Shaquille Oâ€™Nealâ€™s embrace of Twitter as a way to connect with his fans got me thinking â€“ what would the Twitterverse be like if it were not dominated by geeks? People who arenâ€™t geeks, geek wannabes, or geek fans more than likely havenâ€™t heard of Twitter. But at some point that will change. The conversational technology and vision of Twitter has created a simple, logical, and useful way for people and their ideas to connect. Whether it is Twitter per se, or a competing or successor service, at some point the Twitterverse will be dominated by non-geeks.
Perusing the most followed individual people on Twitter, however, it is obvious that most of them are gearheads â€“ the list includes everyone from cewebrities like Leo Laporte, startup whiz kids like Kevin Rose, personalities like Justine Ezarik, reporters like Veronica Belmont, and analysts like Jeremiah Owyang. This pattern holds true well down into the bottom of the Top 100 list, with names like Fred Wilson, Brian Solis, and Jeff Pulver appearing. Many initial Twitter users knew who these people were. But now, the average new Twitter user has probably never heard of any of these â€œmost popular people on Twitter.â€
The fact that geeks dominate the most followed list is not so much because they add tremendous value and engage in great conversations (though some do), but rather a consequence of people in the tech community being aware of Twitter before most anyone else, self-organizing a hierarchy, and talking amongst themselves. But I suspect that this â€˜geekdominanceâ€™ will not last too much longer â€“ frankly, many people in the Twitterholic Top 100 are not that interesting to the average person. So who will be the LEDs to their light bulbs?
Mainstream journalists and other media personalities are certainly beginning to understand the power of social technologies like Twitter. Rick Sanchez of CNN has nearly 34,000 followers. Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC also hold respectable positions among the most followed people. Average people can relate to mainstream media personalities, and these personalities tend to add value through their reporting or opinions. To be sure, mainstream media will begin to use Twitter more and more effectively; Clayton Morris from FNCâ€™s Fox & Friends Weekend is a great example, posing questions to the home audience during the show and genuinely engaging in conversations about topics. Locally in Washington DC, Fox 5 anchor Brian Bolter uses Twitter frequently and even during his broadcasts (see this and this two minutes later in order to get ideas for stories, advertise upcoming coverage, and just to chat with people.
Who else? I think that the big, mainstream trend among Twitter users in 2009 will be interacting with â€œreal celebritiesâ€ using this and other tools to directly connect with fans and exhibit their personalities and daily lives. Shaq is the perfect person to bring the advantages of social technology to a more mainstream audience. As his popularity on Twitter is perhaps unprescedented â€“ heâ€™s accumulated over 14,000 followers in well less than a month. But also notable among the most followed Twitter users are Shaqâ€™s â€œprecursorsâ€ MC Hammer and Dave Matthews. Using social technologies will not work for all celebrities, to be sure â€“ celebrities who are very shy, or stalker-prone, or boring, and so forth are not naturals for this medium. Some notables have crashed and burned. But I can think of many interesting, well-known people whom I would like to become more ambiently aware of â€“ letâ€™s just start with Tom Green, Conan Oâ€™Brian, Ben Folds, Rivers Cuomo, Keith Richards, Jim Gaffigan, Dolph Lundgren, Christopher Hitchens, Paris Hilton, Prince William, Dave Chappelle, Victoria Zdrok, Eminem, Brad Pitt, Bam Margera, Natalie Portman, James Woods, Kristin Wiig, Megan Fox, Kevin Smith, Kevin Bacon, Quentin Tarantino, Mark Wahlberg, Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Anthony Bourdain, Madonna, Leo DiCaprio, Tom Wolfe, Hugh Hefner, Winona Rider, and Flight of the Conchords.
But ultimately, I think that the real winner is you. If your words are compelling, if you add value to conversations, people will listen to you, talk with you, and chat about you. Whether you plan it or not, you will build a personal brand â€“ and I think personal brands are great for entrepreneurial personalities. Jim Long, a Washington DC-based cameraman for NBC, is also on the most-followed list. Why? Not because heâ€™s a celebrity. Because he is a nice person with a cool job that takes him to interesting locations, and he has embraced Twitter as a great way to interact with people. Gary Vaynerchuk, a wine expert, uses the force of his personality and intellect to evangelize about his wine business and other topics he is passionate about. These two people, and many more less well known, use Twitter to execute against their resume, to enhance what they already do using new social technologies. And if you have interesting things to say, you can do it too.
Dr. Mark Drapeau is a biological scientist, government consultant, and writer for Mashable.com and other venues. These views are entirely his own and do not represent the official views of any organization.
Photo credit, T. Young