For those who don’t know it, I have a Twitter presence (@duanegundrum). It’s not extremely popular, and I’m lucky if I get a “like” here or there. Mostly, it’s me ranting or making jokes, and no one in the world knowing the difference. As a writer, I have about 5,000 followers. I follow about 500 people. Not great, but not bad either.
At the same time, someone like Kim Kardassian has 54 million followers. She only follows 104 people. Compare that to the most popular writer in the world, Stephen King, who has 3.48 million followers (and follows 63 people). If you go through the lists of really famous people, they tend to have millions of followers and really don’t follow anyone else. In case you haven’t figured it out, they use Twitter as a megaphone, not a tool to communicate with their followers.
When Twitter came about, the idea was that it would be a great place for celebrities to communicate with their fans. But instead of actually “communicate”, they pontificate and there’s little communication that takes place. To make sense of that, you have to understand what communication means to begin with.
Communication, as explained by professors today, involves information exchange between at least two entities. But what’s important about that model is that it’s not just one side speaking to a listener. It’s an exchange of information, so that the receiver then becomes the transmitter and the process continues until the channel is finally closed. In other words, a telephone is used for communicating; a television is not.
When I got involved in Twitter in the early days, I had about 25 followers. They were mainly friends of mine. Over the years, fans and acquaintances joined those numbers, and now I have about 5k, which is a larger number than most people who aren’t straight out celebrities. But part of the “drug” of social media is the desire to constantly improve those numbers so that more people are listening to you or (in my case) having a conversation with you.
There are few people on Twitter I’ve come across who are actual convervationalists. They write stuff, and they respond to stuff. Generally, they have a lot of people who they follow. Others tend to have fewer people they follow but they respond quite often to people who respond to them (which is actually a pretty healthy conversation). George Takei (of Star Trek fame) is one I’d consider in this category (@GeorgeTakei, 2.44 million followers and follows 643 people).
This has often left me wondering how to break into this category of actually making my voice heard. And then I reached a crappy conclusion as an event occurred that I didn’t even realize was happening to me.
I often respond to celebrity posts that are of interest to me, specifically anything that is communication-related, political, or involves writing topics. One pretty famous celebrity (known for his role as one of the current crop of superheroes) posted something about media, and I responded with a Twitter message, basically pointing out how certain messages are put forth by media outlets by using specific phrases, like “some people say”, which is a common vernacular of “Fox News”, brought up often by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show during his years heading that show. The celebrity responded with something like “that’s like what they do on Fox News”, as if it was a new insight. That response received no small number of “likes” from his fan base.
So, since then, I’ve been receiving nonstop “like” notifications of his response while not a single one of them has actually come across from my actual post, meaning that the likes weren’t for the idea but for the fact that someone famous repeated it after me. It’s like the old infamous adage in the science community of how a great idea is irrelevant; communicating it, however, is what’s more important.
So, for all of you out there trying to get your voices heard, this is somewhat of a sobering thought. You can have the greatest ideas and insights that have ever existed, but if you don’t have a megaphone to let anyone know, your idea will never be heard. McLuhan’s idea of “the medium is the message” couldn’t be more significant than today because it may be the only way you will ever be heard. And with all of the noise of Kardassians and reality star driven, your chance of being heard is only going to get that much harder.