January 18th, 2012
HOORAY FOR US! SPJ reached 9,000 Twitter ‘followers’! (Why we or you shouldn’t care)
By Scott Leadingham
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”:
We’ve reached 9,000 people/orgs with whom to engage without begging people to “follow” us. What a concept, eh?
— Society of Pro Journ (@spj_tweets) January 17, 2012
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.”
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?
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.