So, I’m on Twitter. I really like Twitter. It’s like I’m at the biggest, funniest, nerdiest, most politically incisive party in the world. I’m not super-active; I tweet a couple of times a day at most, generally less. More often, I quietly follow along, enjoying the conversations and finding out what’s happening, and what’s being talked about, by the people I’m interested in, and the communities I consider myself a part of.
Needless to say, it’s a rare day that anyone else is particularly interested in what I have to say on Twitter. The most notable thing I’ve ever said might have gotten a handful of favourites or retweets. Which was gratifying, and frankly constituted more attention than I would have expected, given my low profile. I want to make this quite clear: I’m not complaining about not being a Twitter celebrity! I’m just setting the stage: I don’t do a whole lot on Twitter, and most of what I do quite understandably passes under the radar.
One of the people I follow on Twitter is Neil Gaiman, because why wouldn’t I? And, of course, I’m hardly alone in that. Over two million people follow him on Twitter. Websites he draws attention to crash under the sudden rush of visits from his fans — people even call it the Gaiman Effect. Neil Gaiman is a bona fide celebrity, on Twitter and in what we used to call real life.
And one fine day, Neil Gaiman was pondering what to do about his beard. On Twitter.
I mean, I personally would not crowdsource my grooming decisions, but he’s been a lot more in the public eye for a lot longer than me. Presumably he knows what he’s doing, and who am I to judge?
Regardless, I chimed in:
Then this happened:
Yeah, and then my mentions basically exploded.
Because that tweet, as you can see, included both a retweet of my original comment and my Twitter handle, I was notified of all the follow-up activity involving it — retweets, favourites and replies.
It got a lot of ’em.
By the time it was all done, Neil Gaiman’s tweet had been retweeted 21 times, favourited 108 times, and there had been at least 15 replies that included my Twitter handle (and many more that hadn’t).
So, I got retweeted! By an actual celebrity! Two million people saw my witticism! Did they rush to find out more about me? Did I soak up Neil Gaiman’s reflected glory? Am I vicariously internet famous now?
Nope. As far as I can tell, I didn’t pick up a single new Twitter follower from that exchange. And I don’t think anyone followed the links back through my profile to my blog (I have low enough traffic that I would have noticed, believe me).
Now, this doesn’t surprise me, not at all. All the attention that Neil Gaiman’s tweet got was from people who were responding to, interacting with, him. My comment was really just a springboard. There was no reason for people to pay any particular further attention to me. They didn’t, and I wouldn’t have expected them to. It was cool and fun, and that would have been enough.
But also, and more importantly, it turned out to be instructive.
Here’s what I learned: Being mildly clever on Twitter, enough to get a retweet from someone very clever who is also popular and beloved, is not itself, as a one-off, enough to make you internet famous.
Here’s what else I learned: The level of attention that one tweet got? That must be what it’s like to be Neil Gaiman online all the time. Or Wil Wheaton. Or insert-your-internet-savvy-social-media-using-celebrity-of-choice.
I don’t know how they do it. How can you use Twitter, or any other platform, if everything you post gets that much of a response, even when it’s all positive? I don’t know how you engage with that, how you decide who to reply to or how, how you find any signal in the constant adoring noise.
There are times I’m quite glad not to be famous, and this is one reason why. I don’t really have the time to be a whole lot more present on Twitter than I am now. I literally couldn’t handle it if my every online utterance got even a fraction of that level of attention.
I mean sure, okay, I wouldn’t say no to being a little more famous. Also, richer, and hey, it would be great to be able to eat all the pie I want and never gain any weight. But!
But until “be famous on Twitter” is part of my job description — until I achieve enough success as a writer that managing my social media activity merits the investment of a lot more of the time and energy that nerdlebrity clearly requires — a low, easily-managed profile is exactly my speed.
I stand by what I said, by the way: That hair is a couple of steps past “romantic poet” and skirting “unkempt”. Dude needs a trim.
COMING UP NEXT: My belated thoughts on Chapter 2 of Ulysses. Also, a new feature debuts Monday, August 11!