It’s interesting that I read two things about buying Twitter publicity today: John C Dvorak’s experiment for PC Magazine and an interview with my classmate and friend Ken. The idea is that people buy Twitter followers to make themselves look bigger than they are, whether they’re celebrities trying to make themselves look like they’re on their way up rather than down, or, like the scam my friend discovered, indie book authors trying to build a following.
I have about 20 Twitter followers, and estimate about half are actually interested in my stuff, and the other half just hoped I’d reciprocate and follow them. My following came about long before Twitter, peaked long ago and has probably been treading water, at best, since about 2007, and social media like Twitter and Facebook haven’t really helped it grow much, but maybe they’ve helped replace some portion of the audience I’ve lost along the way.
That’s OK, because this is a hobby for me. While it might be nice to run a blog that gets 1,000-plus readers per hour, I’d really rather do security work during the day and write a little bit about it–or whatever else I feel like writing about–over lunch or at night.
I used to occasionally read a model railroad blog, and the guy who wrote it claimed he made a couple hundred dollars per month doing it. I thought that sounded pretty good, but he disappeared a year or two ago, which I find strange. I can understand stopping–life situations change, and sometimes you go through phases when you don’t have time to write and/or run out of ideas–but if that happens, why take your old content down? From 2007-2010 when I didn’t write much, and when I did write I was writing stuff that absolutely nobody cared about, I still made a few bucks per year on the old pre-2007 content. The most likely explanation is that he was exaggerating what he was making.
I get a fair bit of model railroading-related traffic through search engines, but it takes months for those posts to generate any significant traffic. My post from this morning, as I write, has gotten exactly seven hits. That means most of my everyday readers couldn’t care less about my trains, though in the long run, I benefit if I write about the subject whenever inspiration strikes.
I think the lesson there is that search engine traffic gives me much more benefit than social networking does, and it always has. The origins of this blog date back to the so-called Daynoters, which you can look at as an early form of social networking. A couple dozen people bought web space or stood up webservers and wrote whatever we felt like writing about, and communicated via e-mail. From the day I went live I had a good 40 visits just by default, but by the time I learned how to run traffic analysis on my site–probably a year or so after I started–I was getting more traffic from search engines than from anywhere else. That never changed.
What Ken found by trying to build a following on Twitter was that he ended up being part of a circular community that just followed each other at best, and more likely, pretended to follow one another and it never really turned into much of anything.
It sounds like many celebrities are finding the same thing, though on a larger scale. The question is whether they care about results or if they’re happy with raw numbers. But, like Dvorak says, is there any reason someone who isn’t in the public eye–like Ken or me–needs more than a few hundred followers? Probably not.
Sometimes I use Twitter when I’m watching a baseball game. I’ll turn the volume down and watch the chatter on Twitter because it tends to be a bit more enlightening than the sportscasters. It’s not a bad use of it, for me.
But aside from that, and accommodating the 10 or so people who want to use Twitter to keep track of me, I don’t have a whole lot of use for Twitter myself.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.