In one of the most iconic songs from Wicked, “Popular,” Galinda the green witch insists on helping her friend Elphaba become popular. She sings: “Please – It’s all about popular! It’s not about aptitude, it’s the way you’re viewed, so it’s very shrewd to be very, very popular – like me!” This was the exact line that came to mind as I read a recently published Mashable article titled “This is Why No One Follows You on Twitter,” in which author Amy Mae Elliot acts as a Galinda to all the poor, unpopular Elphabas on Twitter. Her article offers 10 reasons why you might be unpopular on Twitter and how to gain more followers. She addresses issues such as profile pictures, excessive posting, disproportionate friend/follower ratios, and “humblebragging.” (I’d never come across this term until reading this article, so I looked it up. According to Urban Dictionary, the term is in reference to the habit of disguising subtle bragging. For example, retweeting another person who wrote a compliment about you is an act of bragging about yourself indirectly, but it seems okay because someone else did it for you first.)
Elliot’s Reason #6: You tweet too much
For each issue, she recommends a matching solution – simple changes in habit or profile editing – that can increase popularity and improve social media reputation. Her article is a prime example of how self-presentation has a greater influence on determining social ties than anything else. Parallel to the offline experience of meeting someone new and trying to make a positive first impression, Elliot explains that “Twitter users often make the decision of whether or not to follow someone in seconds, meaning that you have very little time to impress.” Users who want followers should strive to create profiles that are visually appealing to the eye and attention-grabbing at first glance, just like a great first impression.
Elliot’s light-hearted article, which is presented more as an advice piece for those less in-tune with social media do’s and don’ts, embodies several concepts of self-representation. In author Zizi Papacharissi‘s article “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter,” she explains that “Twitter is a social awareness platform that specifically enables condensed performances of the self.” Elliot realizes this truth and uses her piece to help users make their performances of self the best they can possibly be, even in the condensed manner that Twitter forces. In the offline world, what makes a person popular or likable could be their fashion sense, the activities they’re involved in, or the way they talk. Because of the reduced cue environment in the online world, popularity is based on much less – one picture, the 140-character tweets, or the short self-description at the top of the profile. Elliot explains that it is unlikely for people to follow accounts that don’t display a profile picture, because “you only have a few chances to engage people visually..so don’t waste them.”
Elliot’s article also makes evident Hugo Liu’s concept of cultural capital. In his article “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances,” he explains that cultural capital is the amount of respect received from audience by the way we perform online. Because Elliot emphasizes popularity and the value of followers, we can assume that she views follower count as the measure of cultural capital on Twitter. Like a famous band whose value is measured by the number of sold-out concerts or albums sold, Twitter users’ purpose and value are measured by the number of followers. For example, Lady Gaga is not only a famous celebrity but also has a great share of cultural capital on Twitter. Her follower count?
(I would like to note here that Elliot is wrong to say that a profile photo is necessary in order to have plenty of followers… Lady Gaga’s 40 million+ is proof.)
Lastly, Elliot’s “easy-fix” attitude towards solving lack of popularity is relatable to Nancy Baym‘s concept of “disembodied identities.” The author of “Personal Connections in the Digital Age” brings to light the idea that digital media has disrupted the notion of one body, one personality. Social media provides one person the chance to create several accounts and several identities. What we choose to put on the page shapes our identity, and Elliot’s advice implies that identities can be changed immediately and conveniently. Elliot is not recommending that users lie and deceive their audience; rather, she is recommending means of enhancement to make a profile the most likable it can be. But perhaps the most likable version of yourself is not necessarily how you normally carry yourself on a day-to-day basis. So the editing and shaping of a Twitter profile can create a very different disembodied identity from your offline identity. This puts into question whether online profiles can be trusted, but Elliot’s article neglects to address the concept of upholding genuine personality in our Twitter profiles. For this reason, I do not endorse her article’s advice. Even the title itself “why no one follows you” implies that the issue is with the user and, to be liked, you must change yourself and your habits. Her article ultimately suggests that one’s worth is entirely based on what other’s think and that we should tailor ourselves to what others want. This, in my opinion, is one of the most negative problems with Twitter, where reputation is everything and is based off the most trivial things. Follower count is on display for the public, judgment is based on 140 characters, and whether you are liked or not liked can be decided within seconds or a glance. To me, what is most concerning about this is that as social media becomes increasingly significant to people’s reputation – even in the offline world – relationships and substance become more superficial. Perhaps if Elliot is interested in giving more advice, she could write her next article on how to gear away from this?