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Why Stephen Fry has ruined Twitter

Why Stephen Fry has ruined Twitter

The UK’s favourite celebrity intellectual heavyweight continues to feature on the guest list for many people’s fantasy dinner party dream team, and for good reason. Witty, clever, well–travelled and erudite, one suspects he is also dynamite company over a glass or two of red. But the inconsiderate popinjay has ruined Twitter for those us tasked with helping organisations use it strategically as part of the wider online marketing mix!

At least 3.8m people all over the world who conceded to the reality that he was never coming to dinner are now following him on Twitter. Whilst his early adoption of the platform meant that he was possibly the first big celebrity Twitterer (Tweeter?), his impressive followership is now dwarfed by Gaga’s 19m, Bieber’s 17m, Perry’s 14m, Shakira’s 13m. Obama is the highest–ranking political figure by some distance with a cool 12m; yes he can!

Fry’s success story with Twitter highlights one of the occupational hazards of being involved in digital media, namely that the headline typically portrays only some of the truth, and the full truth is much more nuanced and subtle than the caption.

Firstly a combination of his celebrity, experience and quality of his observations mean that he is ideally placed to use Twitter to keep in touch with all of his fans, and the occasional friend. Secondly and more importantly, you don’t need 3.8m followers, or even a lot of followers to make Twitter a success. For Fry it’s about his daily commentary and witticisms on life and its rich tapestry. For many businesses, the platform offers an exceptional opportunity to be part of knowledge networks.

In these networks, quality is regularly of much greater value than quantity.

I worked last year with a company who are involved in an industry which regularly carries out significant public consultation. In particular they were involved in a high profile project where public perception was negative towards their client and like so many of these situations, political expediency and posturing took the place of meaningful dialogue and engagement with the facts.

Their challenge was to influence their network and influence the influencers through thought leadership, published and propagated through social networks. They were able to identify by name all of the public figures, political representatives and media people who they wanted to engage within the network. The program of thought leadership blogging, genuine engagement with the network and updates forwarded on Twitter meant that within five months, over 90% of the people we had targeted to follow us on Twitter were doing so.

Clearly therefore the success of this campaign didn’t depend on trying to get 3.8m followers, it was about writing content, dealing with the issues and engaging as fairly as possible on the key issues. A year later, a number of important influencers in the process have changed their position on some key aspects of the project because of the quality of argument and the genuineness of the engagement. Many others are meeting the company face to face and wanting to hear their perspective on the challenges, because through social media the company earned that right.

In an entirely different business sector, Harry’s Restaurant on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal have nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter comprising food critics, chefs, customers, visitors and tourism bodies. Whilst the dynamics of their business are different, once again it is the quality of their content and the integrity of their public discourse which drives their social media success. The quality of the customer experience in the restaurant itself then becomes the catalyst to amplify the virtuous circle.

Don’t mistake the remarkable Mr Fry as the rule; online as well as offline he is every bit the exception. If you are a fledgling pop star, or even an aspiring Z list celeb then his approach to Twitter is exactly right. But for virtually every other business, marketing or communication challenge, a very different approach will get you the right results. At the very least, your Twitter success is much more likely to be based on the quality of your content and the integrity of your engagement than it is on the number of followers.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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