Fans, Friends, Followers, and the Reason Why None of it Matters

by Mack Collier

I’ve tried to stay off the soapbox for the most part here the past two years, but the first blog post from Kathy Sierra in 4 years has got my mind racing.

I’ve been blogging for 6 years now, and the blogging and social media spaces have gone through a lot of changes in that time. One significant change I’ve noticed is how we define who the ‘authority figures’ are in this space. In 2005, if you wanted to know who the top bloggers or the ‘A-Listers’ were, you asked around.  Robert Scoble, Jeff Jarvis, Hugh MacLeod, Kathy Sierra, Seth Godin and Jason Calcanis were some of the names you heard over and over again.  All people that were moving the needle, that were legitimate ‘thought leaders’.

Then, rankings aspects began to enter into the picture. Technorati started tracking the number of incoming links a blog had (later called the site’s Authority).  That changed the A-List a bit, as now a site’s ability to gain incoming links became more prized.

Later, around late 2006/early 2007, we all discovered Facebook, and that added a new layer to defining the A-List: Number of friends.  As a result, the A-List changed a bit more.

Then around 2008 or so, Twitter really started to gain steam. Which, you guessed it, meant that Followers now became a new way to define who the ‘A-Listers’ were.

What I’ve noticed is that how we define who the thought leaders are in this space has changed dramatically. In 2005, we figured out who the experts and A-Listers were by listening to each other.  The A-Listers were the ones that got talked about the most, and linked to the most, and who were on the most blogrolls.  There wasn’t really a way to ‘rank’ them, we just knew who was creating great and valuable content, and those were the people that we listened to, and whose opinions we valued and trusted.

Now, the rules for defining authority have changed. Yes, good content still matters. But so does your number of Facebook friends, your number of Twitter followers, and your Klout score.

The problem is, your number of friends, followers and your Klout score can be gamed.  Let’s be honest, I would be seen as a greater authority in the social media space by many people if I had 50,000 followers instead of my current 25K.  And we also know that all I’d have to do to hit 50K, is follow another 25K people.  That would be gaming the system.

A very unfortunate side-affect of using rankings such as friends and followers to determining authority is that the ability to teach isn’t as important as it once was.  Let’s revisit that list of A-Lister from 2005:   Robert Scoble, Jeff Jarvis, Hugh MacLeod, Kathy Sierra, Seth Godin and Jason Calcanis.  All teachers. But today, it seems that more of the supposed leaders want to tweet about how you should ‘be awesome’ instead of teaching us how to be awesome.

We don’t need another ranking board. We don’t need to know who has the most followers, or fans, or the highest stock price on Empire Avenue. We don’t need to know how to get more RTs or how to get on more lists.  And we sure as hell don’t need to deal with the grief of thinking we aren’t smart or influential if we don’t have X number of any of the above metrics.

We don’t need to see tweets telling us to ‘be awesome’, we need more teachers that will roll up their sleeves and teach us how. And if someone can’t do that, then do they really deserve to be viewed as authorities?

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