Guy Kawasaki recently wrote a post where he makes the case that the best way to get followers on twitter is to 1.) follow everyone that follows you, 2.) have fake conversations with important people so you'll look important and 3.) tweet lots of links to things that "might" be interesting. While his strategies are obviously effective if your goal is to "get lots of followers" I think what he's proposing is unhelpful and promotes an underlying misconception about the best way to use social media.
Let me start by saying have a huge respect for Guy and love his writing…I just think he's wrong on this point.
As Seth Godin points out in this video having tons of followers on twitter is worthless. What matters are the real relationships…and the exchange of worthwhile ideas.
When you visit the twitter profile of Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble or Barack Obama and see that they're "following" thousands of people, you instantly know that they're not really "following" any of those people (admittedly Obama may be a little busy preparing to lead the free world). Guy admits this in his post when he says that following his strategy you'll have to focus on messages sent directly to you. This defeats the purpose of "following" someone in the first place…and I think points to a deeper misunderstanding of social networking.
Social networking is important when its real and it's a useless distraction when its fake.
The question to ask is not "how many followers do I have?" but "Are there people out there who I would go out of my way for and I know
would go out of their way for me?" The way that you earn that is by
going out of the way for them.
When I visit the profile of someone like Steven Bristol (of Less Everything) or Tim O'Reilly (of O'Reilly Media) and see them followed by hundreds or thousands of people while they only follow a fraction of that…I see someone that has genuine influence in the twittersphere. People want to follow them because they say things that matter, not because they "return the follow." Rather than filling my tweetdeck with useless tweets just designed to attract followers, I know when I read their tweets I'm going to be reading content that's genuinely interesting to me.
So here's my plea (to all those folks that have started following me because I follow them or those folks who are ticked because I'm not following them after they started following me). Let's not treat Twitter like MySpace. Please, only follow the folks that are actually interesting to you, that you actually care about…and remember, if we see that you're following thousands of people…we don't believe you.
(In the interest of full disclosure…I follow Guy Kawasaki on Twitter…but I don't really believe he's following me…and I hope this post doesn't hurt my chances if I approach Garage Technology Ventures for funding of my next project)