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Twitter Lists Have Finally Arrived For All. Big Ego Boost Or Real Value?

1 November 2009 Ken Yeung No Comment

@thekenyeung's Twitter ListsI guess I was one of the lucky ones. It seemed that once Twitter lists rolled out for one of the first small percentage of Twitter users, I got selected as one of them. I thought Twitter lists were pretty cool, but outdated because other applications like Tweetdeck, Seesmic Desktop and Brizzly had already come up with groupings. But then I looked a bit closer and saw that through Twitter’s list system, you’re able to promote it publicly – something that couldn’t be done by any application using Twitter’s API.

So I played around with Twitter lists and got them set up and explored it a little bit. It has some value to it. And then it struck me: Twitter lists can definitely help in getting things organized.

No, I’m not talking about organizing your lists. Rather, if you’re trying to reach out to influencers, what better way for you to keep track of who you might lump into this category by adding him or her to that list. You can either publicize it or keep it private, but you’ll be able to monitor what they tweet about – almost like it’s a separate Twitter timeline. Moreover, if you’re working in an agency or as a service provider, you might want to keep a tab of people such as those who may have iPhones or perhaps are part of the media or startup founders – it’s almost like Twitter’s letting you “tag” select people that you can monitor without seeing the noise of all your other Twitter folks.

Twitter lists can have a lot of power in getting yourself access to information. I’m starting to use Twitter lists more as a means to segment people who I’d like to reach out to if I need any help with anything. For example, I’ve created a photographer list to show me the folks who I follow or know are photographers – that way if I have any questions about camera equipment or how to shoot a specific subject, I can reach out to one of them. The same can go for if I want to find out who in my group I consider to be technology influencers – that way I can easily recall names without having to individually recall names for people.

Interestingly enough, there are some people who think Twitter lists are nothing but a popularity feature on Twitter. I’m not saying their wrong, nor am I saying they’re right…but they raise some good points – possibly about the ego and narcissism of social media? Take this excerpt from marketing thought-leader and my friend, Chris Brogan:

I just took a look into creating my first ever Twitter list. I’m listed on over 1500 at this writing, so I figured I’d give it a go. Immediately, I realized what I’m not going to like about them: they will exclude people…In talking with friends about it on Twitter, people immediately started DM-ing me, telling me that they felt left out or even LESS important because they weren’t on any lists.

So Brogan’s point here is that Twitter lists create a class system in social media that pretty much erases any thought about that all people are equal in the realm of the Internet.  I think he has a point…it does. But this is not about exclusion. It’s about the fact that you shouldn’t be all about the status when it comes to social media. Do something amazing and people will recognize you for it. Not everyone in the world can be put on lists. If you were put on a list, what are the odds that you’d appreciate the list that you’re on? There’s a list for the “cool people” and there’s a list of the “common people” that a majority of the world will be on. Or, would you rather be in the “poor people” list? You’re on a list…so it’s not exclusionary. Forcing your way onto a list called “social media thought leaders” or something to which you may or may not be, isn’t the smart way to do things.

I think technology & Rackspace hosting evangelist, Robert Scoble, puts it best in:

I can’t STAND this attitude that everyone should be included in everything.

I should NOT be on a list of golfing greats. Heck, I’ve never even played the game, but let’s say I played. Are you KIDDING ME by saying I should be mentioned in the same breath as Tiger Woods?

I’m not on my Venture Capitalists list either. Should I be included in that list? NOOOOO! First, I don’t have the money. Second of all, I don’t invest in companies. I SHOULD BE EXCLUDED from such a list and being excluded from such a list does NOT make me feel bad.

Oh, I didn’t make my Web Innovators list either. Come, now, is writing about the web innovative? No. I don’t deserve to be on that list. Damn it.

Sorry Chris, but life isn’t fair. Steve Gillmor tells me all the time I’m not in control of how people view me. That’s why I don’t feel bad about lists I’m not on.

Marketers should realize that while getting on a list created by an influencer or perhaps by the majority of Twitter users can be a big boost, but what you also have to realize it that this strategy may backfire. Please don’t engage in Twitter outreach to get your brand, company or client on people’s lists. Instead, focus on using social media to conversate with your audience and if people think you’re doing a great job, then you’ll eventually start making lists and your “popularity” in social media will start to take off. It takes time.

Scoble makes a great point in that life isn’t fair. Do you complain that your list doesn’t make the Business Journal’s book of lists or perhaps if your book doesn’t make the New York Times Bestseller’s list? I’m angry that my blog hasn’t made the AdAge Power 150, but then again, I don’t really care because there are a lot of thought leaders and until I truly “make my bones” and do something truly outstanding and get more readers here to my blog, I won’t be there. Things don’t happen overnight and I appreciate the readers that I have now and am in a good spot.

Brogan also makes a great point: it’s all exclusionary. You can’t be friends with everyone – nor should you be. We all need to be exclusionary when it comes to who we converse with in social media. Otherwise there’s going to be a lot of noise that we’re never going to overcome. Oh, and I’m extremely grateful that I’m considered a rockstar by Brogan, to which I have a banner on this blog. But if I weren’t on that list, I don’t think I’d be that upset…

Instead of paying attention to your status online – number of followers, what lists you’re on, how many subscribers you have, number of diggs, etc – focus on your brand, messaging, conversations and relationships with your customers. That should be the most important thing for you to judge your status on.

Ken Yeung is a interactive strategist, project manager, and tech journalist. He's currently a Strategy and Research Content Lead at Orange Silicon Valley. Previously, he was the Bay Area Reporter for The Next Web, the Editor-in-Chief of Bub.blicio.us and a correspondent for Network Solutions' small business blog. These words are his own and not of his employer.