Victim of My Own Social Media Sting

Stinging Nettle by Randy A. Nonenmacher (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Stinging Nettle by Randy A. Nonenmacher (via Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve been a parent and want to correct your child’s errant behavior, you know how hard it can be to devise an educational opportunity for your kid which doesn’t have the side-effect of penalizing yourself.

Let’s say they have an opportunity to go on an expensive band trip through school, so after discussion, you agree on a cost-sharing arrangement. If they don’t follow through on fund-raising, keeping them home means you:

  • Deal with friction as you demonstrate that you intend to uphold the contract, as would their employer, banker, etc.
  • Witness their dawning distress as they understand they’re missing their one chance to short-sheet the band captain’s bed.
  • Say farewell to the first weekend in twenty years in which you have the house to yourself, so you could have hot monkey sex whenever and wherever you want. (Except the front hall, because despite the proclivity for using phrases like “hard” and “good wood” when discussing adult fun, no one in their right mind would ever, under any circumstances, consider a red oak staircase to be a marital aid.)

Anyway, on November 1st, when I knew I had another post in me in the Stop Feeling Like an Author Wishbone series, I got myself into one of these let-me-show-you-what-I-mean-by-screwing-myself-over situations. (Totally forgot to pimp-out the referenced Writer Unboxed post earlier, so let me rectify that: Solving a First-World Blogging Problem.)

I conducted a social media experiment to make a point and ended up depressing the hell out of myself. This is how it worked:

The goal:

To develop a sense of how easy it is to game Twitter-follower counts, thereby demonstrating the need for a thoughtful, individualized social media strategy, and not mindless pursuit of a number “just because.”

The process:

  • Set up a brandspanking new Twitter account in November with a silly name, bio, and avatar.
  • Restrict all my tweets to quotes related to the topic loosely referenced by my avatar. In other words, there would be no interaction, no retweets, no creativity, and no “social” aspect of my social media account. I was simply sharing material available to anyone with Internet access.

e.g. If my topic had been “flutes” I’d tweet this from Brainy Quotes:

I can never make up my mind if I’m happy being a flute player, or if I wish I were Eric Clapton.~Ian Anderson

  • Go to the Twitter profile of a social media guru whose audience consists mostly of writers. Follow their 100 most recent followers without any attempt at discrimination other than eliminating obvious spambots.
  • Every few days dip into their pool for another 10-20.
  • After a decent interval, use Just Unfollow to begin eliminating those who didn’t take the bait of my follow. Reciprocate everybody who initiated a follow, except when they were obvious spambots.

But old habits die hard, leading to a few flaws in my methodology:

  • My Twitter manners are ingrained, so that I couldn’t not reply to one genuinely funny person.
  • I had to add a silly quote or two of my own, so I’m probably underestimating the power of teh funny.

The ultimate results:

It took me 14 days to hit 206 followers. I lost interest entirely November 20th, at which time I’d done exactly 20 tweets and gained 242 followers, most of whom were writers or social media folk.

I received 20 direct messages which included:

  • Request for True Twit validation – 1
  • Messages which indicate a hacked account – 6, all from separate tweeps
  • What I consider to be tweep-originated-spam – 4 OMG you should totally follow my Facebook pages!; 1 OMG you should totally watch my Youtube video!; 9 direct sales or website links

The bottom line:  Between 25-30% of the writers following a social media guru will follow a to-me nonsensical account if it means they get a follow back.

I don’t know about you, but I found this depressing, particularly because at one point I was one of those numerically oriented people. Plus I’m not exactly taking the Twitterverse by storm. Where the hell are my non-discriminating followers. 😉

For a while I succumbed to deepening cynicism–what I mean by being a victim of my own social media sting.

Then I grabbed a brain. I stopped looking for what was wrong about these results. I realized I hadn’t kept the big picture in mind. We humans can be infinitely inventive and resilient.

For example, today’s sullen, resentful teenager will grow up. They can become a sullen, resentful, adult who patronizes psychotherapists and speaks, inexplicably, of nightmares involving bass clarinets.

People like me can start out using Twitter in a self-oriented, fearful manner and become part of a community, despite themselves.

60-75% of writers on Twitter have taste enough not to follow me, even when I’m in disguise.

And finally, the weekend might be altered, the front hallway might be off limits, but red oak works nicely in headboards.

Or so I’m told…

When was the last time you hooped yourself while attempting to educate another person?

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22 thoughts on “Victim of My Own Social Media Sting

  1. Re: Hooping yourself, well, there was this one hilarious incident. A friend I’ve known since junior-high came for an extended stay. He’d known of my childhood Tolkien geekdom, and my 1970’s claim that I would author ‘the next LOTR.’ He caught me reading about Goths, and knew it somehow related back to my claim. He jokingly asked if I was still planning on writing the next great epic historical fantasy, then laughed and said something about how I was running out of time (I was in my mid-forties).

    In an effort to play the ultimate prank on him, and teach him a lesson in the process, I spent the next nine years working my ass off on a fantasy trilogy, then knocking myself out trying to get it published, all behind his back. Isn’t that a hoot?!

    Funny and interesting post, Boss… but mostly funny.

  2. Still laughing over the hallway taboo. I always enjoy your humor.

    Twitter? Eh. It’s an “I’m going to learn that one day” kind of thing for me. My account follows writers and family, but the engagement makes me nervous. I enjoy the writerly stuff– pitch contests, pub news, etc. But on the whole it seems very time consuming and there’s a whole lotta other media already noshing on that elusive/limited quantity in my life.

    Sorry, I got stuck on “Twitter” instead of the bigger message. Creative peeps (writers) are collectors, we latch onto to things and turn it every which way trying to figure out how to make it our own–that’s all part of the inventive/resilient mind. We are drawn to those hoops like a bee to honey, then flail until we reinvent them, and pretend it’s what we had in mind all along.

    Pensive today. Sorry!

    1. Don’t be sorry! I agree about the limit-testing. Heck, this whole post speaks to that. 😉

      I actually enjoy Twitter. I had to learn not to take the stats seriously. Once I got over myself, it’s a big party.

  3. it took me a nano second to figure out that grounding my kids would be an exercise in self torture. i figured that out when the first one was two. keep those parental threats fluid, i say! as to being hooped. that’s built into my day as a given!

  4. I did the almost completely unplugged from the internet to see if anyone would miss me – life went on without me *laughing*

    Although, a few people did miss me – bless their hearts (Hi Vaughn! you were one of them! teehee!)

    Actually, I really didn’t do it for that purpose but because I was burnt flat out – just BURNT OUT!

    I sometimes have a hard time with twitter followers – it takes so much time, but I look at every follower to see if they are someone I’d want to follow. Sometimes I’m on the fence – or sometimes I’ll see something funny and think, “they made me laugh, I’ll follow them back” — But I have an eclectic mix of twitter followers and ones I follow – not just writers/authors – which is good, since I’m sick of seeing “buy my book/see my book/read my review/blah blah blah” in my feed.

    1. Social media burnout is the new black, I think, Kat. Especially for published authors like yourself whose PR requirements never entirely vanish.

      *I* missed you when you were silent, though I’m getting so used to people vanishing out of self-care, I wasn’t concerned. Figured you and your pea head would emerge again. 😉 Very glad you did.

      1. I’m all for following a variety of people. If I see the words “free” and “kindle” in my feed one more time I’ll go insane. (So, yeah, I’m about to insane.)

        Interesting experiment, Jan. I think, more often than not, people follow back to give someone the benefit of the doubt. I’m pretty discerning about the follow backs, but I think generally people are worried about hurting feelings. (I guess I’m not that worried. It frees you up when you have nothing to sell. That’s the plus side of not having a book out!)

        1. I think you’re right about the desire to preserve relationships, or at least not spurn one that’s tentatively offered, Nina. If that’s the dynamic, though, how many people are following those they enjoy rather than out of a sense of obligation? (See why I can’t do these stings? They make me more cynical.)

          I’m with you on the advantages of being free of real marketing necessity, too!

  5. Very funny post. I like it. 😉

    As for self-hooping… I’m sure I’ve done it plenty of times (especially with the kids), but the first thing that comes to mind is my husband. When our eldest child was a couple of years old, he couldn’twouldn’t sleep without his favourite teddy. And he’d do that thing that toddlers do, and throw the teddy away when he was cross. So one day my husband said, “If you throw teddy away one more time, you can’t have it back until tomorrow.”

    Needless to say, toddler threw away teddy. Husband put teddy on top of bookcase and went to work an hour later. And then I had to choose between either undermine his parenting decision or listen to a screaming, pleading, not-sleep-ing-no-matter-what toddler. Good times.

    As for Twitter, I quite enjoy it, but I don’t really use it to its full potential. Because who has that many spare hours in the day? But I very quickly learned not to get hung up on the numbers. I’d rather connect honestly with 20 followers than not connect at all with 10,000.

    1. I did a similar thing with Frank when he was a toddler and learned to be veeery careful with how I set things up in the future. Young children are excellent at exposing loopholes.

      Sorry you all had to go through that, though it makes for a good story. 😉

  6. As a “birthday vow” one year, I got rid of all the unhealthy food in the fridge. I then made a speech to my children about the “new and healthier lifestyle” we would all be enjoying. Shortly after, I received a 5 lb box of See’s candies express delivered from an aunt who normally sent me a birthday card announcing a donation made to the Catholic Church in my name.

  7. Oh, Bernadette, somebody up there had it in for you. (I am an emphatic devotee of See’s nuts and chews.)

    Jan, I have an eight-year-old son who, when combined with the dog, is the modern equivalent of Calvin and Hobbes. I hoop myself on an hourly basis.

  8. I thought it would be cute to teach Liberty (my three breed dog–Border Collie, Chesapeake and German Sheppard) to ‘sit’ and then put her paws around my hand as she took the treat. Not such a good idea at a local SPCA fundraiser when a friend’s young daughter held onto the leash–another mistake on my part. I was inside filling in the paperwork when the girl came back to tell me I’d been right about my dog being too strong for her. Trying to remain calm I asked who was holding Liberty now. She said her mom, who was still had the leash her when I came outside. But a few minutes later a very irate man spotted her, held his hotdog high and exclaimed, “You’re not getting THIS one!”

    1. Hahaha. The ToolMaster delivered papers when he was a lad. He was in a foyer one day, discussing rates, when a cat leaped straight at his face. His reflexes kicked in and he ended up punching the cat. As he stood there shaking and apologizing profusely, the woman screamed at her husband. “I told you not to train Fluffy to sit on people’s shoulders.”

  9. Great experiment and post, Jan. I read the WU piece, and I love getting the backstory here. As far as Twitter goes, I agree with Nina. I don’t automatically follow back. I usually check the feed to see if the tweets are funny, social, interesting. I do fall into periods where I obsess about numbers, but most of the time I’m able to look at Twitter as just a tool for connecting with other writers and educators. Something like a giant multi-line old-fashioned switchboard, in 140 characters or less. 🙂

    1. I like the switchboard analogy, Lisa. Particularly apropos since all things retro are in.

      BTW, I’m sorry about your comment being hung up in my spam folder. Not sure what’s going on with it of late.

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