Getting Twitter Followers: What Works and What Doesn’t

This post is the first of a series reviewing the multitude of products and services that promise to get you thousands of Twitter followers.

If you’ve used any of these services and want to share your experience please send me an e-mail or leave a comment HERE

Next post in the series:

I must admit I first joined Twitter looking to publicize my posts. As a beginner in the blogging world, I was struggling to generate traffic. Experts will tell you that as time passes your audience will slowly build up, but I was impatient, and Twitter seemed the perfect vehicle to attract readers: I just had to broadcast the title of my post and those who found the topic interesting would click on the link.

I first joined Twitter looking to

After a couple of months on Twitter, I had become a devotee of the site for very different reasons. I had found several personal-finance bloggers whose posts I now read assiduously -such as @MoneyEnergy or @fiscalgeek. I was also talking regularly with people whose interests had nothing to do with my blog: new moms, college students, photographers. And I was enjoying every minute of it.

Having met just one of these people would have made my Twitter adventure worthwhile. But while I still wanted to drive traffic to my blog, I had less than 400 followers -hardly enough to get more than a couple of visits whenever I announced a new blog post.

I decided at that point to do something about it, and started researching the best way to add followers to my account. In the process I discovered several things:

  • Most of the programs promising to bring in hundreds of followers are completely ineffective or downright scams -they just want to get your email address and have no intention of actually getting anybody to follow you.

  • There’s a big difference between bringing in untargeted followers -which are relatively easy to get, but may not be at all interested in what you have to say- and targeted ones.

  • As appealing as having thousands of followers seemed to me in the beginning, sometimes I doubt it’s really worth it. At some point it becomes difficult to keep conversations -you feel overwhelmed, in the middle of a crowd where everybody tries to talk on top of each other.

This post is an introduction to a series where I want to review the services I’ve used to increase the number of followers in my account. If you’ve ever used any of them -whether you still have those followers or have resorted to unfollowing 90% of them, as I’ve seen some people do when trying to keep up becomes too hard-, your contribution would be very useful to other readers looking to increase their Twitter following. Please consider writing a comment to this post or e-mailing me directly to share your experience.

And remember to come back tomorrow to read the first review.

TALKBACK

  • Have you tried to get more people to follow you on Twitter?

  • Do you think trying to get thousands of followers is silly, and would rather stick to the few select ones you currently have?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

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Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing:

Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business

On the road to $1M rating:

dollar4

Crowdsourcing, the fascinating first book of Wired writer Jeff Howe, analyzes the transition currently taking place online from content created by professionals to that created by the community -think, for instance, of the thousands of user-generated videos populating YouTube.

A very recent phenomenon, crowdsourcing is the result of the expansion of Internet, together with the ongoing democratization of the means of content creation: the wide availability and falling prices of digital cameras and blogging or editing software means that an amateur photographer, journalist, or film director can produce content sometimes rivaling professional quality. Moreover, through the Web they can reach an audience of a size previously only dreamt of by the most successful and prestigious authors.

Through sketches of real-life conversations, success stories of Internet companies, and a wealth of data, Howe takes us on an enthralling trip through the origins, the present, and the future of crowdsourcing, raising many thought-provoking issues on the way: will the rise of the amateurs make professionals redundant?; will amateurs be able to maintain the same standards of quality?; does the crowd need a benevolent dictator to organize it?

Crowdsourcing and businesses

Howe is optimistic about amateurs’ ability to coexist with professionals in the long-run and to deliver high-quality products. He reviews several business models that prove that it’s possible to employ what the crowd has to offer -from content-creation to expertise in obscure fields- to create a union that is valuable for all parties involved:

  • Sites like YouTube, Digg or Flickr rely on users not only to provide all the content, but also to organize it -whether by adding tags or voting on its quality or relevance.

  • The website InnoCentive posts projects from Fortune 500 companies such as P&G to a network of 140,000 amateur scientists. This diverse scientific community has sometimes been able to solve problems that had got the companies’ R&D departments stumped for months. Those who come up with a valid answer to a problem are rewarded with prizes ranging from $10,000 to $1,000,000.

  • Established companies with a business model unrelated to the crowdsourcing concept -such as Dell, Heinz, or Amazon– are finding ways to both capitalize on and engage the crowd, from organizing contests to create their TV advertisements to relying on users to rate the products they offer.

  • While the book doesn’t cover this type of businesses, I’d have been interested in an analysis of sites like Zopa, were members of the community lend money to each other, therefore sidestepping the banks as providers of borrowing and investement products.

When the crowd is not so wise

Howe’s optimism is partly justified by the mere existence of the businesses mentioned above, which show that crowdsourcing can be a mutually beneficial exercise for them and the community as a whole. The book, however, doesn’t dwell on the potential problems of delegating decision power to the crowd, two of which I think are particularly important:

  • 10 minutes browsing the videos posted in YouTube are enough to realize that much of the content created by the crowd is of very poor quality. Howe argues that the community itself is best suited to sort through the masses of mediocre videos and come up with the best, but I’m not so convinced. While YouTube has delivered a couple of pop music hits, very often the most popular videos involve naked celebrities or clips of animals doing funny things -amusing but hardly of any artistic value. The same can be said of some of the articles that make it to the front pages of Digg or Reddit.com.

    There is a danger, articulated by Andrew Keen in The Cult of the Amateur -tellingly subtitled “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values”-, that we’ll enter an “age of mass mediocrity where the mob replaces experts and we all become collectively dumber”.

  • A related, more dangerous problem occurs when the crowd is manifestly wrong. The housing bubble that started to burst in 2007 is a good example: Most people shared the utterly unreasonable expectation that housing prices would continue to grow forever. The role of the crowd was to reinforce such beliefs, leading to escalating home prices and the eventual collapse of the whole housing market.

Despite some misgivings about Howe’s blind face in the community, Crowdsourcing is the book I’ve enjoyed most this year. It made me think about where the Internet revolution is going, and the consequences it will have for the way we do businesses, in ways I’d never considered in the past. If you’re lucky to be looking for an entertaining holiday book, I definitely recommend it.

TALKBACK

  • Have you read this book?

  • The new collaborative creativity opens up many possibilities for businesses and individuals. Do you think these outweigh the problems? What could be done to avert or minimize the risks?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

Getting_loaded

Getting Loaded:

Make a Million While You’re Still Young Enough to Enjoy It

On the road to $1M rating:

dollar3

I’ve mentioned previously how valuable I think it would be for kids to get a basic financial education before they go to live away from home. And for those interested in the topic, this book is a fantastic place to start. Getting Loaded is specifically targeted to young people, and it’s a thorough introduction to the main financial issues they’re inevitably going to encounter in the following years: from credit cards to taxes, investing, insurance, pension plans, or buying a home.

As I said, the book is mainly targeted to people of around college age, but it works for older ones as well -I learnt a lot from it about such things as umbrella insurance policies and disability insurance. The quest to reach a young audience, however, sets its tone, which is funny, at times even annoyingly so: each single paragraph seems to contain at least one joke, which occassionally left me with the impression that the author -Peter Bielagus- was trying too hard. He nevertheless deserves praise for trying to make personal finance -not the most alluring topic- accesible to the young.

The book makes a remarkable effort to warn teenagers and 20-somethings against all those things we now wish we had avoided, like getting swamped in debt if you go to college or not taking the opportunity to contribute into your first job’s 401(k) -particularly if it came with matching contributions.

Of course Bielagus is aware that a typical 20-year-old will have a list of a thousand things on which to spend their first wage, which probably doesn’t include contributing to their pension. But instead of telling them to save because “it’s good for you” or “you’ll be happy you’ve done it when you retire” -who can imagine retirement when they’re 20?- he puts forward these hopefully more convincing -and less long-term- arguments:

  • Starting to save while young allows you to rip all the benefits of compound interest. (Granted, this sounds very much like “you’ll be happy you started young when you retire”, but maybe seeing the actual numbers can inspire some young readers to take action).

  • Keeping your finances in place can help you achieve your dreams. In other words, instead of longing for the day your parents will buy you a new car, why not make a specific plan, find out how much money you actually have, how much you could save if you gave up cable t.v. or started working part-time, and how long it would take to put the money together to buy the car yourself?

  • Your savings may even provide you with extra money to spend on the other things on your list. (Several chapters in the book cover the basics of investing, an activity that could yield good retuns to readers willing to be patient).

For added value, the book throws in extra tips that young boys and girls can use to reduce their -or their parents’- tax bill or get a discount when buying their first car. It even makes a convincing case for them to start their own business -a suggestion I liked so much that I dedicated a whole post to it.

I was very pleased with the book overall, but of course I don’t know what younger people think about it. If you’re a teenager and have read it -or if your teenage kids have given it a shot-, I’d be very interested in hearing your opinion.

In the press these days:

TALKBACK

  • Have you or your kids read this book?

  • Did you find it useful? Would you recommend it to a teenager interested in learning about personal finance?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

The Law of Attraction: a Way to Success or Plain B.S.?

I’m currently reading Raymond Aaron’s Double Your Income Doing What You Love. I was drawn to the book by its title, assuming it would talk about how to turn your hobby into a productive source of income. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Aaron is a co-author of a couple of books from the Chicken Soup series, and a coach devoted to guide his clients “on a path that supports the Law of Atraction”. Uh-oh, the LofA word was being mentioned on the very first page of the book.

So what’s this Law of Atraction that I find so scary? According to Wikipedia, it “says people’s thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) dictate the reality of their lives, whether or not they’re aware of it. Essentially ‘if you really want something and truly believe it’s possible, you’ll get it’, but putting a lot of attention and thought onto something you don’t want means you’ll probably get that too”.

law of attraction

If you really want and believe in something, you'll get it.

The above definition encapsulates what I like least about the Law of Attraction: it says that you’re responsible for what you get in life, both good and bad things. So you’re wealthy and enjoying the life of your dreams? According to the Law of Attraction, you deserve it because that’s what you’ve been focusing your thoughts on. The flip side is the alarming one: You’re poor and sick, and have just been fired from your job? Well, according to the Law of Attraction that must be your fault, too. You may not have realized it, but these are the negative outcomes you’ve been subconsciously entertaining in your mind.

Now, I wouldn’t have anything to say against the Law of Attraction if there was any evidence that what it claims is true. If it were an adequate description of reality, I’d just have to put up with it and try my best not to harbor any negative thought. However, don’t be fooled by what the Law of Attraction’s proponents may tell you -Raymond Aaron goes as far as to say that this is a “proven method”-, there is not only not a piece of scientific evidence to support their claims, but there are plenty to refute it.

Let’s start with Julie Norem’s book, The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking. Dr. Norem, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College, draws on the results of her research [references below] to claim that whether you tend to have positive or negative thoughts is partly determined by your personality. While less anxious people are more likely to have an optimistic approach to life, many anxious types manage their anxiety through a strategy called Defensive Pessimism, whereby the knowledge that they’re prepared for the worst-case scenario allows them to approach threatening tasks without fear and do their best.

According to Dr. Norem, these pessimistic individuals not only “have harnessed the power of their negative thinking to increase their self-esteem and make significant progress toward their personal goals”, but, even more importantly, “many people perform more poorly when forced to think positive, since negative thinking is often an effective strategy for managing anxiety”.

There are particular cases in which the Law of Attraction can be particularly harmful. While concentrating on positive outcomes with the hope to attract wealth is a harmless activity -at most you’ll end disappointed if you fail to win the lottery-, what about those who believe their thoughts may be responsible for their illnesses? What about a person who feels understandably down after being diagnosed with cancer and is unable to shake the fear that, if only they could concentrate on positive thoughts, maybe their illness would be cured?

Plenty of scientific studies show positive thinking is at best useless in affecting cancer survival rates or disease progression [link to US News. More references below]. But every couple of weeks we hear stories in the media about people who supposedly were miraculously cured by the power of positive thinking -disregarding the effect this could have on patients who blame themselves for not being able to reach the mental state that will allow them to beat the illness.

In view of all this evidence, why can coaches on the Law of Attraction continue to defend the success of their methods? They claim to have many satisfied clients. Unfortunately for those who’re not so happy with the results, it’d be virtually impossible to prove the Law of Attraction wrong: whenever a client perceives an improvement in their life, this will be attributed to the success of the Law. Whenever they perceive no change, it’ll be their failure at mastering enough positive thoughts. It’s a win-win situation for those Law-of-attraction gurus!

I hope it’s clear by now how important it is to view the Law of Attraction in a critical light. It may be true that thinking of something we want takes us closer to it, but this will be due to our having clarified our goals and taken action, rather than to the whole universe conspiring to reward our positive thoughts.

At the same time, there are things in life that unfortunately lie beyond our control. Blaming bad thoughts for people’s lack of wealth, loss of jobs, illnesses, and every single negative event in their lives is, at best, simplistic -at worst, it can lead an individual to mental illness or despair.

So do keep striving for improvement, but also maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. Remember, the ultimate goal is not success at all costs, but success accompanied by a minimal level of sanity.

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PLEASE STATE YOUR OPINION HERE

REFERENCES:
Coine, James, and others (2007) Emotional well-being does not predict survival in head and neck cancer patients In: Cancer

Norem, Julie and Edward C. Chang (2002) The positive psychology of negative thinking In: Journal of Clinical Psychology

Rittenberg, Cynthia N. (1995) Positive thinking: An unfair burden for cancer patients? In: Supportive Care in Cancer

The 10 Worst Quotes Circulating Twitter

Jump directly to WORST quotes

Quotes are the latest fad on Twitter. Few of us can resist the urge to add a witty sentence every couple of tweets. It seems that, whatever it is we feel the need to say in less than 140 characters, somebody has already said it before -so why not quote them?

It sounds like a good idea, and in principle it should be -quotes can be deeply inspiring and uplifting. The problem is that the number of quotes being tweeted or re-tweeted has become so large, that we’re in serious danger of becoming numb to their message. We’re on the verge of a quote-overdose.

It’s time we developed some simple rules of quotetiquette, and I’m going get the ball running proposing the first three DON’Ts:

twitter_bird_2Fotolia_14773741_XS

DON’T write quotes in your automatic tweets. You may have found the sentence exhilarating when you first read it but, trust me, the effect fades after the first couple of repetitions. Let’s just say that when I read for the sixth time in 90 minutes that “only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity”, I was able to clearly picture what Einstein had in mind when he wrote the sentence: he foresaw a day in the future when people would use Twitter to set up automatic feeds repeating sentences out of context. Like automatic parrots -isn’t that genius?

DON’T overdo it with the pushy quotes. You know which ones I mean, the reach-for-success-failure-doesn’t-exist-and-if-you-fail-you-haven’t-been-thinking-positively-so-you-deserve-it type of quote. They’re supposed to be inspiring, but can become a bit scary sometimes. This morning I made the mistake of opening Twitter before I’d taken my coffee. The first thing I read said: “make today your masterpiece”. Ok, so no pressure there. I had to fight hard not to go back to bed and cover my head with the sheets.

DON’T write quotes that lose their meaning taken out of context -remember, your readers won’t know where you took it from, and may understand something very different from what you intended to say.


The following is my list of the 10 worst offenders:

  1. “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win”

    Again, no pressure there…

  2. “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail”

    Meaning: if you’re not rich and successful, it’s your fault.

  3. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”

    Not only it’s your fault, it’s a sign that you’re stupid.

  4. “Success if the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”

    In my experience, though, when you’re explaining to your boss that despite your apologies the last five times you’ve again spilled coffee over the photocopy machine, keeping the enthusiasm may become a little tricky.

  5. “It’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny”

    Wouldn’t it be ironic to find out that this person was involved -God forbid- in a plane crash?

  6. “Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you.”

    The jury is still out as to whether these are the words of a personal-growth guru or of Bernard Madoff.

  7. “The problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”

    That’s why capitalism invented bank bailouts!

  8. “Do one thing every day that scares you”

    And why not start by jumping off a bridge?

  9. “Human behavior may not be totally predictable, but it’s usually reasonably easy to predict”

    We don’t know for sure who wrote this sentence, but you can clearly detect the words of an economist. Before the banks stopped lending.

  10. “The only true gift is a portion of yourself”

    Gore!

TALKBACK

  • Do you think there should be more or less quotes on Twitter?

  • Have you found other quotes that sound strange out of context?

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THE LIST HERE

10 Reasons to Start a Business (While You’re Still a Teenager)

bored_and_poorThe postcard in the picture describes in just two words how many of us used to feel all too frequently during our teenage years. In Getting Loaded: 50 Start Now Strategies for Making 1,000,000 While You’re Still Young Enough To Enjoy It, Peter Bielagus spells out his suggestion for young people who’re not happy about being bored and poor: Start a business!

This clashes with common wisdom, which favors waiting until you’re older and more experienced. But by waiting you risk leaving it until you’re surrounded by responsibilities -work, children, mortgage- and with no free time to speak of. While you’re a teenager you’ve got lots of time at your disposal, and those years are likely to be your most creative ones. Why not put them to good use?

Starting a business while young, whether it grows into a full-time occupation or remains a part-time endeavor that you abandon before you finish college or get a job, will provide you with a wealth of experience that’ll serve you well whatever you end up doing in later life. As Bielagus puts it in Getting Loaded, “It will teach you things no classroom can teach you, like how to deal with rejection, fear, failure, success, and, most important, people”. Consider it your very own practical MBA.

While there are good reasons to start a business at any point in life (no age is too young, none is too old), these are the main ones why it pays to start a business while you’re a teenager:

  1. You can afford to take more risks. You don’t have to worry about whether investing in the business puts your children’s financial wellbeing at risk. Plus, in the face of any setback, you’ve got many years in front of you to recover -or try again.

  2. You have drive. You’re in the age of thinking big. Your dreams have no ceiling and you’re passionate beyond reason. Tap into that energy -and apply it to an idea you believe in.

  3. You have energy -certainly more than most people 20 years older than you.

  4. You want to annoy your parents. Don’t they give you a hard time with their never-ending speeches about becoming a lawyer? Show them there’s more to life than Law School!

  5. You want to make your parents proud, too. They’ve told you a hundred times you should grow up. What a better way to show you’re able to take responsibility for your own life?

  6. The experience will serve you later in life, whether you continue with the business, start another one, go to college, or get a job.

  7. You hate feeling bored. Once you start working on your idea, you won’t have time for boredom. Actually, you won’t have much free time at all. But as long as you’re working in your passion, you won’t miss it, either.

  8. You have plenty of friends. I bet that many of them are also looking for something to do. They can become a source of cheap labor to tap into, they can help you brainstorm ideas, or even become your business partners.

  9. You want to be popular. How many people your age own their own company? Your friends will admire this, and you may even inspire some of them to start a businesses of their own -and they’ll queue to get your expert opinion.

  10. You want to find your purpose. A business will expose you to activities you’ve never performed before. Do you hate keeping business books? Do you enjoy developing ideas to help others? Do you love the contact with other people? Everything you discover about your likes and dislikes will help you find a direction for your adult life.

So if you’re young and have a passion, give a thought to the possibility of turning it into a business. Don’t let the hurdles -lack of money the most obvious one- deter you from trying: be creative and you’ll come up with ways around them. Ask yourself:

  • How could my passion be turned into a product or service that would benefit other people?

  • Is there a similar product or service in the market people are prepared to pay for? Can I improve on it?

  • Which creative strategies can I use to put my product or service in the market without a big initial investment? Could I start pitching it to neighbors, colleagues, friends, local associations?

Hopefully answering these questions will provide you with a whole new perspective on what until now you considered just a hobby. So now just get moving. Good luck!

How Economists Failed Us, Failed the Queen of England, and Keep Fooling Themselves

I read in astonishment an article on the July 26th UK’s Observer about a letter a group of economists sent to the Queen of England to answer a question she had asked during a visit to the London School of Economics.

It turns out that during this visit, while being no doubt showered with economists’ parlance and shown numerous graphs explaining -of course after the fact- the causes of the credit crisis, she asked the most sensible question yet to be put to an economist since the near-collapse of the entire financial world as we know it: Why didn’t you predict this was coming?

The letter, signed by a rank of experts from the Bank of England, academia, the London City, regulatory agencies, and businesses, makes a heroic effort to not point fingers, fails to put blame on anybody in particular, and can best be summarized as a less-than-satisfying “we’re sorry, but will try to do better next time”.

One of the economists’ excuses for this “failure of the collective imagination”, as they put it, is that some of them did foresee the crisis, they just failed to predict “the exact form that it would take, the timing of its onset and [its] ferocity”. It seems to me that this isn’t of much help. I can predict right now that in the next 10 years there’s going to be an economic crisis. I just can’t tell you where in the world it’s going to happen, what’s going to cause it, and how serious it will be. Surely you don’t need to go through Economics Graduate School to come up with this!

The other justifications -there were local warnings but we failed to identify the systemic risks, risk management was left to individual banks but they didn’t see the bigger picture, we believed that “financial wizards” had come up with new ways of managing risks, authorities didn’t want to burst the “feel-good” bubble, we trusted we’d be able to avert a recession once the bubbles bursted- sound equally lame and insufficient and, most of all, make you question the role of regulatory agencies.

The letter reminded me of two books I read recently, George Soros’ The Crash of 2008 and What it Means and Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, which, although very different from each other, share their view on the role and limitations of modern economics.

Both books’ authors agree that modern economics has gone too far in its attempt to separate itself from the rest of the social sciences. In the process of building ever more complex mathematical models based on untenable assumptions of rationality, economics has ended up unable to foresee drastic deviations from the long-term equilibrium such as the one represented by the current crisis -arguably the most important events economics should be able to predict in advance.

This points seems to be partly acknowledged in the letter when the economists say that “[the misguided views that traditional risk measures did not apply any more] were abetted by financial and economic models that were very good at predicting the short-term and small risks, but few were equipped to say what would happen when things went wrong as they have”.

The letter ends trying to give reassurance that the events of the past year have shocked economists and regulators in general into action. The signers intend to “host [a] seminar” were they’ll try to come up with a new “horizon-scanning capability” so that the Queen’s question doesn’t need to be asked again.

How much hope is there that they will manage to predict and react to the next big economic crisis in advance? In my opinion, very little. I’d have a different view if this were the first time economists have been surprised by a crisis of devastating consequences and huge reach. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I can think of at least one example in each one of the past four decades, two just from the beginning of the millennium. I bet that after every one of those they claimed they wouldn’t be caught up unawares again, and yet they eventually did -they let bubbles grow, exotic and difficult to regulate financial products spread, households over-invest in the stock market, over-spend in housing, and under-save without warning, they tried to predict new dangers using the paradigms of the past.

I hope more than anything that I’m wrong but, just in case, I’m spending time learning to take care of my finances, because I don’t trust economists -specially those in regulatory roles- to be able to do that for me.