When Twitter started to gain prominence more than ten years ago, I did not find it relevant. It was just another social media platform coming up after Facebook which had already gained some reasonable acceptance.

One social media network was enough for me.

My primary use of social media was to keep up with people I knew. All my Facebook friends were people I knew, and consequently, I would also follow the people I know on Twitter. Because the majority of my real-life friends were not active on Twitter, I did not find it very useful at the time.

Currently, people are mostly on Twitter to access news, politics, and entertainment. Some are there to learn, and others to do business. With this, Twitter still provides a captive audience for anyone with a cause to share. For a long time, the most influential people would-be politicians, media personalities and people in the entertainment industry.

Professional influencers

With time, people realized that they can establish a career on social media by building a huge following and using their newfound influence to make a living. Usually, people organize themselves into ‘circles of influencers’ and then work to promote certain causes, paid or unpaid.

For instance, if you want to promote an idea in Kenya today, the easiest way is to get a social media influencer who will push forward your hashtag and get it to trend. Your paid influencer could be a college student with a sizeable number of followers, who also knows other people that will jointly help push your agenda forward and get more impressions.

Getting social media followers

When people realized that the number of impressions is a function of the number of followers one has, this resulted in activities that are meant to grow the number of followers.

These activities include follow trains, where one participates in sharing their twitter handles where people mutually follow one another. Although this is against Twitter’s Terms and Conditions, it is still very popular. Several people have used this strategy in Kenya to gain a massive following on Twitter.

Some people sell Twitter followers. You pay some money, and your account will get followers. Usually, these are like dead followers with no interest in your content, and hence they will never engage with your content. However, those after such followers want to use their number of followers to create the impression that they are popular and worth following.

Even when one loses their Twitter account, perhaps due to the violation of T&C, they can rebuild their account by teaming up with other people to promote their new accounts.

We often see hashtags from influencers that are used to help rebuild the account of their own that has been suspended.

Guns for hire

Using such influencers, it is possible to push forth any narrative, whether true or false, by paying people who will give your side of the story. Once a conversation attains a critical mass of people on social media, it ends up being picked by mainstream news channels and other sources. This has been useful in initiating conversations that are useful to the society but has also been abused in many ways.

Paid influencers are like mercenaries for hire. They will drive forth any conversation or ideology as long as you pay them. No wonder we keep seeing hashtags in support of corrupt individuals trending all the time. In the same manner, we have seen character assassinations and online trolls being used to ‘kill’
other people's careers or just tarnish reputations.

Even corporates have been bullied on Twitter, sometimes being forced to act not out of principle or their own rules, but to please angry people.

Followers vs Relevance

For some, their social media strategy seems to be ‘get followers first, and then find relevance after that.’

With the commercial value and relevance that is attached to impressions, some people will do what it takes to get the followers and be influential, or at least appear influential. However, this crave for followers is what makes the platform unfriendly.

Conversations become murky when you talk to strangers because it is hard replying to people when you do not have sufficient background context and limited to only 280 characters.

No wonder Twitter seems to be full of angry people and lynch mobs, and even reasonable people seem to lose it many times when they communicate on Twitter.
However, some people have made Twitter their digital residence and can sustain conversations and quarrels every day. They will wake up to promote A, defend B, and discuss C. These are people who have made Twitter their career, while the majority of other users are those who peep in randomly during the day and log out as soon as possible to return to productivity.

It is mostly Twitter natives who drive conversations on the platform.

Next time you engage in a conversation on Twitter, bear in mind that you are talking to people like you, but also to people who do not care about anything but what they have been paid to promote that morning. When you face the wrath of an angry tweep, remember it may not make sense to do a detailed defense in 280 characters.

Perhaps, you should not take social media very seriously.

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