HOORAY FOR US! SPJ reached 9,000 Twitter ‘followers’! (Why we or you shouldn’t care)

Yesterday SPJ reached 9,000 “followers” on Twitter. (And there’s a reason “followers” is in quotes. Hang on for that.)

A nice amount, sure, considering it’s roughly the number of members SPJ had for much of the past 10 years. (Membership is closer to 8,000 now.)

It’s also, as it happens, completely arbitrary. I don’t care about it, and it’s kind of my job to care.

Don’t get me wrong: SPJ is always striving to broaden its audience in all media – whether that audience is composed of members, other journalists, or just interested citizens and organizations. And, of course, we do hope people will continually seek information and training from SPJ – through Twitter or whatever means.

But focusing on pure numbers is odd, distracting and silly. It’s a fool’s errand to use “follower” and “like” counts as true metrics of an organization’s (news outlet or otherwise) reach, influence or value. Klout score be damned.

I admit to writing a somewhat snarky tweet to mark our 9,000th “follower”:

The intended lesson was twofold:

1) An obsession with attracting more “followers” (and related verbiage for Facebook and other social platforms) is overblown and overdone – by news outlets and individuals.

2) “Followers” is a condescending, obtuse term (unfortunately the default word used by Twitter).

The subsequent tweet (less snarky, I hope) was this:

 

The link in that tweet led to a December 2010 post titled “Can you really engage a community by telling them to ‘follow’ and ‘like’ you?”

A set-up question, for sure. The presupposed answer: No, absolutely not.

If SPJ had an official social media policy, that would be it. (Along with the simple yet critical “Don’t be stupid” advice others have recommended as the guiding light for social media usage at news organizations.)

If not our official policy, it’s a cornerstone philosophy.

Also a part of that philosophy: Don’t use social media “engagement” in a veiled attempt to boost your counts on Twitter, Facebook or the like.

I won’t drag anyone or any outlet through the mud, but you’ve likely seen the appeals. Something to the tune of: “PLEASE HELP US REACH 10,000 FOLLOWERS. WE’RE ALMOST THERE! AND DON’T FORGET TO ‘LIKE’ US ON FACEBOOK.”

Two observations:
1) Preach to the choir much?

2) Get over yourself.

Take a moment to answer this: If you beg people to interact with or pay attention to you, is that an even relationship? Have you truly built a community?

Without an engaged community, how much value does your message really have?

Answer: Zero.

Now that’s a number you should take to heart.

Note: Thanks to Joe Skeel and Abby Henkel for input on this post.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. Interact with him on Twitter: @scottleadingham.

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  • http://www.callmejen.com Jen

    “Interact” with Scott on Twitter, but don’t “follow” him :) Pretty much the same thing, but a nicer way to say it. It’s still a reminder that you are on Twitter and happy to have conversations, without begging people to follow you so you have high numbers.

  • Scott Leadingham

    Thanks, Jen. Yes, that’s exactly the point (and the point of the “Can you really engage a community” post linked above. It may sound small, but words do matter. So, we always try to encourage people to “engage and interact” with us – not “follow” or “like.” See you on Twitter – and elsewhere.
    Best,
    Scott

  • Asad

    I totally agree that numbers only feeds the interest of the community but doesnt guarentee successen of a Twitter page at all. After asking the community to like my facebookpage I have seen that the numbers of liker in the last 15 did increase, but the activity of my page went lower than I expected. Make sure that you catch the attention of the people by offering them a relationship rather than hitting on the like button.


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