s reach, but over 5,000 is that I say something, which no one will respond to, and I will believe no one “heard” and then weeks, sometimes even months later, I’ll meet someone who will say, “Remember when you tweeted that thing about…?” Happens a lot, and people feel uncomfortable or non-interested to start a conversation or reply online, but if you have the chance to meet them face to face, they remember and will bring it up…I haven’t had many haters, but then again, it’s still early.

  • Carol Cain 17 November 2010, 11:27 am

    Oh, I also wanted to add that sadly, upon going past a few thousands of followers the “conversation” piece fails because the twitter account holder just doesn’t respond. A good case in point: Your example here C. Brogan once asked a question about Karaoke. I responded, and then also asked if he liked karaoke (as much as I do). I never heard back. I unfollowed him, not because I felt bitter over the non-response, but because for me, Twitter is about the conversation, and though I also use it to pass along info about my site, etc., some people use it only, if not mainly for that purpose. Brogan and many others are successful in this, people WANT the information he and others have to give and hold it to be of great value. So, I guess it depends…

    • PurpleCar 17 November 2010, 6:07 pm

      Brogan does annoy me and others with the non-response of conversations. I don’t understand why someone would put out a tweet and then not reply to people. On the other hand, I wonder sometimes how far the obligation goes. How many times do I reply back? Once, twice? What if some replies don’t seem to need response? It’s confusing. You don’t have a face to read, so it’s hard to know the expectations of the other conversant. But, that being said, I don’t put out tweets when I don’t want responses.

      It’s interesting what you said about your follower numbers and responses. The more I ask people, the more I find the same loss-of-influence experience is shared, especially among the 5000+ set. I suppose this is a terrible thing if one is selling their influence as a marketer. I mean, for example, if I’m a crafty/sneaky writer, I won’t readily share my knowledge of this phenomenon when I am looking for an agent or a publisher for my novel. Instead, I’ll hope the agent or publisher is star-struck by the fact that I’m in the top 1% of Twitter users, and that they’ll believe me when I say I have a “platform” through which to market my book.

      Personally, I’d rather be truthful about it. We can’t really know what’s happening here until it gets measured correctly, and that would be kind of impossible. Not many people who have over 5000 twitter followers will be happy to learn that the numbers actually mean less influence. They would have no motivation to help figure out the truth of it all.

      thanks for RTing and for sharing your experiences.

  • quiklives 24 November 2010, 11:37 pm

    I really agree with your premise here, almost that people have a finite amount of influence and as it stretches to more people it gets thinner and thinner (like blowing bubble gum bigger and bigger).

    However, I’ve seen some pretty dramatic exceptions. Neil Gaiman probably tops that list. Over 1.5 million followers, and a tendency to create #neilwebfail every time he links to a website. Also manages to get his followers to donate money to things like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and a movie based on one of his short stories trying to get independent funding, as well as buy and read books (whether they’re his or not), including giving scary books for Halloween as a new tradition. He also responds to an amazing number of followers, though by no means all or even most.

    • PurpleCar 25 November 2010, 12:01 am

      Clicking on a link is a lot different than giving money. Lots of Celebs crash websites but can’t convert their redirection prowess into actual cash. I have a feeling that twitter is overrun with donation or purchase requests and people are just a bit more cynical.
      Sent from Yahoo! Mail on Android