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?

{ 26 comments }

MirrorDotMe June 8, 2011 at 11:50 am

I really like that you’re challenging the idea that just because someone has a lot of followers or friends, that automatically makes that person influential. You can have 50,000 followers on Twitter, but if you don’t engage with them, what’s the point? If you don’t know anything about your friends and followers’ interests, why bother having them? Over at Mirror.me, we prefer to focus on interest and community instead of influence :-)

–Jenn at Mirror.me

MackCollier June 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

@MirrorDotMe Thanks Jenn. I recently had someone tell me about a point they wanted to make on Twitter and they said that ‘no one will listen to me because I only have X followers’. That’s heartbreakingly sad that we have let numbers have that much control over how we define influence.

Justicewordlaw June 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I really enjoy the idea of this blog post. It seems that we have faded away from the idea of really educators online. People that are teaching you some thing new that could enhance your knowledge. Just like you said we are tired of some one spilling out motivational tweets every 25 minutes via hootsuite that we want some one that can add a bit more value within our lives. In some instance we are getting to caught up in the rankings and other forms of numbers and not paying much attention to what is being taught.

MirrorDotMe June 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm

(I can’t figure out how to actually reply–sorry!) That IS really sad that your friend felt that way about his or her influence on Twitter. I would tell that person to focus on building relationships with people who have similar interests on Twitter. Even if that’s only 5 people who care about the point you’re making–if you’ve done your job building a community, that’s 5 people who genuinely care. Much more powerful than 50,000 people who won’t even read what you wrote. –Jenn at Mirror.me

NaomiNiles June 8, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I could not agree more!

What I find ironic though is how hard it is to actually teach people in recent years. I’ve tried doing different types of blog posts. Educational, thoughtful, short and sweet, etc.

Surprisingly, the short and sweet ones do best. I’ve used stats tools to see how quickly people scan and it’s sad. People are overwhelmed or too busy or something.

I refuse to talk down to people as if they were kids though. I don’t think that helps the world. Not saying I’m the best teacher in the world, but I still think there’s a place for depth.

MackCollier June 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm

@NaomiNiles I guess we are now living in a social media world where soundbytes are valued over actual instruction and learning. Sad if that’s the case.

INDIEbusiness June 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

If a person is not dropping down a ladder behind them and using it to uplift others, not only do they not deserve to be called authorities, they don’t deserve to be called contributors.

HELENSStudio June 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Mack, Really enjoyed this blog post by you. I think the people consistently on Twitter (for example) do figure out after a while who really is engaging and authentic. If the ‘outside world’ is placing emphasis on trying to make a commodity out of a person’s social media presence then it can temporarily result in someone with not real skills but who gamed the system may get in the door – I do believe over time their lacking skills will emerge.

It reminds me of organizational structures where the org chart may say who is in charge, but in fact might be someone several levels down on the chart.

Please keep reminding us with posts such as this one today.

Lori June 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Hi Mack!

It must be amazing to have been around the B since 2005 and see all those changes. Great summary of them – thanks for that!

I’m a newcomer by your standards (Nov ’10) and just getting used to all this stuff. Found out the other day I have a Klout score – don’t know how I got it. Technorati went from 109 – 420 and back to under 100 – not sure why. I’m with you on this, if you can game it, what does it mean?

Wait – you’re telling me to get 50,000 followers on Twitter I just need to follow 49,528 people! LOL I love this post!

So what do you think makes one an A-Lister Mack? Can you define it?

Lori June 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm

@MackCollier @MirrorDotMe It’s true that it’s sad but it’s true nonetheless. It’s a hard hurdle to get over when you’re years behind at the start!

SteveWoodruff June 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Accumulating 50,000 followers in a few months makes you, perhaps, skillfully vain. Helping out a few people at a time by investing in their lives makes you a leader – a less flashy but more real authority. Like what you’ve done all along, Mack.

profkrg June 8, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Mack, I want to hug you!

I think about this so often… what it means to be an A-list blogger and how that aligns with my goals. The truth is that it probably doesn’t. Knowledge exists to be shared. What I really want is to help people with the information I know well. I also want to learn from others who know more or better than I do.

This mutual exchange of information is much more academic than monetary. It’s certainly more important than likes, followers, friends or comments.

I want to create opportunities for intelligent people to share information. My fear is that too many content producers do it just to make money or be known.

The person with the most followers wins? Not one of those followers is helpful if they all just repeat the same things or support your own belief systems.

We have a greater opportunity than ever before to use this unprecedented amount of access to teach and learn. Sadly, we use it trying to “play the game.”

Thank you for making me think today.

MackCollier June 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

@profkrg Playing the game may get you a guest post at Mashable, a few speaking gigs, hell it might even get you a book deal. But numbers alone don’t define influence, authority and respect.

MackCollier June 8, 2011 at 6:09 pm

@Lori that is a good question. Personally, I define an A-Lister as someone that consistently makes ME smarter. Someone that challenges me to think about things in a different way, and who makes me realize how dumb I am ;)

And for the record, my list of A-Listers has shrunk dramatically since 2007 or so. I think the priorities of a lot of people shifted toward whatever ranking system was winning at that point. And even some of the people that were A-Listers in 2007 have changed the way they create content to try to game the current system.

I think at the end of the day if you can create content that helps someone be better at something that’s important to them, then the rest will take care of itself.

profkrg June 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

@MackCollier @profkrg You didn’t say anything about a book deal. Maybe I changed my mind ;)

Influence, authority and respect are much more important to me as an academian.

Lori June 8, 2011 at 7:20 pm

@MackCollier I’ll TAKE that challenge Mack!

Lori

iceburner June 8, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Teaching others how to be awesome is not meant for everyone. Some are a Michael Jordan with natural ability and drive who attract coaches that make the difference. Michael Jordan is not a coach. The best baseball hitting coaches were not the best hitters. The definition of awesome that only compares you to your own best you will work me. Awesome then is about authenticity and the ability to bring our own passion to bear. What I find most alarming is how often I am stuck in the gap. I have been struggling and studying the ‘gap’ between knowing what has to be done and the actually doing something to have it happen. I am an expert at living in the gap. I have an extremely comfortable life and my comfort zone, my gap, is filled with every excuse anyone could hold for staying there. Misguided and inappropriate expectations, fear of success or failure, lack of confidence and over confidence, knowing it all and not knowing enough, procrastination as an art form, fast starting with no finish and not doing the work that makes it happen is only a partial list of what fills my comfort zone. Asking why provides an answer but the answer always puts you back to knowing on the wrong side of the gap. Paraphrasing my father, knowing what to do and $1.25 buys a medium size soft drink. Learning to ride a bicycle took getting on a bicycle. Nothing else provided the information to learn how. The choice appears, with or without a teacher, to remain comfortable with the excuses or act upon awesome.

ljcrest June 9, 2011 at 9:51 am

I could not agree with you more. It seems that in the numbers game, and in the numbers gaming, we’ve lost sight of what matters most: the offering of value, insight , wisdom…genuine “expertise” honed from genuine experience. I’ve seen so many self-proclaimed “gurus” and “thought leaders” in Twitter profiles that are only there because the person learned those words carry weight. Teaching/leading by example is a distinction not honestly captured by numbers…thank you for this insightful and smart post!

LeoWid June 9, 2011 at 10:19 am

Wow, what a post Mack. This one leaves me stunned and I couldn’t agree any more. Lets forget all these measuring metrics and lets do what matters in our lives: the people. It really isn’t that hard. Thanks for the reminder, in the Buffer it goes :)

susangiurleo June 9, 2011 at 10:41 am

Agree! Compared to ‘A-listers’ I have a small following, well, everywhere. But I do have my small tribe and they are awesome – I don’t have to tell them to be awesome. : ). They are engaged and are hungry to learn. I help a few people at a time and it’s more rewarding to me than ranking high in someone else’s eyes.

JessicaNorthey June 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

YOUR AWESOME! you lead by example. I am always in awe of you and what you do. You have my attention. My loyalty. My admiration. This was earned. I think we all learn and earn differently. Some people just need words. Some like to watch and learn. Some do it and learn.

I am little bit of all. I only know a few of those names you mentioned. My list is different. My influence sphere, mechanisms and authority services a very different industry. People in my world dont know who any of those people are…maybe Scoble and sometimes Godin…but most times if I throw out our “SMores” names, they hear something like the Charlie Brown voice WAH WAH WAH WAHH WAH and look at me like a deer looking in the headlightsI try to remember who my audience is and not preach to them EVER. I also reiterate that any success or Victory is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I dont care about number…I have some numbers…I have had celebrities with BIG numbers organically that came to me because they weren’t getting results.I always tell myself….run your own race, dont lrace from the rear mirror and people are drafting me I should be honored.

I dont know…I am rambling. You rock. I roll. We Country :)

MackCollier June 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

@JessicaNorthey Thank ya darlin’, you have zero ego even though you have far more reason to toot your own horn than some others do ;) You understand that putting the spotlight on others is far more important than shining it on yourself. You really remind me of my friend @LizStrauss in that regard.

JessicaNorthey June 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

@MackCollier@lizstrauss

Country On! xo

JessicaNorthey June 9, 2011 at 11:46 am

@MackCollier@lizstrauss yikes…so many typos so little time..lol I am honored to compared to Liz. She is a force of awesome sauce. thank you! xo

LHInsights June 9, 2011 at 8:57 pm

You have summed up well that in todays life ur authority is not known by what you have or you can share and ur klout score. It’s also not tht who you follow but what are u sharing wirh us community. and i also think that automated posts and link sharing has reduced the engagement. don’t u think so?’

Prasant

DwayneFlinchum August 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Great post. In the race for gathering more friends, followers, and/or fans.. it seems several companies have resorted to paying for “loyal customers,” positive comments, Twitter followers, and the like.. I just wrote a blog post about this. Please feel free to read and comment!

Blog post: In the World of “Follows,” “Friends,” and “Fans,” What is Real, What is True?

http://www.dwayneflinchum.com/2011/08/22/in-the-world-of-%E2%80%9Cfollows%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%9Cfriends%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Cfans%E2%80%9D-what-is-real-what-is-true/

Thanks,

Dwayne

dwayneflinchum

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