Twitter goals and corrupting targets

I happened upon a question yesterday night in some tweets by Clare Haynes about whether people have ‘Twitter goals’. I said that I did and that I’d be happy to share – so here we go.

When I started working as an independent I realised that I had a wealth of options open to me as to how I operated and what I tried to achieve.

I could target a certain revenue amount or I could target a certain volume of days etc. If I wasn’t going to advertise then I was probably going to be on social media and if I was on social media I should probably have some quantifiable targets on what that time gave me.

Whilst that may seem like it would have been a smart thing to do I am more aware than most of the corrupting nature of targets, as I worked for the first company the regulators really cracked down on post recession. Targets, particularly ‘stretch targets’ create a tension and fog that changes behaviour and clarity of perception – rarely for the better.

I wanted to work in a different way – the ambition I set myself was to do cool work with cool people that makes a difference. I’m not a salesperson and I can’t do biz dev, so I figured I’d be myself and see what happened.

So instead of stretch targets I set myself ‘worthwhileness measures’ for the business. Numbers/soft measures that I should be able to comfortably hit if I was doing things the right way. And if I didn’t hit them then the activity was probably not worthwhile and I’d stop it or at least have a think about it. I then set myself some ‘audacious goals’ – things I’d be delighted to hit but had no expectation to. I’ve listed them below with the thought process behind them. I hope it’s useful .

Twitter followers – when I first started on Twitter (just over a year ago) I spent quite a bit of time looking at the stats of people I respected and the stats of people that used it in a way that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with. I remember reading a great piece from Mervyn Dinnen where he had analysed the engagement levels of folks with high numbers of followers and some of them may as well have been robots. I wouldn’t make a good robot. Most of the folk that I enjoyed engaging with and learning from had more than 700 followers. As it would only be worthwhile to be on Twitter if other people found me worthwhile I set a target of ‘approaching 700 followers by the end of the first year and 900 by year two’.

I also had some guiding rules that went with the worthwhileness target to keep me honest

  • I’d only follow people who I was interested in
  • I’d only follow back if we had something in common
  • No automation

Blogging stats – I had absolutely no idea what good blogging stats would look like. Sukh and Alistair were kind enough to share some of their numbers to give me context. I wanted to share stuff I was thinking about and not have to chase numbers – but if nobody is reading it then I wasn’t sure what the point was. On the other hand I had no desire to pump out work just because I thought it would land well. I settled on 8000 hits in the first year and 10,000 in the second year. I went for 8000 as it gives a target of 667 hits a month which is a silly number for a target and stops me getting hung up on whether I’m tracking to target each month – as working out percentages of 667 mentally is quite tricky. 10,000 would have felt too obvious and too ‘targety’. I then set myself some guiding rules that went with it, some of them deliberately contrary to the advice you get in the ‘how to write a popular blog’ guides.

  • Write when I feel like it – never write to a schdeule
  • Write about what I feel like – never write about a topic because it will be popular. I have had the odd popular one, but please trust me when I say there are several that sank for every one of those

Sexy blog reaction

  • Splurt the words out without reference to SEO etc
  • Stop it if it stops being fun
  • One person saying ‘that really helped’ justifies writing a post.

I did break my rules for one post just to see what happened, because I like experimenting. If you really want to read about ‘FlappyBird and business’ then feel free.

AND THEN MY AUDACIOUS GOALS – no specific time period, would just be cool

  • Visit Facebook, Google and Innocent
  • Become a published author
  • Keynote a conference
  • Get interviewed on TV (or by mainstream press) as an expert so my family can watch and understand what I do for a living…
  • Get published in a variant of HBR
  • Get a chance to talk to Dan Ariely, Steve Levitt, Malcolm Gladwell and Charles Handy
  • Trend on Twitter

I know some of these may seem like vanity metrics, but they are also reasonable measures of professional recognition and progress. And since they aren’t ‘in plan’ I can just take the opportunities if they come up. No pressure means no change in behaviour. I can just have fun.

Am I advocating this approach for everyone?

No – I’m genuinely just sharing because someone asked and I offered. For the moment I’m experimenting and it is working for me. I’d encourage you to experiment too – but the approach may not work for people with a greater ambition or need for control. I have huge respect for the folk that do genuine thoughtful business development, I just don’t have it in me.

My lack of business orientated targeting may, over time, come to be the reason I fail. It may be naive. For the moment? It feels worthwhile.

Would I try it in an actual company? These days, I might…

Because after all, this is what I’m in it for…


16 thoughts on “Twitter goals and corrupting targets

  1. Hiya hon

    Thanks for sharing this- it is cool to hear & be party to your process – I would say mine might be somewhat similar, but I have never taken the time to think it through and articulate it well, so you have done me a great service.

    When I started, I met with someone whose business it is to get other businesses a presence on Social Media. There were, it seemed to me, a lot of rules I “had” to follow.

    Mostly I haven’t. It might make me a little less effective, but it keeps my soul intact.

    that feels like a good deal to me.


  2. Interesting – I have taken no view on Twitter follower numbers and have allowed the thing to find it’s own level. I have built a list to ensure I don’t miss too much (inevitably I do!!) and I use the principle of reciprocity (if someone follows, I follow back, unless they are a Philippino “Yeng” guitar spammer !! and I tend to reply to most tweets).

    On blogs I was always told to be ‘regular’ so I am ‘weekly’ – I see a general decline in blogging and an increase in traffic overall so goodness knows if anyone reads the stuff, but I’m aware that some people like it which seems justification enough to continue.

    I use simple automation of my tweets to help me be ‘regular’ and set these up on a weekly basis so that I can be like Hermione Granger, by tweeting something I’ve planned to talk about twice a day even if I’m out at work. I however NEVER use auto responders / retweeters and so on. It’s a practical level that helps me be organised and I don’t see it as automation, more planning. I use Buffer for this which seems to work just fine for my needs. I’m frequently told by others that I should tweet 12 times a day but I think day and night once is fine, leaving the rest of me to be ‘live’.

    Life goals are different and I have those written down and some achieved. I have met Charles Handy a couple of times and he nearly remembered me after he sent me a postcard!! I wish to interview Prince before he or I dies and would like to gain greater respect for my writing that I have allowed myself to get with my ‘rock’n’roll approach to thought leadership’, which sees me placed amongst “The Sun group of thought leaders” rather than the “Radio 4” set. I think my origins and accent will never allow this to change 🙂

    Oh yes, and I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like also to see the world turn towards greater levels of harmony in my lifetime. I fear this goal may never be realised …


    1. That’s really interesting Peter, there’s no right or wrong to this stuff, just thought I’d share my what and why. As for teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony? There are always new people seeking to do that.


  3. Really interesting thoughts, David. I must confess that I didn’t get involved in SoMe, specifically Twitter, with any “goals”, but rather an approach of “let’s try this and see if it’s worthwhile”. And in terms of positive benefits they are much more of the intangible variety
    – I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I probably wouldn’t have done
    – I’ve met and interacted with some great people, both online and in real-life, most of whom I’d never have encountered otherwise
    – I do think my professional “reputation” has been enhanced though I couldn’t quite define how if pushed.
    – Although since I have gained some business in part from a Twitter connection I suppose that’s a quantifiable

    I’ve garnered a decent number of followers and Twitter has been a great tool for promoting my occasional blog posts (it will be interesting to see if my “readership” goes up when my shiny new WP blog launches next week)


  4. I stopped looking at my number of Twitter followers some time ago. I also have no idea what makes a blog post get read by lots of people. I have had 3 or 4 that have gone off the scale but I still can’t work out why.

    There’s something here, though, about who you are writing for and who you want to have a conversation with.

    For example, you could write a post about how the Iraq crisis is a precursor to a Global Islamic Caliphate which will swamp Europe, turning it into a Muslim fiefdom. I can guarantee you’d get thousands of hits. They just wouldn’t be from people you’d want to talk to for very long.

    I must admit, I’m not really sure why I blog, apart from the arrogant assumption that I might have something useful to say about stuff. For me, I suppose, it’s mainly about the conversations. I have learned so much, so quickly from blogging that I could never have done anywhere else.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post David.


    1. “you could write a post about how the Iraq crisis is a precursor to a Global Islamic Caliphate which will swamp Europe, turning it into a Muslim fiefdom” I think you may be making an overly generous assessment of my breadth of knowledge – I couldn’t write that,,, I know a man who could


  5. Love your honesty David!

    A relatively late developer, active on Twitter for 15 months maybe, it started as a “must have in marketing mix.” I dreaded the public broadcasting and “responsibility” at first.

    Mainly it was for presence and to share my limited library (which is automated – hence sometimes someone who assumes it’s all “old” retweets simply in shock at noticing a new addition.) That said, it’s less blog but hopefully a tips log – aimed at my clients.

    I didn’t chase followers in a concerted sense, being so behind the established masses it was insignificant. But I got excellent surprises – it’s a learning and life encyclopaedia which I don’t even need to Google. I made Tweetmates who make me howl out loud. And in real life people like you aren’t part of such a clique but reassuringly a host of genuine types. Result!!

    I’m on Twitter now justifying the time as work. I know it’s raised my Google rating – a client pointed it out. Targets are uncertain. I’m not sophisticated enough to measure. Wouldn’t give it up in a hurry.

    Oh – and I would miss you! 🙂


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