Guest Post- The Post-Geekdominant Twitterverse

Shaq by Dr. Mark Drapeau

Shaquille O’Neal’s embrace of Twitter as a way to connect with his fans got me thinking – what would the Twitterverse be like if it were not dominated by geeks? People who aren’t geeks, geek wannabes, or geek fans more than likely haven’t heard of Twitter. But at some point that will change. The conversational technology and vision of Twitter has created a simple, logical, and useful way for people and their ideas to connect. Whether it is Twitter per se, or a competing or successor service, at some point the Twitterverse will be dominated by non-geeks.

Perusing the most followed individual people on Twitter, however, it is obvious that most of them are gearheads – the list includes everyone from cewebrities like Leo Laporte, startup whiz kids like Kevin Rose, personalities like Justine Ezarik, reporters like Veronica Belmont, and analysts like Jeremiah Owyang. This pattern holds true well down into the bottom of the Top 100 list, with names like Fred Wilson, Brian Solis, and Jeff Pulver appearing. Many initial Twitter users knew who these people were. But now, the average new Twitter user has probably never heard of any of these “most popular people on Twitter.”

The fact that geeks dominate the most followed list is not so much because they add tremendous value and engage in great conversations (though some do), but rather a consequence of people in the tech community being aware of Twitter before most anyone else, self-organizing a hierarchy, and talking amongst themselves. But I suspect that this ‘geekdominance’ will not last too much longer – frankly, many people in the Twitterholic Top 100 are not that interesting to the average person. So who will be the LEDs to their light bulbs?

Mainstream journalists and other media personalities are certainly beginning to understand the power of social technologies like Twitter. Rick Sanchez of CNN has nearly 34,000 followers. Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC also hold respectable positions among the most followed people. Average people can relate to mainstream media personalities, and these personalities tend to add value through their reporting or opinions. To be sure, mainstream media will begin to use Twitter more and more effectively; Clayton Morris from FNC’s Fox & Friends Weekend is a great example, posing questions to the home audience during the show and genuinely engaging in conversations about topics. Locally in Washington DC, Fox 5 anchor Brian Bolter uses Twitter frequently and even during his broadcasts (see this and this two minutes later in order to get ideas for stories, advertise upcoming coverage, and just to chat with people.

Who else? I think that the big, mainstream trend among Twitter users in 2009 will be interacting with “real celebrities” using this and other tools to directly connect with fans and exhibit their personalities and daily lives. Shaq is the perfect person to bring the advantages of social technology to a more mainstream audience. As his popularity on Twitter is perhaps unprescedented – he’s accumulated over 14,000 followers in well less than a month. But also notable among the most followed Twitter users are Shaq’s “precursors” MC Hammer and Dave Matthews. Using social technologies will not work for all celebrities, to be sure – celebrities who are very shy, or stalker-prone, or boring, and so forth are not naturals for this medium. Some notables have crashed and burned. But I can think of many interesting, well-known people whom I would like to become more ambiently aware of – let’s just start with Tom Green, Conan O’Brian, Ben Folds, Rivers Cuomo, Keith Richards, Jim Gaffigan, Dolph Lundgren, Christopher Hitchens, Paris Hilton, Prince William, Dave Chappelle, Victoria Zdrok, Eminem, Brad Pitt, Bam Margera, Natalie Portman, James Woods, Kristin Wiig, Megan Fox, Kevin Smith, Kevin Bacon, Quentin Tarantino, Mark Wahlberg, Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Anthony Bourdain, Madonna, Leo DiCaprio, Tom Wolfe, Hugh Hefner, Winona Rider, and Flight of the Conchords.

But ultimately, I think that the real winner is you. If your words are compelling, if you add value to conversations, people will listen to you, talk with you, and chat about you. Whether you plan it or not, you will build a personal brand – and I think personal brands are great for entrepreneurial personalities. Jim Long, a Washington DC-based cameraman for NBC, is also on the most-followed list. Why? Not because he’s a celebrity. Because he is a nice person with a cool job that takes him to interesting locations, and he has embraced Twitter as a great way to interact with people. Gary Vaynerchuk, a wine expert, uses the force of his personality and intellect to evangelize about his wine business and other topics he is passionate about. These two people, and many more less well known, use Twitter to execute against their resume, to enhance what they already do using new social technologies. And if you have interesting things to say, you can do it too.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is a biological scientist, government consultant, and writer for Mashable.com and other venues. These views are entirely his own and do not represent the official views of any organization.

Photo credit, T. Young

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  • http://www.constantskeptic.com the constant skeptic

    No one is going to get drowned out on twitter. The nature of twitter is that you follow what you are interested in personally and others do the same. If you are interesting to someone they will follow you regardless of status or outside popularity, although celebrity status will just give you a higher relative follower count than others, you will still remain in your normal real world social meme, whatever normal means to you.

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  • http://www.microbeworld.org Chris Suspect

    Hey Mark,

    Good post/article. However, part of me wonders if next year the twitter top ten will be dominated by celebrities and mainstream media folks, much the way the iTunes podcast top 100 is now. Which means, there will be less opportunity for discovery and self-promotion for the new twitter user.

    The podcast analogy may not apply as much to Twitter, but I can’t help thinking that the adoption of new media conversation tools by mainstream organizations usually drain the “magic” out of these grass roots communication channels over time. At least for me.

    The other concern I have about this mainstream attention to Twitter is pressure or opportunity (depends how you look at it) for advertising and new features.

    Twitter works for me because it’s ad free and simple to use. I would hate to see this change.

  • http://www.microbeworld.org Chris Suspect

    Hey Mark,

    Good post/article. However, part of me wonders if next year the twitter top ten will be dominated by celebrities and mainstream media folks, much the way the iTunes podcast top 100 is now. Which means, there will be less opportunity for discovery and self-promotion for the new twitter user.

    The podcast analogy may not apply as much to Twitter, but I can’t help thinking that the adoption of new media conversation tools by mainstream organizations usually drain the “magic” out of these grass roots communication channels over time. At least for me.

    The other concern I have about this mainstream attention to Twitter is pressure or opportunity (depends how you look at it) for advertising and new features.

    Twitter works for me because it’s ad free and simple to use. I would hate to see this change.

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  • http://mchammer.com MC Hammer

    Ultimately Celebs will find the Twitter platform empowering…. we have grown to a society that consumes “sensationalism” served up by a media that has lost contact with the “heartbeat” of the communities (2.0) and people of today. Witness the election and how it was framed and reported. We saw right through it and they never knew or even perceived it until the results came in. Half truths… none truths, no research and opinion dominate the “perception” of whom the celebrity is and then it’s looped and becomes in many cases a false reality. Twitter allows the celeb to be himself in real time. Express thoughts , exchange ideas and participate in “real conversations” with “real people” who are living “real lives” on a day to day basis. It makes the media accountable for it’s actions (stories) and creates a base of friends and followers that interacts with the celeb on a regular basis that will pounce on lazy sensationalist. Check the Celebs twitter streams for current up to date info and answers. Twitter makes the celeb human again. Accessible, not from some far off planet that has no emotions, no family, no pain, no joy and only openings, screenings, concerts and closings. The era of the “image” is dying. Twitter will also expose the depth of your intellect one way or the other. Well read and current on politics and culture your tweets will reflect it. Ignorant and shallow it will also be apparent. Who is it ? that is willing to be a “character” developed, manipulated and controlled by the “puppet masters”. If the celeb can embrace (function) being “real again” and not hiding behind PR and marketing, then Twitter is a Godsend. It’s not for everybody. Some can never come out of “character” and have needs of the “Wizard” behind the curtain. Not for the shy !!! But if you are game…. What fun !!! Transparency at it’s best. Living the “Tweet Life”.

  • http://mchammer.com MC Hammer

    Ultimately Celebs will find the Twitter platform empowering…. we have grown to a society that consumes “sensationalism” served up by a media that has lost contact with the “heartbeat” of the communities (2.0) and people of today. Witness the election and how it was framed and reported. We saw right through it and they never knew or even perceived it until the results came in. Half truths… none truths, no research and opinion dominate the “perception” of whom the celebrity is and then it’s looped and becomes in many cases a false reality. Twitter allows the celeb to be himself in real time. Express thoughts , exchange ideas and participate in “real conversations” with “real people” who are living “real lives” on a day to day basis. It makes the media accountable for it’s actions (stories) and creates a base of friends and followers that interacts with the celeb on a regular basis that will pounce on lazy sensationalist. Check the Celebs twitter streams for current up to date info and answers. Twitter makes the celeb human again. Accessible, not from some far off planet that has no emotions, no family, no pain, no joy and only openings, screenings, concerts and closings. The era of the “image” is dying. Twitter will also expose the depth of your intellect one way or the other. Well read and current on politics and culture your tweets will reflect it. Ignorant and shallow it will also be apparent. Who is it ? that is willing to be a “character” developed, manipulated and controlled by the “puppet masters”. If the celeb can embrace (function) being “real again” and not hiding behind PR and marketing, then Twitter is a Godsend. It’s not for everybody. Some can never come out of “character” and have needs of the “Wizard” behind the curtain. Not for the shy !!! But if you are game…. What fun !!! Transparency at it’s best. Living the “Tweet Life”.

  • http://fearlessblogger.com faryl

    Interesting take! One of the things I like about Twitter is the mix of “twitterati”, “geek elite” , “mainstream” celebrities and “regular folks”, with some folks – @wilw for example – blurring the celebrity geek line completely. (I use geek as a compliment, btw).

    With the retweeting and random followings leading to miscellaneous connections, I don’t always remember how I originally connected to the avatar I may be exchanging 140 character quips with.

    I like the way this somewhat evens things out – prominent businessmen/women, editors of top periodicals/blogs, artists, musicians, freelancers, biological scientist-government consultant-writers, stay at home parents and the unemployed all finding ways to related to each other . . . six degrees of separation in action!

  • http://fearlessblogger.com faryl

    Interesting take! One of the things I like about Twitter is the mix of “twitterati”, “geek elite” , “mainstream” celebrities and “regular folks”, with some folks – @wilw for example – blurring the celebrity geek line completely. (I use geek as a compliment, btw).

    With the retweeting and random followings leading to miscellaneous connections, I don’t always remember how I originally connected to the avatar I may be exchanging 140 character quips with.

    I like the way this somewhat evens things out – prominent businessmen/women, editors of top periodicals/blogs, artists, musicians, freelancers, biological scientist-government consultant-writers, stay at home parents and the unemployed all finding ways to related to each other . . . six degrees of separation in action!

  • http://www.ypfp.org Katherine Tobin

    I agree with Mark and MC Hammer–celebrities are starting to make the jump to Twitter. The mashup celebritytweet.com shows a timeline of only celebrities’ tweets, along with links to their handles, so people can follow them individually. The range of celebrities varies quite a bit, as well as how they use twitter: @Borat [Sagdiyev] tweets in character (“very nice!”), @britneyspears’s ghost writer doesn’t even try to tweet in the first person (refreshing honesty), and @TinaFey tweets about the funny, mundane things in life that remind us that we’re all human, e.g. “Somewhere a man named Barack Obama sits on a toilet and thinks the same thing I do: I need to trim my toe nails.”

    Whether it’s for concert updates, random thoughts, or politics, I think celebrities are a “brand” that will be a growing force on Twitter in ’09. Let’s hope the majority of them use the tool as a personal–not corporate–brand (ahem, Ms. Spears…or Sen. Clinton).

  • http://www.ypfp.org Katherine Tobin

    I agree with Mark and MC Hammer–celebrities are starting to make the jump to Twitter. The mashup celebritytweet.com shows a timeline of only celebrities’ tweets, along with links to their handles, so people can follow them individually. The range of celebrities varies quite a bit, as well as how they use twitter: @Borat [Sagdiyev] tweets in character (“very nice!”), @britneyspears’s ghost writer doesn’t even try to tweet in the first person (refreshing honesty), and @TinaFey tweets about the funny, mundane things in life that remind us that we’re all human, e.g. “Somewhere a man named Barack Obama sits on a toilet and thinks the same thing I do: I need to trim my toe nails.”

    Whether it’s for concert updates, random thoughts, or politics, I think celebrities are a “brand” that will be a growing force on Twitter in ’09. Let’s hope the majority of them use the tool as a personal–not corporate–brand (ahem, Ms. Spears…or Sen. Clinton).

  • Guest

    Phil Baumann, re: Twitter “strips down the walls”… absolutely! One thing to add: it’s ability to cross platforms – you don’t just Twitter from your laptop or computer, but by text message, iPod Touch, etc. – is its most powerful element. With the age of the smartphone becoming a reality (Techradar: http://tinyurl.com/a3jj49), brevity is king.

    About celebrities being on microblogs… I think they’ll catch on, too. I’d love to see Marky Mark on Twitter as well. And someone should start a Christopher Walken and Chuck Norris quote machine on Twitter (if it’s not already been done! Must investigate.) I never liked Shaq before he came on Twitter… now with his personality shining through, I think he’s AWESOME. Twitter definitely broke down the walls between him and fans by the direct communication to us. Very cool.

  • http://socialbureaucrat.blogspot.com meznor

    Phil Baumann, re: Twitter “strips down the walls”… absolutely! One thing to add: it’s ability to cross platforms – you don’t just Twitter from your laptop or computer, but by text message, iPod Touch, etc. – is its most powerful element. With the age of the smartphone becoming a reality (Techradar: http://tinyurl.com/a3jj49), brevity is king.

    About celebrities being on microblogs… I think they’ll catch on, too. I’d love to see Marky Mark on Twitter as well. And someone should start a Christopher Walken and Chuck Norris quote machine on Twitter (if it’s not already been done! Must investigate.) I never liked Shaq before he came on Twitter… now with his personality shining through, I think he’s AWESOME. Twitter definitely broke down the walls between him and fans by the direct communication to us. Very cool.

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  • http://twitter.com/lisahickey Lisa Hickey

    I love the fact that Twitter works up and down the spectrum – celebrities can be seen as “real” people and real people can develop an almost instant feeling of celebrity status on Twitter. I think these two trends will collide in ways not yet imagined. It’s interesting that we as a society tend to follow celebrities from afar and “feel like” we know them. How will people deal with the fact that they might actually be able to have conversations with these celebs? And conversely, how will ordinary people deal with having hundreds or even thousands of people following them – much like a celebrity does? I honestly can’t wait to find out. Thanks Mark, for the thought-provoking post!

  • http://twitter.com/lisahickey Lisa Hickey

    I love the fact that Twitter works up and down the spectrum – celebrities can be seen as “real” people and real people can develop an almost instant feeling of celebrity status on Twitter. I think these two trends will collide in ways not yet imagined. It’s interesting that we as a society tend to follow celebrities from afar and “feel like” we know them. How will people deal with the fact that they might actually be able to have conversations with these celebs? And conversely, how will ordinary people deal with having hundreds or even thousands of people following them – much like a celebrity does? I honestly can’t wait to find out. Thanks Mark, for the thought-provoking post!

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    Well, the good thing is, these platforms allow for full self-selection and opt-in. I'll probably never follow celebrities, but I can choose to follow anyone that interests me, and ignore the rest – and vice-versa. Any legitimate form of self-expression and networking that drives social media adoption is probably a plus, in the long run.

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  • Vivian Dilberd

    Tweets will also present the level of your intelligence one way or the other. Well study and present on state policies and lifestyle your twitter posts will indicate it. Unaware and superficial it will also be obvious.