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Lee Stranahan

Lee Stranahan

Posted February 5, 2009 | 02:42 PM (EST)

Pssst! Ashton! Demi! You're Sorta Missing The Point Of Twitter!


Hey Ashton & Demi (or may I call you @aplusk and @MrsKutcher...)

First off, welcome to the virtual neighborhood. Twitter is a big place with a lot of people and you guys made a splash by complaining on Twitter about your real world, meatspace neighbor doing early morning construction. It made headlines, even here on Huffington Post and it let everyone on Twitter know you were in town.

So, boom! You have a lot of followers - people who are interested in what you have to say, so they decide to become a 'follower' to keep track of your comments. That's great and hardly a surprise since you're celebrities.

I can't help noticing, though, that you might not be getting all you can out of Twitter. Numbers don't lie; @aplusk, you have around 27,000 people following you but you're only following 40 people. @MrsKutcher, 18,000+ people follow you and you follow 31.

It looks kind of elitist at first glance - like you're too cool to follow the little people. But I don't think that's what is going on. You both seem cool enough for incredibly famous people, which is why I'm mentioning this to you.

Besides, appearances be damned. The real reason you should follow more people is that it's good for you.

My own experience on Twitter is that following a lot of people makes me smarter. It's like peering into the inner monologues of a couple of thousand people, including you two. And while it's neato to peer into the skulls of the Kutcher kinfolk, it's a lot more interesting to peer into a huge teeming swath of humanity - sharing achievements, losing jobs, raising kids, playing with new tech toys, going to restaurants, getting mad, talking dirty, sharing photos, talking business, arguing politics - and to jump into the river of life with my own little opinions and experiences, too.

(I'll admit...in some ways you're still a better man than I am, even though you're only following 40 people. I haven't been able to bring myself to peer into the skull of @FredDurst. But I read he directed a Dwight Yoakam video, so maybe he's okay.)

To make sure I'm not giving you bad advice, I spoke to famous tech blogger Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer). You guys should definitely follow him. He's a Twitter rock star, with over 55,500 followers right now. But - and this is my point - he FOLLOWS over 60,000 people.

"If you're only using Twitter to push things out, you're missing half the point", he says. "If your goal is to learn something, you need to follow people. But even if your goal is to have a lot of followers, following people makes you a better 'sifter'; someone who pick through what people are talking about and find interesting topics and threads."

Scoble mentions Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly) as someone who is good at sifting. A quick check shows that O'Reilly has 20,000 followers but that he follows a bit over 400 people. The ratio seems a bit out of proportion but if you think about it, 400 people will produce a fairly large number of thoughts and actions to have a front row seat for.

Besides, Scoble doesn't have a one size fits all approach to Twitter. "The only rule on Twitter is 'think in 140 characters'. Different people use it different ways, which is great. But you do control who you follow. You choose them. You have no control over who follows you."

Scoble also points out that some people just use Twitter as a one-way PR machine, what he calls 'a press release in 140 characters'. He gives the example of Barack Obama (@BarackObama), who used Twitter to pump out information during the campaign but wasn't engaged in conversations.

But @aplusk and @MrsKutcher, it doesn't seem like your goal is to just push out 140 character PR bursts. I've seen you engaged and talking to people. I didn't even think Ashton had anything to apologize for when he was Tweeting about the construction next door at 7am - that was a perfect use of Twitter and if you'd been someone obscure tweeting it, the community wouldn't have criticized it one bit.

I assume you're not following people just because you're new and don't know any better. That's cool; Twitter is deceptively simple. It takes a little while to really get it and then a while longer to develop a personal style or philosophy.

But take a look at our Twitter neighbor MC Hammer (@MCHammer) - 39,000 followers and a whopping 21,000 people he follows. He gets into conservations with people all the time. I saw Hammer at a party a few months ago, told him I was one of his Twitter followers and MC Hammer actually gave me one of those combination handshake / hug things that always make me painfully aware of how white I actually am.

And all this social media activity has actually given Hammer a lot of "Tweet Cred", too...in part because he wasn't trying to get credit but just wanted a back and forth dialog with people.

So I invite you to expand your own world and become real followers. Find people who are interesting and follow them. One idea is to start with the people that people you follow follow, if you follow me. You should be able to find a few hundred with no problem at all. Don't do the auto follow thing; pick and choose. Then just reach out and Tweet someone.

See you on the intertubes.

@Stranahan writes and tweets about politics, pop cultures, things he thinks are funny, stuff he blogs about, his family and posts occasional erotic art.