By any meaningful modern measure of success, losing 6,000 Twitter followers is a bit of a fuck up. Or at least it would seem to be. In my case it was losing 1,000 that was the fuck up. The other 5,000 was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes, there’s some hyperbole there, but it was definitely a good thing. What on Earth am I talking about? To answer that we need to journey back to the halcyon, sun-kissed days of 2006.
As fate had it, I was taking a break from the internet when Twitter launched. I’d just moved flat, and I had no connection. And to be honest, I was in no hurry to get one. I was, still being honest, enjoying not having the internet. I didn’t have a mobile phone for a bit then either. Genuinely, it was bliss. But you have to have the internet, don’t you? And so I sorted that out after a month or two. And when I did, suddenly everyone I knew was on Twitter.
By everyone I knew, I mean everyone I knew on the internet. Back then, most people I knew online were very internetty, and very likely to be an early adopter of internet stuff. In fact for a while there, it felt like that was something of a gang of usual suspects that would descend upon whatever the latest web 2.0 thing was to land – if it passed muster, that is. Which probably meant that one of the gang knew, or at least knew of, had worked on the thing. I’d still recognise about two-dozen usernames, I reckon.
I missed the Twitter party. Not in the grand scheme, you understand, but so far as the gang was concerned. In the grand scheme I was an extremely early adopter. But, outside of the grand scheme, if indeed that’s a thing, I was late. But it didn’t seem to matter. I don’t know why I mentioned it. Anyway, being rather on the fringes of the gang I probably kicked around with a few dozen followers for a few years. Maybe it got up to a few hundred. I don’t remember.
But Twitter changed for me in 2011. I’d become a journalist and I was writing for Ars, and when you write for Ars you get a steady tick-tock of new followers. Then I got a few jobs in the tech industry that I suppose raised my profile a little bit, and I got some growth merely from following colleagues and them following me back. I worked with a lot of different people during 2013 – and since.
At over 1,000 followers I think I panicked a bit. Why were people following me? I had my original followers of borderline actual friends who, bless them, probably didn’t care what I tweeted, but I thought I probably owed silly jokes. I had the journalism followers who, at that time, might have seen me as a science and environment writer. I had my corporate colleagues who I guess knew me more for plain English and bullshit-free communication.
I didn’t know (and I still don’t) how to tweet in the same language of your leading lights in the sphere of digital business. It’s not that I don’t have shareable thoughts on those issues. It’s that they’re brilliant, inspiring people. But I, very definitely, am not. Thing is, some notable exceptions aside, they never seem to crack a joke. And I simply can’t understand that. I don’t care if the jokes are good or bad, but for heaven’s sake, let your guard down once in a while. Of course, I tended to go too far the other way. I’d tweet quite openly about whatever shit was running through my head, was not above dropping the c-bomb here and there. It added to this sense of dissonance – not knowing what the hell Twitter was any more.
Simultaneously, life decided to get a bit shit for a few years. Or, at least as likely, I subconsciously decided to make it shit for a few years. So I made the decision to bin off that confusing mess of a Twitter account. Because I had another one with 5,000 followers, and this was going to be the answer to all my I’m-centre-of-the-universe Twitter problems that existed only in my increasingly ill mind. (Warning: possible mental health-oriented posts to come.)
See, around 2007 there was this very minor phenomenon of parody Twitter accounts – Twitter accounts purporting to belong to celebrities or fictional characters. A subset of the latter category was Star Wars parody accounts. Except they weren’t parodying Star Wars. Or even having fun with Star Wars. They were taking it all just a bit too seriously for my liking. So I signed up for one, and wouldn’t you know, @stormtrooper was available.
So all the while I was tweeting under my real name, I was also tweeting stupid Star Wars jokes under @stormtrooper. At this point, remind me to write a blog post on the extent to which I’m not obsessed with Star Wars. Because I’m really not. You just wouldn’t know it from this blog so far. Sorry about that. There’s plenty of non-Star Wars stuff coming, I promise.
And the follows rolled in because my jokes were so fantastic and I was so brilliant. Except it wasn’t because of those things, because I wasn’t those things. The follows rolled in because my account was @stormtrooper. And the reason I know that is because, if I signed in to the account after 8 months off telling shit Star Wars jokes; I’d have an extra thousand followers regardless.
At this point you can probably anticipate the stupid mistake I made. I binned off my proper Twitter account and changed my @stormtrooper account to my personal account. And in doing so I dumped 1,000 followers who were, to whatever tiny degree, interested in me, in favour of 5,000 people who didn’t know me from Admiral Ackbar, and who didn’t give a shit about my non-Star Wars dumb jokes, my thoughts on plain English or anything else I had to say.
Of course I followed my internet friends with that account and, bless them again, they followed me back. But other than that I haemorrhaged followers. We’re talking dozens a week. And of the thousands I still had, I think almost all were either spam or abandoned accounts.
To add insult to injury, I’m convinced that the increasingly arcane workings of Twitter were putting some hoodoo on me. Years after it had ceased to be a Star Wars-related Twitter account, Twitter was still recommending spectacularly unfunny Star Wars parody accounts to me to follow. And, paranoid as it may be, I’m fairly convinced many of my tweets were disappearing into the ether.
So, having lost some 1,500 followers, I binned that account off too, which I think, on balance was a good decision. After some useful months away I’m back on Twitter. I know what I want from it now. I know who to follow, and who not to follow to avoid the rubbish I don’t want to see. It’s ironic that, over the last six or seven years I’ve advised companies and organisations on how to use Twitter, and even done it for them from time to time. I like to think I’ve done it quite well. This despite making such a colossal bag of cocks of my own Twitter.
In my defence, I struggle to remember a time that I really took Twitter seriously. I think it was always at it’s best when it was whimsical. I’m quite happy with silly jokes, swears, and miss people tweeting about what they’re having for lunch. It used to be derided as puerile because of that sort of thing. But compared to the toxic mess it has become, those were lovely little specks of gold.
At the time of writing I have 13 followers on Twitter. And I can honestly say they are worth an infinite amount more than the 5,000 I thought I had before. I never really did.