Signal to Noise Ratio & Twitter

I really enjoy twitter.  There are tons of great folks out there worth following and learning from.

But….there’s just as many (or more) not-so-great folks out there too.  You know the kind…they add tons of noise to your twitter stream.   They add tons of noise to your life.

I’ve noticed that the noise is getting worse.  Twitter has turned into not only a spamming engine but it also seems to be used much more as a non-private messaging system between folks. Don’t get me wrong…I love things like #blogchat and other stream chats on twitter but I’ve gotten real tired of the folks out there that are using twitter as a replacement to email…or…GASP…a phone call.

The signal to noise ratio (SNR) on my twitter stream is approaching zero these days.  I’m getting very little signal and a ton of noise.

In the early days of my twitter use I had an SNR close to 1…but these days the noise is overwhelming the signal.

How can I (or you) improve the signal to noise ratio?

I’ve started using hootsuite to help cut down on noise.  I’ve closed my main twitter stream and now only watch my mention stream (containing my @’s) and my created lists.

If you don’t use twitter lists today…do it now. Twitter struck gold with lists…they are the perfect way to get your SNR closer to 1.  How?

Simple…find those people that you really want to interact with, learn from and follow and add them to a list.  Then in your twitter client open up the list as on of your main streams and … voila … your SNR for twitter has begun to move closer to 1.

My SNR isn’t quite 1 yet but its getting closer. I’ve stopped reading all the inane tweets from spammers,  social media ‘gurus’ (except for those that I want to read via my lists), nimrods and idgits out there.  No longer am I reading something from kxe35TX (a name I just made up BTW) about how their dog just jumped off the couch.  Now…I’m actually able to see the great stuff from the likes of Wally Bock, Elliot Ross, Scott Brinker, Sam Palani and others.

Let me reiterate…I love twitter. I love what it is and I love the fact every person can use twitter how they want to use it.

But…I want to use twitter my way. I want my signal to noise to be as close to 1 as possible so I can see the good stuff that matters to me.  My lists are working perfectly for that…but it does mean I may miss out on some really good, quality conversations and opportunities…but right now…I’m ok with that. I’m plenty busy as it is :)

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  • http://www.jjude.biz Joseph

    Eric: Lists are the best things in Twitter to cut noise. I limit those who I follow; but add to the lists.

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  • http://www.trustedadvisor.com/trustmatters Charles H. Green

    Eric,

    Agree completely re the SNR. I stopped doing the main feed ages ago, though I’m curious–your tweet site says you follow about 1600 people. Are you saying the SNR is unmanageable for that number?

    If so, I’d ask–why did you follow them in the first place? If not, isn’t that simply the aggregated form of what you’d include in a list?

    I too find the list tool a great one. I use it when I want to focus on a particular category; but I often enjoy diving into my own master list of those I follow, because I always check the timeline of people before I choose to follow them.

    I guess I think the main source of undifferentiated noise is the tendency to automatically follow people who follow you, and to follow people with no intention of actually reading what they tweet.

    I wish there were a solution to this issue; it’s sort of a ‘tragedy of the commons’ issue, because at the margin, there’s a temptation to follow everyone so that everyone will follow you. But if everyone does that, we get the high SNR you talk about.

    My only suggestion: stop being part of the problem. Follow with intention. Choose who you follow, consciously. If you don’t read someone, or if they’re using tweets just to update on their breakfast and you don’t care, then take them off your list.

    There’s nothing wrong with people tweeting about what they had for breakfast–what’s wrong is following them and then complaining about the content. Doesn’t the solution lie in our selection of their content, rather than the content itself?

    You’re a thoughtful guy, Eric, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. And those of your readers. I sure don’t have it figured out.

    Thanks for a very provocative post.

    • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

      Hi Charles –

      Great question RE: why follow in the first place.

      I had a person point out that my complaining of ‘noise’ while following 1600 people on twitter was absurd. I disagree completely with the ‘absurd’ comment but his response was a valid one.

      If you can’t really keep up with 1600 people, why follow them?

      When I started using social media platforms, especially twitter and LinkedIn, I approached them with a ‘quantity’ mindset. I thought the more people i ‘knew’ (e.g., followed or linked with) the better off I was.

      I’ve since realized that its quality that I’m after, not quantity.

      That said…I haven’t gone back and ‘unfollowed’ people. Of course, I’ve unfollwed a few that were nothing but spammers and noise makers and provided no value to me but there are always people out there that provide value.

      Going forward, I’m much more strict on who I follow on twitter. I make sure its someone who has similar interests and/or someone I can learn from. Does that mean I’ll miss out on some good conversations on twitter? Most likely.

      To combat the noise, i’ve begun using my lists and breaking them into my interested. Trading/investing, Project Management, Leadership, Social Media, etc. Each list has a few hundred people on it and each list provides a lot of value for me during the day.

      Thanks for stopping by Charles!

      • http://www.trustedadvisor.com/trustmatters Charles H. Green

        Thanks Eric, that’s pretty much where I’m coming out too. The issue is also raising itself on LinkedIn; what do you say when someone who’s 2 degrees away wants to link, and the first link was pretty tentative itself.

        Unfortunately LinkedIn doesn’t give you a way to explain to the person why you’re not linking, which is what I’d prefer. Instead, you have to just ignore them. I don’t like it, but that’s what I do, because the alternative is you end up with more and more people wanting to link to you because, after all, you both know someone else–who turns out to be yet another person you linked to but don’t know.

        The end of this book has yet to be written, but I’m glad to know I’ve got good company in trying to maintain some selectivity.

        You I’m not ‘unfriending,’ Eric!

        • http://www.rharbridge.com Richard Harbridge

          I understand where you are coming from Charles as well as the points Eric is making. I think there is a difference between volume and selectivity that is extremely important to highlight. Just because one might have a large volume of connections does not mean they haven’t been selective. :)

          When I use twitter I have found having 1000+ people that I follow has had absolutely NO negative impact in terms of my ability to ‘cut through noise’. Using tools like tweet deck or hoot suite I am able to carefully manage the lists I want to and do selective searches (filters) under the larger sets to find things that relate to the work I am doing or the work I want to do.

          That being said I have never followed someone on twitter that I didn’t have an intention of keeping in better contact with them or that I didn’t think the connection would provide benefit.

          One of the major benefits of following someone and having them mutually follow you back is that DM or Direct Messaging is now possible. I have regularly hundreds of DM conversations on twitter with my followers on a regular basis (to avoid cluttering my stream as well).

          The DM aspect is a serious benefit for mutual following and having large numbers in Twitter.

          In terms of LinkedIn I have well over 1000 connections but have met each of those people in person, or have met them online (often multiple times) and can actively use/manage thousands more (in my opinion).

          To help explain the LinkedIn part let me outline the three main ways I use it:
          1. Often I end up using my LinkedIn network to connect directly with people who have a similar passion when I am working on community projects that I need extra input on. In particular I like LinkedIn for this as it makes it easy to determine a persons ‘interests’ since they almost always align with their jobs/roles.

          2. Since LinkedIn is location specific when I am in a specific area I do a search to see who I know who will also be in that area. That way I have an opportunity to schedule lunches, coffee, or just let them know I am in the area. This leads to more opportunities to grow (professionally and personally) as well as to strengthen the relationship with other thought leaders/colleagues.

          3. The secret to success for me has always been connecting people. You have this problem or need, I know this person who has this skill set/knowledge and I connect those people together. Not as a recruiter or anything, but as someone who cares about helping people. So when a person shares a challenge with me (which is a regular occurrence) I search my network if I can’t provide the help they need. If they are someone I connected with I remember why we connected and have a better chance of finding a person who can help meet either a friend or clients needs quickly and effectively.

          Would love to talk more on this sometime with either of you awesome gents. :)

          • http://www.rharbridge.com Richard Harbridge

            P.S – To clarify what I am really getting at with LinkedIn is that even if I don’t really know a person fully before I link with them it still has value to me to be linked with them.

            As an example it might give me an opportunity to get to know them better through various actions that are based on information LinkedIn shares about that person. It also gives them a way to share/connect with me (another channel) which they might feel more comfortable with.

            Weak ties are proven to be where most opportunities come from. It’s the unexpected that always seems to have enormous value to me personally anyways. So I encourage more weak ties. Even if the ‘intention’ is based off of potential and not current need.

            Even if the intention of the other individual is not clear as long as you know why you are connecting I see value in the connection.

            P.P.S – There is a really interesting digression here of the purpose of each network to the individual. LinkedIn is the clearest one since it is professionally network focused. However for a public speaker, sales person, or a politician having much much larger volumes probably has more benefit than less.

            I have seen examples where some people have TWO personal accounts. One for building personal brand (connect to everyone!) and the other for conversations. So that is also something that is interesting to note.

          • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

            Excellent Stuff Richard! Thanks for sharing

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  • http://www.quantmleap.com Shim Marom

    Hey Eric, I sympathise with your predicament, as I feel the same.

    Just one tiny mathematical correction. With Signal to Noise ratio (SNR) when the noise is ‘0’ the SNR will not be ‘1’ but rather something close to infinity.

    Just me being smart :).

    Cheers, Shim.

    • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

      True Shim – but noise will never be zero….not in today’s world :) All I’m trying to do is get the noise down to a more manageable level so I can spend more time listening to the signal.

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  • BrianBlogberg

    Someone showed me TweetDeck a while back, and I have been able to manage my twitter account much better with it. I don’t have a very large following (in fact it is quite small), so really almost everything that takes place on my twitter is just noise. But right now I am okay with the noise because I am using Twitter primarily for news updates on my favorite teams and stuff. I was wanting to suggest to you that you check out TweetDeck if you aren’t already using it. You can really cut out all that noise with it because you can set it up so no Noise tweets even come your way. It is pretty nice and I think you would like it.

    I’ve read a few articles on your site now and have enjoyed them all. Keep up the good work!

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