Around a month ago I heard people talking about Twitter’s bucket test (definition) of their new personalized suggested user list and this past week I actually got to experience it myself. The results for me have been excellent and in this post I’ll explain why this is critical to Twitter’s continued adoption.
Twitter has implemented its recommended users on your Twitter.com home page as the “who to follow” (see graphic above) and you have a list of two recommended people to follow. Not to be a stickler for English – especially on this blog where I often race through my posts with very little editing and therefore make many mistakes – but the list should actually say “whom to follow” as you’ll see in this guide to proper grammar.
“Who” is always used for the subject of a sentence and “whom” is meant to be used as an object. You can always tell by inserting “he” or “him” in place of the word “who” or “whom” and the result will be obvious. In “who to follow” it is clear that Twitter is directing “you” (the subject) to follow a user “him” (the object). So I *think* it should actually be “whom to follow.” Who knows?
But who cares? I am very pleased with the results. I’ve written about this topic before. Twitter has has a huge advantage over Facebook in certain types of communication and relationships due to the asymmetric following model. I can follow dozens of people who don’t know me and get the advantage of all of the links that they provide me as well as feeling like I get to know them a bit better as humans rather than historically only hearing from them them behind press releases.
I follow people like Steve Case, Bill Gates and Marc Cuban – none of whom I know. In a “symmetric” following model they’d have to choose between following me back or not accepting my request. In Twitter we can have a one-way relationship.
Interestingly, on Twitter even though somebody may follow me whom I don’t follow back, that person can still communicate with me by using the @ sign so Twitter has become this wonderfully open communication platform and when not abused can create a quick conversation with somebody normally not in your personal network. I don’t always have the time to respond to every @ message but I read every one and I try to respond to many.
But the biggest problem of Twitter to date has been getting the right people to follow you (which is why I wrote about the topic in the link just provided). Here’s the problem in a nutshell: in Twitter you may be following somebody whom you know well and he’s not following you back and doesn’t even know it. When you have 50-100 followers it’s pretty easy to audit whom you’re following but when you have 10,000 it’s impossible.
Every week or so I monitor all of the new people who are following me and I follow back people who are: friends, interesting or people with whom I occasionally have a dialog and provide great links (e.g. Atul Arora whom I’ve never met but is one of the best linkers out there).
But I’m sure there are some friends whom I’m not following and should be. And more obviously to me is that there are a whole host of people whom I know well and aren’t following me. (some I’m sure because they choose not to! )
One strategy I talked about in the post linked above on how to get people like this to follow you is to try and unfollow them and then re-follow them in hopes that they will notice you when they are alerted of their new followers. That works sometimes but is kind of lame so I rarely do it. I also find it even more lame to have to say to somebody “I noticed you’re not following me on Twitter” – it makes you feel so narcissistic.
But now there’s the perfect way to get the right people following you! The Twitter algorithm as of today seems to base your recommended followers based on who is followed the most by other people whom you follow. (see graphic at right, which you find when you click on “view all” from home page on Twitter.com) Therefore your friends are much more likely to all be following similar people and therefore appear in each other’s recommended list and that’s exactly the point!
So how do I know it’s working? In the past week I’ve noticed 7 or 8 new followers with whom I’m friends and who have large follower lists. These are people whom I would expect to normally be following me since we speak frequently but I’ve always guessed that they didn’t realize they weren’t following me because they had large follower bases.
It can’t be coincidence that all of a sudden so many with large follower bases and who are close enough friends all suddenly started following me in the same week.
And similarly I’ve started following a bunch of new people. Many of these are people whom I know and some are just recommended and followed by my friends – a chance for me to get to know some new people. And if we’re all following more of the “right” people and discovering new people then Twitter engagement will continue to grow.
I love Twitter. Once people get over the “I don’t care what you ate for lunch” hang up – it really is changing the nature of communications.
The algorithm is alive and well. And working. Brilliantly. Shame about the English. Whom should you be following?
** Note: any spelling or grammar errors in this post were purely intentional and designed to be sure you were actually paying attention.
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table )