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The Twitter Butterfly Effect

Over the past year I’ve had 2 interesting experiences where I’ve tweeted something that seemed insignificant at the time and those tweets went on to have a life of their own to the point where almost a year later they continue to pop up in the strangest places like evidence of some sort of bizarre Twitter Butterfly Effect. Here are 2 examples:

#1: The One Where I Land on BusinessWeek’s list of Top 15 Notable Twitterers with Kanye West, John Cusack, and Larry King

The most recent example of this was my inclusion on BusinessWeek’s “Notable Twitterers of 2010”.  When I first saw the list I was amazed – there are only 15 people listed including Kanye West,  Sarah Palin, Jonathan Schwartz, Bow Wow and ……me?  Seriously?

My “tweet of note” gave me a clue of how I landed there.  It’s a cheeky comment I made about Umair Haque’s interview with Twitter founder Evan Williams at South by Southwest Interactive back in March.  There had been rumours that Twitter was going to make a big announcement at the show so expectations were high for the session. While there was an announcement, the details were thin and the format of the session (think fireside chat more than keynote talk) was pretty low on energy given it was hosted in front of a huge audience.  People complained over Twitter (because that’s what audiences do these days, particularly at SxSW) including me with what BusinessWeek calls my “Tweet of Note”:

“I’ve seen more energy at a lawn bowling tournament”

The irony of someone using Twitter to criticize a session featuring the founder of Twitter is not lost on me so I get that if you were compiling a list of interesting Twitter moments you might go looking for one like that. But at the same time there were thousands of people in the room tweeting about the keynote.  How does mine get chosen?  You can’t see tweets that old on Twitter and although I’ve been told it’s possible with Google, my searches didn’t produce it.

However my search did return interesting results I didn’t expect.  It turned out that that Tweet was featured in a handful of articles written about the talk (I never knew about them because they didn’t mention me or my twitter handle explicitly).  One of those is a collection of comments about the keynote on Following that link takes you to an article on CNN that mentions the tweet.  Neither of these articles mention me by name but another on Business Insider shows a screen grab of the tweet with my Twitter name.  As you can see from the tweets they list there, mine is the only one that doesn’t explicitly complain about Umair so it’s the one you would pick if the story you wanted to write was “Someone complains about Twitter founder on Twitter”.  Bingo.  So without my knowing it, my little random tweet had made its way from CNN to Forbes to BusinessWeek 9 months later.  That’s quite a trip.

#2: The One Where I Complain About Electrical Outlets and End up on a Book Tour

Shortly after South by Southwest I was meeting someone at a cafe in Toronto. I wanted to show them something on my computer but my battery was dead.  Everyone in the cafe was using a computer but there was exactly 1 outlet.  I Tweet something like “what’s up with coffee shops where everyone has a computer but there are no outlets”, and I mention the name of the coffee shop.  One thing leads to another and the person manning the Twitter account for the shop complains about me complaining about his shop on Twitter.  The entire exchange is over in 5 minutes and we all go back to our respective tasks at hand.

Except witnessing the exchange is a social media consultant, Scott Stratten (aka @Unmarketing on Twitter) who does a lot of public speaking.  He captures the tweets and starts using it as an example of how small businesses should not do customer service on Twitter.  Then he writes a superfantastic book.  On the publicity tour for the book he tells the story of my coffee shop exchange and for fun says to the audience “If you’re on Twitter go ahead and say hi to @AprilDunford, she loves it!”  So now every week or so I get a flood of tweets saying “@Unmarketing says HI!!!” and a rash of new followers.  Months after I typed it, my little tweet about outlets gets talked about not just on Twitter but at conferences, and bookstores and perhaps even (gasp!) coffee shops.

ASIDE: I plan to write my own superfantastic book, use Scott as an example in it, go on tour and flood his tweet stream with hundreds of “hey @AprilDunford said to say hi!” tweets.  Yes, it will take years to execute on this plan and be tons of work but that’s exactly why it will be SO DARN FUNNY AND TOTALLY WORTH IT.

Your Tweets Belong to the World (and the World is Full of Reporters)

So what do we learn from stories like this?  Maybe it’s that our Tweets belong to the world and the world is full of reporters (of one kind or another).  Maybe.  Or maybe the lesson is the same one my mother tried to teach me in grade six when she said “You better watch your smart mouth or something’s gonna happen!”  Always listen to your mother.



    • I know what you mean but at the same time it’s not like I’m famous or anyone special so if it happens to me, I suppose it happens to other people.
      I do find it really facinating how some of this stuff travels around and comes back to you though.

  1. What a great couple of stories! I actually started following you after seeing unmarketing speak at a conference. Strange how we all become connected, isn’t it?

    • That of course is a famous example that continues to get used by folks writing stories about Twitter meltdowns. That story however was more about someone behaving very, very badly in public, which unfortunately is almost always going to get you in trouble – unlike a random Tweet about there being no electrical outlets or the energy level of lawn bowling 😉
      But yeah, I’ve had more than my share of these 🙂

    • That’s awesome (leave it to someone called “Tweetsmarter” I guess! But when I tried the same search without the exact phrase – if I just searched on #mondaykeynote for example – I didn’t see it there on Google’s real time results (I’m assuming that’s how a reporter would do it if they were just looking for Tweets from the keynote from scratch). But you are right, if they had seen the tweet elsewhere, it would be easy to track it back to me.

  2. I’m pretty sure i started following you on a recommendation from Scott. I’m really glad I received that recommendation as I find your blog to be awesome. I’ve mad sure to share your blog with others and recommend you as a must follow for solid advice.

    One day i’ll write a book too and we can all go on the circle of recommendations on Twitter tour.


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