How many people are watching what you say on the Internet? Do you care?

The second question was rhetorical; of course you care. But the first question is hard to answer, and even if you have the answer it might not matter.

I’ve written a couple of times about the (un)importance of follower count on Twitter. This post is about how little your Twitter raw follower count matters, and this one explains why you’re more influential on Twitter than Ashton Kutcher, a guy with a HUGE number of followers.

But once you have followers, you want them to stay, right? Seeing your reach expand is just plain better than watching it contract.

I keep an eye on my Twitter reach using a tool called Twunfollow. It’s a simple tool; each morning, Twunfollow tells me who’s stopped following the Virtual VIP Twitter Account. If I see someone unfollow virtualvip who I believe matters, I have the chance to reach out to them and ask what made me suddenly less relevant to them.

I rarely do. Most of the folks who stop following virtualvip are fake. Or even if they’re real, their Twitter accounts are garbage. How do I know that? because usually the unfollows are “people” who has started following me only a few days before.

Now, sure, that could means that several times each day, someone who thought following me would be worth their time on Monday changed their mind by Friday, but aside from that seeming unlikely (think about how much junk mail you receive that you never bother unsubscribing from), there are many people who are still in the “more followers are better” phase of their understanding of Twitter and other social media, using tools like TweetAdder, which makes people think you’re following them in the hope that they’ll follow you in return—and then unfollowing them a few days later.

So when Darren Rowse (@problogger on Twitter), one of the most popular bloggers in the world, followed me on May 19, only to unfollow me on June 3, I noticed:

TwunFollow By Problogger Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse has 136,000 followers. He’s following 87,000 people back. Darren Rowse didn’t unfollow me manually.

If your actions are such that you can be deciphered this easily and you act this way anyway, you’re missing a point. And you’ve become disengaged from your followers. You have, in short, begun to act unsocially, and done so in a transparent way, even while claiming to be doing a social thing.

Darren Rowse is only an example of the problem. I’m not interested in picking on him specifically; this series of events just … happened. But in a larger way it points to the paradox that occurs when you blog, tweet, “Like”, or whatever; you’re leaving tracks, and you’d better make sure those tracks look the way you want them to look.

I received a call a couple of days ago from a columnist for The New York Observer, seeking to use me as a source of information for a story. My girlfriend warned me to be careful in speaking with that newspaper; they have a reputation as being a bit rough with the people they interview. My perspective was that I was OK being slapped around, because even though a positive portrayal of me would be better than a negative one, my business has always been about getting right in peoples’ faces, telling them what they’re doing wrong, and fixing it. In other words, anyone who follows me or reads what I write does so knowing that I’m often working from the contrarian viewpoint, and happy to defend it.

Which is fine if you understand that’s what you’re doing as you try to create business change. It sort of relates to how we do Search Engine Optimization at Answer Guy Central; we’ll get you results. We do it within the rules. It works, and we have no reason to be anything other than proud of that, and say so. Ditto our position on why you probably shouldn’t use Hubspot; it’s just a bad idea for too many businesses.

But while we get attention by being that honest, we also tick off people who aren’t used to hearing the truth.

Darren Rowse, you’re a great blogger and marketer. But you’re too public to use tools like TweetAdder; they make you look bad.

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