Thursday, July 2, 2009

Communities of reciprocity and Twitter

Just seen the following on the BBC website...

BBC NEWS | Technology | Twitter followers 'can be bought':
"Twitter users who lack an audience for their messages can now buy followers.

Australian social media marketing company uSocial is offering a paid service that finds followers for users of the micro-blogging service."
Oh, good grief... buying followers? Hmmmm...

Actually, this has got me thinking. There seem to be three main ways in which Twitter is used:

1. Those who see it as a consumption-only medium: happy to follow but rarely contribute directly... primarily following celebs etc
2. Those who see it as a community of reciprocity: sharing, retweeting and commenting
3. Those who see it as a broadcast-only medium: collecting followers, but rarely interacting with them... primarily using it as a means to transmit their message

There are people who seem to flit between the three main groups above but I think that people / organisations tend to broadly fit into one of the above. I suppose there's a fourth way in which it's used - as a 'because others are using it' choice. However, these people rarely if ever post updates or add followers and eventually the account lies dormant and the service is declared 'pointless'. For me, however, the way it works most effectively is in the middle - the community of reciprocity. You build up an idea of the person behind the account through the way they behave. The way they interact. The way they involve and share. For those people, a network can't be bought... it's sought out and / or earned.

I was thinking that this idea of online communities of reciprocity relates to why online communities do or don't work as well. It's not enough to say that an online community is automatically a 'community of practice' just because someone has set it up to be so (I've attended several conferences / talks where the talk was of communities of practice and all they actually meant was that they'd set up some online forums). Without the recipricous element, it is a sterile place to be and the potential for longevity isn't (I would guess) as powerful.

You can buy your Twitter followers if you want... it won't necessarily buy an engaged set of followers. I wonder how effective services such as uSocial will be and what the quality will be like for those who pay for it??
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