Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What makes a "must-follow" twitter account?

Time's 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013
Time magazine published the 2013 edition of their annual 140 Best Twitter Feeds article this week. I love this idea ... it's a very clever way for Time to be relevant, engage influential online audiences, and use their editorial power to curate information that can be truly useful to their readers.  [I also love the idea that it's a top 140* rather than a top 100; that's just a very nice pice of promotion.]

The reason I knew about it is because one of my friends (I hope that it's not presumptuous to call her that!) actually made the list this year.  And it wasn't one of my famous friends like Aaron Strout or Chuck Hemann (social media tip: this is called link-baiting - a trick used for shameless self promotion by people like me, but never by people like Spike Jones or Brian Reid**) - it was a pediatrician of all people!  Wendy Sue Swanson, known to the world as @SeattleMamaDoc, is one of the most passionate, enthusiastic, generous and humble people I know.  You can feel her genuineness and credibility in every piece she writes (here's a good example), and she uses twitter very much the way that I do ... as a vehicle for sharing information and engaging with people who share her passions and interests.

So as I thumbed through the rest of the "Health" accounts that Time deemed "best," I was a little nonplussed. Especially when I came upon Dr. Frank Lipman.

[DISCLAIMER: I don't know Dr. Lipman, or anything about him except what I can see from his twitter account and the web site it links to. I have no doubt that he's a brilliant doctor and is probably a wonderful man as well. What you're about to read isn't an attack on Dr. Lipman; he's simply a poster child for an axe I have to grind.]

Dr. Frank Lipman, according to his bio, is a "Practicing physician, author & educator, helping thousands reclaim their vitality & zest for life." His twitter account links to a web site that sells nutritional supplements (presumably of his own creation). That all sounds great - nothing wrong with that. But here's what I can't figure out: What is it that makes him literally one of the best 8 healthcare twitter accounts to follow? Dr. Lipman is followed by over 14,000 people - and only follows 24 in return.  With a ratio like that, he clearly fails the "using twitter to engage with other passionate people" test. In fact, in order to pull that off, your content must be pretty damned compelling, right?  Here, the plot thickens even more.

A few of Dr. Lipman's posts are re-tweets of other prominent healthcare accounts, and he occasionally @mentions someone, usually to thank them for a compliment he's received.  A few more pertain to health news with a link back to the source of that news. But most of them - more than 50% by my eyeball calculation, are simply random health facts with no link, no source, and no discernable applicability.  Example:

1. No, I did not know that.
2. I also do not know what the pineal gland is or does, or why I should care about melatonin.
3. I am interested in learning the answers to these questions, but I have no source to check or link to click that would help me to understand.
4. This is not, for me, a terribly useful post***

A couple of his well-meaning followers pinged him for more information about the post, but he didn't reply (at least publicly - he may very well have done so privately).  

All of that got me thinking: What DOES make for a must-follow twitter account?  Here's what I think:
  • Relevance - I want to follow people who are interested in things that I'm interested in (obviously those are different for every person).
  • Discernment - I want that account to share things that are meaningful from a content perspective, or that help me to get to know them as a person. In the best of circumstances, they'll do both.
  • Credibility - I want to follow accounts that have a certain amount of objectivity, and aren't just promoting one thing over and over.
  • Thoughtfulness - Tweets are short. The best ones will help me link to more information as well as the twitter handle of the author of that information - so I can read more, and follow the author if I agree that the subject is an interesting one.
  • Engagement - My number one test of a must-follow account is whether that person listens to others, and responds to others meaningfully (not all the time; just when it's appropriate).  And whether that account, from time to time, promotes the work of others with no expectation of personal gain. 
I'm curious what Time Magazine's criteria were ... because they're clearly different from mine! I know that everybody's reasons and methods for using twitter are different, and that there's no single "right" answer.  For some people (read: me), Wendy Sue Swanson is absolutely one of the 140 Best Twitter Accounts. For others (read: Time Magazine and 14,000 other people), Dr. Lipman is one of the best.  

What about you?  What makes for a must-follow account?

* For those of you who are non-twitter users, but for some reason are still reading this post (hi, mom!), twitter is well-known as a microblog that limits each post to 140 characters in length)
** See what I did there?
*** There may well be scads of people who know EXACTLY what is implied here, and had a wonderful "a-ha moment" as a result of this post.  I'm just not sure who those people might be.


  1. This is one of the best "must-follow" articles I have ever read. Especially the concept of "Engagement" and your comment on the "using twitter to engage with other passionate people."

    I really can't hit the point home enough as to how important the "engage with other passionate people" factor covers.

    Here's a great example. When I first started getting involved in "higher" levels of programming, namely ASP.NET, I used Twitter to meet other programmers and ask for input and advice. This advice and best practices has made me tens of thousands of dollars, for free education!

    I'm very happy to see articles like this that talk about the real engagement potential behind Twitter, which was missed by Time.

    1. Jerry, thanks so much! It really is true that there isn't a "wrong way" to use twitter, but for me it is ALL about the connections that can be made. There are many who believe that twitter has become a place of broadcasting rather than engaging ... but for me, it's still the place where I make some of the deepest and best contacts, and feel "at home." Since I'm now following you, I hope that we'll see each other again in the twittersphere!

  2. Thanks Greg. I'm new to Twitter and appreciate your perspective. @DavidKStone

    1. Thanks, David! I'm grateful for your comment - and I'm pleased that you've found this useful. I hope that you get as much value from "the twitters" as I have!

  3. awesome post! i completely agree with your analysis and i, too, follow people, who have a passion in what they do, to be informed in areas that i am interested, enrich my exposure to interesting information and get a different perspective in the field that i spend a lot of time. i write to voice my opinion and bounce back ideas. it is a great medium to clarify misunderstandings and hold conversations with people we could otherwise not reach. following the same line, i plan to stop following dr. oz for instance because all I get is some infomercials. maybe i am following the wrong dr. oz :)

    1. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your POV, Ayse! I especially like the point you made about clarifying misunderstandings. I've often been surprised how easy it actually is to have a civil discussion on twitter ... it's not (always) the jungle it's made out to be. And as with Jerry and David (above), I'm now following you on twitter as well! Looking forward to learning from you.

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