Are Twitter followers a community?

Chris Brogan and lots of commenters discuss Andrew Baron‘s decision to auction his Twitter account. What he’s actually auctioning are the nearly 1,500 followers the account has built up. Andrew, who owns Rocketboom, has another Twitter account and is rarely using the “@andrewbaron” one.

Chris and his commenters raise some interesting issues. The debate taking place focuses on the notion that Andrew is “selling” or “selling-out” his “community.”

I think it’s a great “micro” lesson in the economics of circulation or subscription-value — or “list value.”.

I don’t think, however, it’s about “community.” Following someone on Twitter is like signing up for an RSS newsfeed. With one-click the subscriber is in or out. No “registering.” No “approving.” No “confirming.” One-click in. One-click out. Anything with that low of an admission price is not a community. I have the same problem with calling Twitter followers “community” that I have with magazine companies calling their subscribers a “community.” To me, community is something the “members” create among themselves. A person or entity may host or foster community — and a community may evolve. But a “list” is not a community.

Is there any value to nearly 1,500 Twitter-users agreeing to follow you account?

There is if they’re the type of people who would follow Andrew Baron.

Will they continue to follow the new account-holder when the “following” is transferred to a new username (if, indeed, it is)?

I’m guessing a majority of the followers won’t know it’s been changed unless it is purchased by an online gambling service who will use it to test out Twitter spam.

Whatever happens, it’s an interesting experiment.

Interestingly, Andrew has picked up a lot of followers since announcing this — including me.

Sidenote: I bet Chris Brogan would do well if he auctioned off his 6,200-follower Twitter account. But in Chris’s case, a community “has” evolved, because he spends so much time and effort introducing one follower to another. With Chris, you get the feeling he actually knows those 6,200 people. In Chris’ case, his followers are not just a list.

Second sidenote: I’m sure there has been some Twitter “username” speculation. I’ve got at least one or two registered for a rainy day.

  • Some days, it’s tricky to try and watch what 6,200 people have to say. The numbers get crazy fast, and it’s harder for me to manually find everyone. But to me, there’s a value. I like connecting back to these people who’ve chosen to follow me, so that I can see what they’re saying, and see if I have something to contribute. Often times, it’s the network effect. I hear one person talk about needing a job, and 20 tweets away, I see someone looking for an employee. The more I can thread that up, the better.

    Watching this has been very interesting from several angles. I could probably do another four posts on just this one story.

    Thanks for the kind words, Rex. I look forward to seeing you at the next event. : )

  • You make some very valid points Rex. I tend to agree that as soon as the Twitter community realize that Baron’s account is a spammer (assuming it goes to spam) people will simply unfollow it. It won’t take long for that news to spread along through Twitter. I don’t see the value in purchasing a huge Twitter account, unlike a service like LinkedIn, you can’t export the information, so what’s the point?

    As for Chris, he truly is a ninja when it comes to staying connected with his followers. Oh, and he’s a good dude too, so that also helps. I have no idea how he keeps up. Perhaps he’s one of three idential triplets! Now go spread that rumor on Twitter 🙂

    Great post.

  • Rex, you say: “One-click in. One-click out. Anything with that low of an admission price is not a community.”

    But the admission price to alt.folklore.urban is just as low, and it’s as strong a community as I’ve ever seen.

    Mind you, there’s a difference between admission and full membership. In the small town I come from, you can buy a house – and MAYBE your grandkids will be considered locals. In AFU, you need to be exceptionally clueful in order to avoid being tarred and feathered.

    What makes a community isn’t a requirement that you register in order to post. What makes a community is give and take. It’d be better to argue that Twitter is a bunch of monologues, not a group discussion.

    And I’m not saying that’s the best argument, only a better one.