The power of social media: How one tweet to 1,500 followers can quickly spread to 7 million people

Tweet by @DeafGeoff

One tweet by @DeafGeoff, sent to 1,532 followers, was retweeted 4091 times and viewed by as many as seven million Twitter users.

April 20th is a day filled with lots of negative history — Adolf Hitler was born on the date in 1889; 19 men, women, and children died in the Ludlow Massacre during a 1914 Colorado coal-miners’ strike; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 13 (mostly students) and injured 24 more before committing suicide at Columbine High School in 1999; and two years ago BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and starting an oil spill lasting six months.

The only “holiday” that exists on 4/20 is an informal celebration of marijuana. The significance of 420 to pot-smokers is filled with myths about its origin (FYI, 420 is not a police code used for the drug) but most believe it started with California teenagers who met at 4:20 p.m. to find weed. Today, thousands of cannabis enthusiasts use April 20th to celebrate, smoke and (sometimes) hold political events calling for the legalization of non-medicinal marijuana.

With all of the above in mind on Friday, April 20, 2012, at 6:29 a.m. EST, I tweeted “I judge anyone who tweets ‘Happy 420’ today. It’s Hitler’s birthday and the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.” At the time, I had 1,532 followers on Twitter and slightly fewer Facebook friends.

When I posted it, “Happy 420” may have been trending, but the rest of the topics on Twitter were a hodgepodge of hashtags, news and Justin Bieber (though “Hitler’s birthday” and “Columbine” trended hours later). But my brief complaint about the glorification of a day that’s filled with tragedy, somehow, went viral. 24 hours later, my post was retweeted 4,091 times, copy/pasted by several hundred more, and responded to — angrily — by many who disagreed with me.

I assume the retweets mean those people agreed with me, and it was also favorited by 100+ users and I picked up about 85 new Twitter followers over the course of the day, too. I compared 20 at random, saw their numbers of followers and calculated they had an average of 1,724 followers each. (One person in the sample had 30,400 followers.) 1,724 times 4,091 is more than seven million, which means that my one tweet sent had been seen by as many as 7 million people in just one day, across several countries.

It’s an amazing example of how a small audience can quickly grow on the Internet thanks to the power of social media. Working in radio for a decade, one thing I learned is that more fans means more people who hate you. A musician with five million fans always has way more enemies than an independent filmmaker with five hundred fans, and that’s just a simple fact of life — you’re never going to please everyone.

Here’s a sample of some of the responses I received to my tweet:

  • “It’s not Hitler’s birthday” Yes, it is.
  • “All the more reason to toke up.” I’m sure that’s comforting to Jewish families with friends and relatives persecuted in the Holocaust, or to the parents of 12 children in Littleton, Colorado.
  • “Every day is filled with tragedy.” Yes, it is, but I would never say “Happy 8/6” because it sounds like you’re celebrating the day Hiroshima was bombed. I’ll wish someone a “Merry Christmas” because that’s an actual holiday, whereas “420” is not — it’s just a date, filled with more tragedy than most dates.
  • “Happy 420! LOL” Cute.
  • “4/20 is the day my ex proposed to me.”
  • “It’s Bob Marley’s birthday.” No, it’s not. Robert Nesta Marley was born Feb. 6, 1945 and died May 11, 1981.
  • “I wish you could hear yourself” and other disparaging remarks about my hearing loss were made, since my Twitter handle is @deafgeoff and I’m 90% deaf.
  • “Only God can judge me.” So can a court justice, Randy Jackson on “American Idol,” and anyone who’s ever had an opinion.
  • “It’s Earth Day” No, it’s not. Earth Day is April 22.
  • “Your dumb.” “Your retarded.” No response necessary.
  • I also got called “buzz kill,” “bitch,” “idiot,” “stupid,” “dumbass,” “Debbie Downer,” “amature” (I assume they meant “immature”) and a “morose maaffacka.”
  • “It’s my birthday.” It’s also the birthday of George Takei, Carmen Electra, Luther Vandross, Crispin Glover and Joey “Whoa!” Lawrence. I’m not arguing that people born on 4/20 shouldn’t celebrate their birth — if you say “Happy birthday Mr. Sulu!” I would never object. But “Happy 420” is an inappropriate sentiment because it means you’re celebrating the date itself, not an actual holiday.
  • “#UR2OLD4TWITTER” The average age of a Twitter user is 39 — I’m 28 years old. And that has nothing to do with anything.

I didn’t respond to these messages on Twitter, partly because they were coming in faster than I could, but mostly because there was no point in arguing with strangers who disagreed with me even if only to correct their grammar (or facts). I’m not begrudging people who partake in recreational drugs, either. I may have been overly harsh when I said “I judge,” but I just want real events to be respected, and not ignored at the expense of stoner glorification.

Steve Jobs’ lasting legacy isn’t ‘things’ – it’s iVision

Steve Jobs memorial at Apple store in Sydney, Australia.

Fans pay tribute with a Steve Jobs memorial outside an Apple store in Sydney, Australia.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer, the laptop, the mp3 player, the smartphone, or cloud-based storage. He didn’t create Pixar, the animation studio behind “Toy Story” and countless other beloved movies, and he didn’t come up with the idea of people paying to download music. But he had the vision to see the potential in all of them and make them unique, changing the world we live in.

The Mac computer line is simply that — a line of computers. They should be considered personal computers (because that’s what most people use them as) but Jobs kept their concept (and especially their marketing) so different and unique from Windows-operating systems that no one will ever call a MacBook a “PC.”

There were hundreds of MP3 players being designed at the turn of the millenium, but one emerged as “the” MP3 player: the iPod. First released in October 2001, it was just a white MP3 player with white earbuds, but the company’s genius ad campaign made it seem like the iPod was a completely different lifestyle. It wasn’t long before any other MP3 player was considered low-tech and the iPod defined the way we listened to digital music.

At the same time, Jobs’ vision helped make legal downloads of music a viable source of revenue — not just for Apple, but for the music industry itself. Napster and dozens of other P2P file-sharing sites like it changed the way users consume music to the point where we expected (and some still do expect) to get music for free, without even considering it “stealing.” But iTunes changed that too. Earlier this year, iTunes celebrated its 10 billionth music download — that’s music that we’re paying for, and 10 years ago it seemed impossible. But Jobs managed to spearhead a revolution that, to a degree, saved the music industry.

The iPhone was not the first “smartphone” either. But Jobs foresaw a future without physical keyboards, with beautiful screen displays, and with combining talking and surfing the Internet at the same time, he set the standard that all other smartphones compare themselves to. Android loyalists accuse Apple of making “new” features that have already existed, but that was Jobs’ power — he made everything seem unique, and fans ate it up.

No other smartphone gets as much hype, speculation, or anticipation as the iPhone. Rumors spread like crazy for each device, and everyone claims to know what the next one will look like and when it will come out. The media doesn’t do stories on any other product that doesn’t exist without facts or confirmed sources — except the iPhone.

Lastly, Jobs should be given a ton of credit for the iPad. At no time was anyone saying to themselves, “Hmm, I wish I had a computer that was smaller than a laptop but too big to fit in my pocket.” Yet the visionary then-CEO convinced the world that we needed tablet computers, and every other technology manufacturer followed suit — suddenly, millions thought they “needed” a tablet. And the iPad is now “the” tablet.

Jobs may be remembered most for all of the “things” he oversaw and helped create, but he should be remembered most for his vision. His iVision. All of the products he’s been a part of, it wasn’t the products themselves that were unique — it was Jobs that made us see them as unique. And therein lies the genius of his legacy.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” — Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech in 2005.

RIP Steve. (1955-2011)

8 obnoxious (but quick and easy) ways to improve your Klout score

Klout logo

Klout ranks social media users in influence with a score out of 100. Most people have less than a 50, but Justin Bieber has a 98. How can you catch up to him?

“How can I improve my Klout score?” For those not in the now, Klout is considered the foremost measurement of social media influence — I can’t go more than an hour or two without seeing someone whine about their Klout score. It mostly measures activity on Twitter, such as number of followers, retweets, clicks-from-links, mentions, and quality of who they “influence” but they also claim to look at Facebook, Google+ and other social networks.

While I applaud Klout for attempting to assign a numerical value to something that’s virtually impossible to assign a number to — influence — I think it’s ridiculous how concerned people have gotten over it. They go on vacation for 3 days and their score goes down, boohoo. My alma mater Syracuse University dropped from 2nd to 7th place on this year’s list of the “top 10 most influential colleges” and fellow alumni are having a coronary.

RELAX, people. Klout is not that important. (See: “Klout only matters if you say it does.“) But for those of you that are concerned with it, here are some tips — obnoxious, but quick and easy tips — to improve your Klout score:

1. Tweet a lot. A LOT.
One friend of mine currently has 2050 followers, follows 1484 people and has tweeted 12,110 times. Another friend has 526 followers, follows 1148 people and has tweeted 59257 times. You might assume the one with more followers has a higher Klout score, but nope — despite having only 1/4 as many followers, the second user has a Klout score of 64 while the first has a 61.

2. Follow a lot of people on Twitter.
In tip #1’s example you’ll notice both users follow roughly the same amount of people. Several blogs have claimed that the number of people you follow has no impact on your Klout score, that they just look at who follows and tweets you. Even if that’s not true, a lot of Twitter users still adopt the philosophy “if you follow me, I’ll follow you” so the more people you follow, the more will follow you. (Of course, following thousands of people isn’t ideal for a quality social media experience, as Chris Brogan learned way too late.)

3. Be “influential” about popular topics.
Klout’s decision about what you’re “influential” is always dubious (I love how @dagsly once gave me a +K for the Shaq Fu video game) but if you tweet about popular topics (i.e. Facebook privacy, Apple iPhone) then you’ll get more responses and be considered an influencer on those topics.

4. Participate in every Twitter chat you can.
There are tons of chats which happen every week on Twitter (such as #SEOchat, #blogchat, #cmgrchat) where people pump out 50 tweets an hour, including a lot of retweets.

5. Hijack every hashtag you can.
Most conferences and events (i.e. #SXSW, #140conf, #grammys) are easy to follow and, if you tweet them (whether you’re at the event or not), other people following the tag will likely see your posts and retweet/respond even if they don’t follow you. Do it with weekly events, such as #MusicMonday, #FollowFriday, #TravelTuesday.

6. Live-tweet everything.
Watching #Glee with another 10 million people? Post a reaction to every little thing. “OMG, Artie’s new glasses are sexy! #Glee” will likely get you a few responses and retweets. (Note: Live-tweeting laundry and household chores won’t work, unless your socks come to life and put on a show.)

7. Post inspirational and funny quotes.
Steal them from @iheartquotes, @quotations, or any site with Twitter-ready quotes. People are suckers for retweeting these. Accuracy and correct attributions matter little, as a fake MLK quote went viral after Osama Bin Laden’s death.

8. Start a fight.
Most social media gurus/experts/rockstars embrace the philosophy “respond to criticism before it becomes a PR nightmare,” so they’ve conditioned themselves to reply to any mention, especially the negative ones. Say something controversial and debatable (not “your face sucks”) and you can go back-and-forth tweeting for hours. Others will see the debate and chime in, too, and you’ve just boosted your number of @ replies.

If you think these tips are absurd, you’re right. But that’s my point — Klout scores are flawed and shouldn’t be used a yardstick for social media success. At least, not yet.

I’ll point out that Klout gives their own suggestions for improving your score — including signing up for a Klout account, which is ridiculous to bother with since they now measure 100 million users whether they have an account or not. I have a score, but I’ve never signed up for Klout — why would I? Really.

How many people REALLY watched the Royal Wedding? Analyzing the ‘estimates’ and cutting through the hype

Prince Wiliam and Kate Middleton kiss at Buckingham Palace, shortly after being married and named the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. How many people watched the royal wedding? Let's cut through the hype.


The New York Times estimated that 3 billion people (give or take 500 million) watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Really? Come on.

Let’s imagine for a minute that we’re “giving” 500 million to that number, which would mean 3.5 billion watched it — last I checked, there were just about 7 billion people on the planet, which would mean literally 1 out of every 2 people spent their Friday morning watching a wedding.

There’s a quick and easy way to prove that’s not true: Poll 20 people. Did 10 of them watch it? No. Even my girlfriend, who LOVES weddings, didn’t get up at 6 a.m. to watch.

America, who left England’s rule to get away from royalty 235 years ago, was strangely interested but not as much as the media would have you believe. Only 22.76 million Americans watched the wedding, according to Nielsen TV ratings. For frame of reference, “American Idol” is averaging 25.9 and 24.0 million viewers this season — at the height of its popularity three or four years ago, “Idol” averaged 35 million.

NME reports that, even in the UK, only 24.5 million people watched on terrestrial broadcasts. Including Internet coverage, that number is still less than 34 million — and this is in the only country that should care about the royal wedding, since it’s their prince and princess (or duke and duchess, whatever). More British people watched Princess Diana’s funeral, and even the 1966 World Cup.

Okay, so if we’re going to come anywhere close to 3 billion people worldwide, it’ll have to be from international Internet streaming — times have changed since the last royal wedding, and you can’t rely on TV ratings to get an accurate estimate of live events like this anymore.

Akamai, which provides approximately 20% of the Internet’s streaming traffic for 300 news sites like MSNBC, saw about 5.4 million viewers per minute at its peak. The 2010 World Cup averaged twice as much.

Granted, a lot of people did watch and the royal wedding did occupy all of Friday’s trending topics on Google, Twitter and Facebook — but it didn’t “break” the Internet, like Michael Jackson’s death did. Perhaps the media was leading the conversation too much, trying to convince people that what they were reporting on was an accurate representation of what their audiences actually cared about. Fox News even desperately wrote an article giving three reasons why you “should” care about the wedding.

When’s the last time someone told you that you should care about something actually made you care about it? People can make up their own minds to decide what they care about.

Ironically, a New York Times poll said only 6% of Americans truly cared about the royal wedding — the same source that estimated 3 billion people watched the ceremony. Lesson? Don’t believe the hype, and take everything you read with a grain of salt.

Note: I did, in fact, watch about 45 minutes of the wedding — including the weak first kiss. The horse-drawn carriage afterwards was fairy tale-esque, but let’s face it. At the end of the day, it was just a couple who met in college getting married.

Rear View Girls – ‘butt cam’ catches people staring at girls’ bottoms

“I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave…” Yes, it’s true, some men do blatantly stare at girls’ rear ends while others are more subtle about it. Two girls thought it’d be fun to capture the ogling on video – and then upload it to YouTube, of course, where it’s gotten over 5.5 million hits in just a week.

The girls — Reanin Johannink and Jess Gurunathan — are both actresses from New Zealand who executed this experiment in the streets of Los Angeles. Some interesting people were caught looking, including women and one Jesus-looking dude:

Clever, if not unoriginal, concept. Or is it?

You can clearly see a hole in her jeans where an obtrusive camera is shoved in. Don't they realize most people were probably staring at that, not her actual butt?

Issue #1 – Paradox. These girls are clearly the types that crave attention (just look at their Facebook pictures), so it seems surprising they’d want to call people out for giving it to them.

Issue #2 – Falsehood. While they are not unattractive girls, their best “assets” are certainly not behind them, so I don’t think most people are staring at their rear ends. In fact, when they’re on escalators and people have a good amount of time to notice, it’s clear that people are staring at the huge hole in the back of her jeans and the obvious lumpy camera back there.

Also, the “Behind The Scenes” video shows the Rear View Girls setting up the camera with some mirror shots of her jeans, which clearly have a camera in it. I’m also willing to bet that they cut out a lot of shots of people actually asking “what is that in your pants?” or “honey, do you know that there’s a hole in your jeans?”

Prediction? These Auckland girls want to be on a U.S. reality show. And they’ll get it.

Update: After 7 million views in just 10 days on YouTube, the video was removed. Apparently it was an ad (without being an ad) for Levi’s Jeans, but the company was upset at the negative side of the controversy this video had sparked.

All’s vanity: 8 self-indulgent websites that feed your ego

You’re so vain, you probably think this blog’s about you. This time, you might be right.

According to MSN, today’s college students would rather be praised than have food, money or sex. So it comes as no surprise that the hottest thing on the Internet are vanity sites that serve little purpose save for a cheap ego massage. Here’s eight sites that’ll do just that.

About.me is a business card-like monument to vanity.

1. About.me
A site for the especially narcissistic, About.me lets you fill the screen with a huge photo of yourself. Add a super-short bio and some links to your Twitter and Facebook, and boom, you’ve basically just posted a giant business card. However, a smarter and more useful business card would be your actual blog or site.

[Pictured: Lauralie Lee, who claims she’s “more than just a pretty face.”]

2. Facto
Is one of your ears bigger than the other? Do you have a hidden talent for karaoke? This is the site where you post random facts about yourself, if for no other reason than to talk about yourself.

3. Klout
You have Twitter, and you have 4,978 followers. You might think that makes you pretty cool, but you’re following 6,239 people. Most people that are following you are probably just following you back out of “you follow me, I’ll follow you” blind courtesy. But you still want to know just how influential you really are, and Klout analyzes your Twitter profile and gives you a score. It doesn’t do much more than that, but it’ll certainly give you a pat on the back.

4. Who Gives A Tweet?
Maybe you don’t care about influence, and you just want someone to tell you that you’re funny. Who Gives A Tweet? won’t tell you who cares, but they will let users rate your 140-character posts on a scale from completely useless to totally worth reading.

5. Formspring
You have a lot of secrets that you bet people are just dying to ask you. Well, put your money on the table. Formspring lets anonymous people ask you questions about anything – usually about yourself. So, in other words, you get to answer questions by talking about yourself.

6. Quora
Sort of a Q&A version of Wikipedia, Quora is a strange cousin of Formspring and Ask.com. The interesting difference is that non-experts get more of an opportunity to pretend they’re experts and answer questions that they might have no background on. Quora has recently gotten a lot of attention, but the buzz will die out once people realize the site serves no useful purpose.

7. Foursquare
Ugh, Foursquare. Businesses and brands love the idea of people “checking in” to their location because every check-in is like a little shout-out for their products. I see the advantage for companies to use it for promotions, but I don’t understand why people enjoy it, because they’re basically endorsing them without compensation. However, there is one fun activity that feeds a hungry ego – badges. If you check in enough times someplace, you can be “mayor” and brag to all your friends.

8. Three Words
Ask your friends to describe you in three words. Even if they’re not using nice words, they’re still talking about you, and isn’t that the point of any of these sites? To have people talking to you and about you. Still, it’d be nice if someone wrote “I love you.”

Happy Internetting, you egomaniacs.

Verizon iPhone 4 will come out… STOP. STOP posting ‘confirmations’ based on unnamed sources and rumors.

Stop spreading wild rumors, people. We’ve been hearing about the Verizon iPhone for over two years and, despite all the “confirmations” we’ve heard over that time period, there still is NO Verizon iPhone.

Yet still people, even respectable news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, spread bogus reports based on hearsay and “leaked” photos from “unnamed sources.”

The latest rumor is that the Verizon iPhone 4 will be coming out on February 3rd, 2011, and that Verizon will be announcing it on Tuesday. What’s the basis? Two things:

1. There is a “rumor” from “unnamed sources” that Verizon employees have been told they cannot take a vacation between February 3rd-6th. The implication is that there’d be a major launch of a product during that time period. However, this is a rumor, and ANY major product could be launched during that time period. Hell, they could just be starting employee training on how to stop spreading stupid lies about the Verizon iPhone. And the “unnamed source” could be a homeless guy named Jim.

2. Verizon has sent an invitation to various bloggers and media outlets to a press conference in New York City on January 11th. What does this mean? Nothing. They could be announcing 5G, or the first Wi-Fi service on the moon, or anything. The invitation says “Join us as we share the latest news from Verizon Wireless.” The news could be that a new CEO is being hired, or anything internal or financial.

It’s bad enough that if someone jokes on Twitter that a D-list celebrity from 1993 has died, everyone believes it and spreads it until said celebrity, who hasn’t done anything famous or noteworthy in 15 years, has to make a statement saying they’re still alive. How embarrassing.

So, please – stop posting “confirmations” based on sources and rumors.

I’ll believe the Verizon iPhone is coming when a) Verizon or Apple themselves actually announce it, and b) when it’s actually in a freakin’ store. Until then, I’ll just enjoy my AT&T iPhone.