“The Nightingale” is a story by Hans Christian Andersen, one of my favorite fairy tales when I was a kid. It’s about a Chinese emperor who discovers the true value of authenticity, and the short-lived illusory satisfaction of mechanical lifeless substitutes. He basically gives away the affection of a real nightingale, in favor of a bejeweled machine he could control and own completely. When the (overused) metal bird ceases to work, and the emperor falls ill on his death-bed, the “ugly” free bird comes back to sing and heal him with the sincerity and wonder in her voice, but, most of all – I think -, with her forgiveness, pure love and wisdom.
Like in this beautiful story, tweeps learned quickly that automating the Twitter experience is easy and less expensive than a personal approach, and the results are satisfactory. You can put your Twitter on autopilot almost effortlessly – tweet, follow, unfollow, reply, DM, you name it. Everything can get sorted out automatically on Twitter with some twists of key, growing the flock of chirps. Nonetheless, Twitter has gotten quite swampy with junk. Everybody wants followers, so they pour content, use techniques suggested by Twitter “gurus”, and, overall, distort the meaning of social media by trying to control it and make it work just for their own benefit. However, anything social involves people, and, sooner or later, they will prove that control is what they (consciously or not) allow.
People may be imperfect, and not as effective as machines, but, at the end of the day, on Twitter, as in life, the real connections with real people are what counts. What good is to have thousands of followers that do not care about you, what you do, or even what you post. What is the value of “followers” that see in you just another unit in their own “follower” count? What is the value of a polite message that gets sent to each new “follower” while you don’t even read their 160-character bio? What is the value of a long stream of exclusive self-promotion?
Numbers may grow, but numbers are not people, and only people take true meaningful action. In the end, people buy your product or service, they want to be informed about what’s new in your life, they want to joke and laugh with you, share their passions with you, and they can feel special when you address them in a thoughtful personal way. Machines can’t do any of that. Machines will pump up numbers, but numbers alone are not a guarantee for anything. Dealing with people is more difficult, slow and intimidating; dealing with Twitter machines is just annoying – you know you’re not truly getting anything back.
Maybe it’s more useful to know what your buddy ate for breakfast, than what someone you only follow because they follow back is selling. Maybe it’s more useful to say how you feel about something, than spreading the news about Beyoncé’s baby bump.
Trust me, when you’re not well, not marketeers or Beyoncé will care (or even come visit you). People will.