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I think that many people (myself included) that share sites like Twitter at conferences inadvertently do our attendees a disservice. In the effort of attempting to demonstrate how wonderful, simple, powerful and dynamic it is, we make it seem much more effortless than it really is.

For example… How many times per day do you see somebody say, “Give a shout out to the people in Nepal who are attending my presentation about social networks about using the Luge to teach physics!” And then 30-40 people reply with a hearty “Hello”. So attendees believe all it takes it to toss a tweet out there, and dozens of responses will pour in.

What isn’t necessarily shown, or may just be glossed over, is the fact that it takes TIME and EFFORT to gain a few hundred followers. And without having a critical mass of people to message out to, your odds of getting a response from a general tweet are VERY small. If you have 40 followers, more than likely none of them are actually online at the same time as you. And even if they are, who knows if they’re checking Twitter? And even if they are, who knows if they’ll see your tweet? And if they do, how many people will see it and ignore it, versus will see it and respond?

For example, if I send out a “Please give these folks a shout out” tweet, I expect maybe about 30-40 responses on a typical school day during normal hours. If it’s a weekend, or in the evening, you can cut that number in half. I currently have about 5000 followers. So at best, that’s less than 1%. At that rate, if you have 100 followers, could you realistically expect an instant response from even a single person? I’m not sure… It depends on who is following you.

That’s not to say that everyone should run out and get more followers. My point is simply, things aren’t necessarily as rosy and simple as we may make them seem during presentations.

I can’t tell you how many times I see a Twitter newbie who has under 50 followers throw out a request like, “I’m trying to find schools that have updated their AUP this year. If you know someone, please tell me.” Then when they don’t get any responses, they get frustrated and may wind up quitting. While I can’t address what may be an issue with persistence, I do think that person has set themselves up for failure.

I really do think you need to follow/be followed by about 100 people at the least for Twitter to begin to be valuable. If you have a dedicated, highly focused group, that number may be smaller, but in general I think that’s a fair ballpark. If you have less than that, you need to be much more aggressive to get responses.

A few suggestions for people who are new to Twitter or have relatively small audiences right now.

1) Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting a message out there multiple times. If you’re worried about looking like a spammer, reword it. Mention that your STILL looking for information. But it’s entirely possible that people didn’t see your message. So give them another chance. And yet another.

2) Ask some people directly to respond. If you send a tweet that includes @TheirUsername, more than likely they will see it. It may take a day or two before they look for personal replies, but most people WILL see it. Unless they have fairly strict privacy settings, it should work. So if there’s someone you think might be able to help you out, send it directly to them by using this feature.

3) Reach out to the hubs in your network. Let’s face it, some people have more followers than others. Maybe they do a lot of conferences, maybe they just have too much time on their hands. Regardless, they may have a longer reach than you do. So contact them directly and ask them to retweet it for you! I’m extremely grateful to have the audience that I do, and I’m happy to share them whenever someone asks. By doing this, you maybe be able to ensure that your request has been seen by a few thousand people instead of a few dozen. Doesn’t guarantee a response, but it does give you better odds.

Of course, the best solution in the long term is to build up your own community. The only real way to do that is to maintain your own presence, to reach out to others, and to follow people and give them the chance to follow you.

For those of you that do present sessions including Twitter, do you see the same thing happening? Is it just me or is this something you’ve experienced yourself? And if so, how do you address it?

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