I started using Twitter in 2009 when I was a reporter for the Seattle Times. Jim Mora was the coach of the Seattle Seahawks and I had a Palm-made smartphone. The Twitter app was so wonky that I posted live updates of Seahawks press conferences via TwitPic, sending a photo of the person speaking with the news item included as a caption. We have all come a long way since then.
I like Twitter. Over the past 12+ years, I’ve found that my sarcasm and sense of humor (if you can call it that) translates better on Twitter than it ever did on paper or more later as a radio host at 710 ESPN Seattle. I made friends on Twitter, picked fights with other journalists and generally found it to be a good place to test ideas and arguments and an increasingly terrible place to discuss of everything that was important. I have over 40,000 subscribers, which is neither negligible nor exceptional considering the market in which I worked. None of this gives you an idea of the quality of my work in sports media.
Yet, following an individual on Twitter is now part of our industry dashboard. It’s definitely not the final score and it certainly doesn’t decide the outcome, but it’s the best way I know of to get a quick assessment of someone’s reach and/or importance. It is an easily accessible data point. This is the first thing I check when I meet someone who is in the sports media industry.
But what does it really tell us? Specifically, what does this tell us about this person’s ability to do their actual job, whether that’s reporting news, writing stories, or being on a show? Because as big as Twitter has become in sports media, no one is making money from Twitter and social media specialists are the only people actually paid to Tweet.
For most of us, Twitter isn’t a job, it’s a tool. For a radio host, it’s a way to interact with listeners outside of the show’s footprint and timeslot. It’s also a great opportunity to deepen audience engagement through real-time, two-way communication. These things can help a host’s job performance, but they shouldn’t be confused with the job itself. A radio host has no value because he was right on Twitter or because he was first on Twitter or because he had a viral Tweet. A radio host is valuable because of their ability to attract, entertain and retain an audience during a specific time slot. Twitter can help you prepare to do this, but it doesn’t actually accomplish the task.
Programmers also need to understand this. A large number of followers can be the result of good use of social media, but if you think someone’s follower size is proof that they’ll be part of your line-up, that’s a setup for failure. Look what book publishers have found.
A New York Times article last month showed how publishers have used social media as a sort of weathervane for book sales. The number of followers an author has influences everything from what authors get paid to books that get published. This is especially true when it comes to non-fiction books. The rationale is quite simple when you look under the hood of this particular industry.
A publisher is the company that buys a certain book from the author, essentially betting that the sales of that book the author is writing or has written will more than cover the money paid to the author plus the cost of publication and promotion. of the book. A publisher wants as much assurance as possible that this book will sell enough copies not only to recoup their money, but also to ensure a profit. This is where the author’s social media audience comes in. The number of subscribers is considered an indicator of the number of people likely to buy this book. After all, someone following the author is definitely a sign that they are interested in what that author has to say. It is reasonable to expect that a certain percentage of these subscribers will buy a book from this person. Except that social media followings turn out to be a pretty terrible tool for predicting book sales.
Billie Eilish has 99 million followers on Instagram. His book, released last year, sold 64,000 copies. If I was mean, I’d point out that there’s one book sold for every 1,546 Instagram followers.
“Even having one of the largest social networks in the world is no guarantee,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris.
So we should all stop paying attention to Twitter follows, right? Barely. First of all, this is a data point, and anyone waiting for social media followings to become LESS important is probably thinking the internet is just a fad. More importantly, having an audience is definitely better than not having one, as it indicates the ability to attract an audience.
The question is not whether it is good to have a large audience. Of course it is. The question is how reliable is this in predicting an individual’s interest or attractiveness outside of that specific social platform.
What programmers need to do is get smarter about how they evaluate social media followings by answering two questions:
- Why do people follow this particular talent? Content is the catch-all answer here. Go beyond. What type of content does this person provide that none of their peers provide? Will this type of content be useful in my programming, whether it’s terrestrial radio, a podcast or another format? Someone who is funny on Twitter can be funny in other formats. They can also be funny on Twitter. Are there examples of how this type of content has worked in the past or reason to think it will work in the future?
- How likely is this talent’s social media following to migrate to my media? It is one of the trickiest. One of the reasons for acquiring talent with a large following on social media is the hope that some of its followers will become your customers. While it’s always possible, the more important question is whether it’s likely.
Remember that example of Eilish, who had 99 million Instagram followers and sold 64,000 books? Well, that number of pounds is actually not a bad result. In fact, it’s absolutely solid for book sales. The problem was that the publishing house did not expect a solid commercial performance. He expected incredibly strong sales because he paid Eilish a large sum of money in the form of an advance.
Clearly the publishing house made a bad bet, but the main mistake wasn’t about Eilish’s ability — or lack thereof — to produce a book. She produced a 336-page one, loaded with never-before-seen family photos and although there wasn’t as much text as you might expect, sales were strong. The mistake the publishing house made was to overestimate how many Eilish fans would become customers on an entirely different medium, and I think that’s a lesson to be learned in this industry.
Unless you hire someone to do social media for your business, Twitter won’t be their job. It’s just a tool. An important, useful tool, but just a tool.