On Twitter, Does Reciprocity Matter? It Depends.

As Ashton and CNN raced to 1 million Twitter followers a week ago, you could almost hear the Fail Whale emerge from the water. Sure, the mainstream press had started their Twitter fascination months prior, but it wasn’t until the triumvirate of Ashton Kutcher/CNN/Oprah pushed millions of new users online that the micromessaging site became truly part of the mainstream consciousness.

Mainstream, but not user-friendly. That’s because while big-time Twitter users may fixate on issues of reciprocity, others like my friend Rachel are trying to figure out why exactly someone would want to follow her in the first place. A long-ago friend from high-school, Rachel recently signed up for Twitter and, like many newcomers, has mostly spent her time in lurk mode, trying to first figure out this new world of #hashtags, @replies and DMs before tweeting away. Given this, I wasn’t surprised to see this direct message from Rachel in Twitter the other day: “There are random peeps that I don’t know following me on Twitter, is that normal?”

That question illustrates the vast differences between the Twitter obsessed and someone like Rachel. This is because Twitter is a kind of Rorschach test. Why you find (or don’t find) it valuable depends on your motivations. Want to be center of attention?  Try to gain followers no matter how similar your interests are. Own a business? Twitter is your online marketing channel for shoe-shoppers. You’re an analyst? Twitter may be your new Google Reader.

The difference in views in how people see Twitter is reflected in views on reciprocity. The Mashable survey showed a small percentage think it’s absolutely required that those they follow must follow them back. A bigger percentage are adamant that reciprocity is not required. Both groups find value in Twitter, but for distinctly different reasons.

And that’s the thing about Twitter: Someone like Rachel may ultimately become a big devotee, but her reason will be different than mine. And what’s fascinating is while I may not want to follow Oprah or advertise my business like she does, I can see why she wants to and find value in her discussions and dialogues about these things just the same.