One-Way Tweet

When it comes to Twitter, I like to think that I fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t have hard and fast rules like some people do for using the popular micro-blogging service. Robert Scoble has poked fun at such rules like “Don’t follow them unless they follow you”, “Never Tweet more than five times a day” and “Never follow anyone who isn’t your real friend”. But after many months of following several so-called “celebrities” on Twitter, I’m rapidly forming a rule regarding the rich and famous. Don’t follow them unless they are willing to reply to you.

I tried following one of my all-time favorite celebrities on Twitter for several months. Wil Wheaton starred in TV shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and movies like Stand By Me. He’s become something of an icon on the internet as a well-known blogger, professional poker player and writer. I figured it would be cool to know what Wil was up to at any given moment and so I went to his Twitter page and pressed the follow button. Getting his tweets was fun for a while, but from time to time I’d send him @replies regarding things he was tweeting and he would never reply. I complimented him, I asked a couple questions but still nothing. He made me feel like a geek at a Trek convention kindly asking for his autograph all the while refusing to even acknowledge me. Finally I had enough and decided to un-follow him, and I’ve never looked back.

Now the same thing is happening with John Hodgman. John is a talented writer who everyone knows from the “Get a Mac” TV commercials. I’ve read two of Hodgman’s books because his humor and sensibilities appeal to me. I’ve tweeted him 3 times but have not received a single reply. Yet another epic fail.

I realize that neither Wheaton or Hodgman are obliged to respond to fans like myself. They are busy individuals who probably get dozens of tweets and emails every day. But they have decided to become part of the Twitter community and I think showing your followers some love every now and then is just common courtesy. I’m not asking to form a deep relationship with you Wil. I just wanted to express my congratulations on nailing that Terminator audition for Pete’s sake! Would it kill you to reply “Hey, thanks man”?

Thankfully not all celebrities on Twitter are so aloof. Head to Greg Grunberg’s (of NBC’s Heroes) Twitter page and you’ll note a whole lot of @reply messages going out to his fans. I’d like to think this is because Greg has the good sense to use an awesome tool like Twitterrific to read and post tweets. Twitterrific highlights @replies and direct messages so you can easily see them in your timeline. For all of John Hodgman’s internet savviness, sadly he still does most of his tweeting directly from the web and probably doesn’t bother to pay attention to @replies. Maybe the Iconfactory needs to write that PC version of Twitterrific after all. Get it? A PC VERSION!

Before the internet, people had to put pen to paper to write fan mail to those they admired. Many celebrities would respond with autographs, 8×10 glossies or maybe even a personal note. Twitter has done away with all that tedious fan mail business, but even though it only takes seconds to reply to a tweet, many superstars refuse to even try. So the next time you send us 140 character pitches for your new book or alert us about your upcoming TV appearances, try and remember the most important rule of all. No matter how much money you make or how famous you are, treat others as you would have them treat you. Try talking to us instead of at us. A little love goes a long way.

UPDATE: Anyone in the comment thread that thinks celebrities are too busy or too important to respond to fans should go read this. Not only is that assumption patently false it’s insulting. Some celebrities actually care about their fans. Others do not. Shaquille O’Neal, I’m pleased to report, is in the former category. The positive press and fan devotion generated from what happened in this story are perfect examples of why @replies matter.


  1. I too followed Mr Wheaton for a short while and decided to un-follow due to his propensity for one-way communication! Incidentally, I suggested to Greg Grunberg that he follow you! 😉

  2. Ged, you have replied to all of my tweets. That’s pretty rad in my book, since I’m a web nobody (go ahead and google ‘macfixer’ — I’ll wait). That being said, I did email Wil back in the day regarding his switch to Mac OS and he wrote me back (a personal email, too). I still think that’s mighty cool in the digital age.


  3. “tweet others as you would have them tweet you”?

    Oh man, I really dropped the ball on that one. That would have been killer! Nice one.

    dv, thanks for saying so. I’ve always tried to respond to anyone who writes to me or the Iconfactory. I hate it when you contact people and they don’t take the time to reply. Guess that paid off.

    Macfixer, pretty awesome that Wil wrote you back, you must have touched him or been really witty or something. For the record, you’re pretty rad yourself.

    John, thanks for the nod to Greg! I’ve enjoyed him in this season of Heroes so far. The turtle is making the perfect comedic sidekick and I think he’s having fun this year.

  4. Sing it, brother!

    The purpose of Twitter is communication. Well, communication requires two, a sender and a receiver, and is successful only when the former receives confirmation of the latter’s receipt of his/her message. The alternative, as you say, is talking “at” someone.

    Heck, I don’t need Twitter for that! I can turn on my television to talk at Samantha Brown. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when I send her an @ reply as well.

    I know that many people use Twitter to pimp their own stuff. That’s fine, but now when it’s all your Twitter account is used for.

    Now, I’ve had better luck with those who are Internet Famous. Andy Inhatko has replied to me, as has Shawn King and of course, my friend Ged (can I call you a friend at this point, Ged?).

    It’s kind of a bummer, as Twitter provides an extremely easy way for someone to make a fan’s day.

  5. Interesting. I follow people who follow me, unless they post a zillion tweets a day, then I un-follow them. I suppose it might be good to get a group of friends and family on Twitter so we could “follow” each other during the day, but I hate inviting people to add yet another thing to their list, so I don’t.

  6. I watched Hodgman last night down at Town Hall in Seattle where he was promoting his new book. The nature of his performances and writtings are such that they attract a particularly socially awkward segment as part of his overall demographic. And this seems to be something that he celebrates these days. He talks openly that the age of “jock” seems to be accending to the age of the “nerd” (which I assume includes the socially awkward faction).

    During the Q&A after the reading, there was one questioner in particular who was overly awkward; and on some level, Hodgman seemed to be very aware of this. The questioner kept rambling on with no question in sight. And at every opportunity, Hodgman offered a graceful exit for this gentalman, to which the questioner never seemed to catch on. Eventually, Hodgman was able to coax a question out of the young man, who blurted out, “Are you gay?!”

    Hodgman paused for a moment, slightly deflated (as was the rest of the room), and somberly reported back, “No, I am not.” This should have been clear, as there was numerous mentions of his wife over the course of the night; but the question was clearly brought up to be a “on-the-spot” “joke”.

    I got the sense that these awkward encounters are regular for John, but that he still feels a sense of pride and responsiblity to embrase all of his “nerd-kind”. He even mentions in his new book that he likes when people engage him in cross encounters. Because of this, I don’t hold it against him that he infrequently replies; but it does seem strangly counter to the rest of his interactions.

  7. Chris, Hodgman definitely seems like he would be one to reply to your tweets, but a quick review of his twitter page reveals that when he does send @replies, they are mostly to other celebrities which is disappointing. Even though he’s famous, I really do consider him to be “one of us nerds” which makes his whole non-reply stance even more frustrating.

  8. Hey Ged, I too would like to see more interaction from some of these folks, but I comfort myself in thinking that these types (especially those who dive into the deep-end of celebrity and geekery simultaneously) get dozens, if not hundreds, of @replies to EVERYthing they tweet. Also, I will sometimes get @replies for which I either don’t think I can easily reply to (at least not in Twitter form), or don’t want to litter the Twitter stream of those who follow me with a “@rocknorris Thanks, man!” “@someone No problem! Glad I could help!” etc., etc. I know of at least one person whom I follow for which this is true, though he thankfully leans on the d method to alleviate the problem when he can/ But he’s also a web cartoonist who spends every waking hour online, whereas I suspect those who are authors and actors (like Hodgman and Wheaton) have significant portions of their days that pull them away from the keyboard.

    Anyway, I understand where you’re coming from, but I find that I get decidedly very few @replies from anyone with the legions of followers Wil and John sport, and I suspect it’s for the reasons cited above. But that’s just a hunch.

  9. Though many abuse it as such, Twitter is not a chat service. Twitter remains at its heart a microblog. @replies are intended to work best among parties that know each other more personally. Two-way mail-like communication can be achieved with direct messages.

    Someone already pointed out that celebrities on Twitter likely get the same amount of @replies as they would fan mail, which means the chances of any @reply being read and deemed worthy of another @reply are low. The same is true even of an internet celebrity like John Gruber, who has over 15,000 followers.

    We should simply enjoy the fact that celebrities and politicians are embracing Twitter as a legitimate means of broadcasting snippets of information. I feel more connected to them this way, and this feeling is enough for me. I expect nothing more.

  10. Wow, you summed up my experience of following Wheaton too, I guess I wasn’t disappointed so much with him because as you say he is a busy guy at the time and I just thought why bother.

    But now that I think about it I do remember seeing the odd @ reply and you naturally think hey why not me? He doesn’t owe me anything but I took the time out to say something in a completely unfanboyish way.

    At the end of the day I think I dropped Wheaton’s twitter feed because it was frankly boring for me – and I think I like that with the people I do follow I have at least a chance of interacting.

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