Twitter by Machiavelli

Imagine if astute political observer and philosopher NiccolÒ Machiavelli parachuted back into our world to see all the strange new media specimens of Earth twittering away during their idle moments.

How would he react? What would he conclude?

You may recall that we once tackled this important question in the context of e-mail, but now we have a more curious — perhaps innocent but possibly sinister — activity known as twittering. Such activity has reenergized social networking, reasserted (once again) the viral hegemony of A-listers like Robert Scoble, provided yet another sandlot for migratory marketers, and even managed to get a guy out of jail on the power of a single word (“arrested”).

Recently, I recklessly bumped into Machiavelli on the street while we were both twittering about, well, going across the street. We decided to sit down over Italian roast and biscotti to discuss his acute observations. He’s started to carefully analyze and segment all the curious personality types and behaviors emerging from Twitter-land. We agreed to keep a running total at, but here’s the initial cut:

  • TweetBacks. These are folks who use Twitter as a real-time focus group for immediate feedback. Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel, and many others use Twitter like an open-end survey tool. Machiavelli wonders out loud whether these folks will get buried.
  • TimeTweeters. These folks just love to “punch the clock” with a time-stamped discovery before anyone else. Their social currency, Machiavelli says, correlates with the speed with which they can put a fresh link in play.
  • FlackSmackers. These are journalists or high-reach bloggers who use Twitter to publicly complain — nay, groan — about lame PR or shill-induced pitches. Machiavelli cites Brian Morrissey of Adweek, for example, as someone who’s on a “hair twitter” to out bad pitches and shills.
  • SpamSneakers. These are the folks who use Twitter as just another marketing channel for preexisting content. They just drop the URL from the blog, newsletter, or Web page with something like, “Just blogged this.” Machiavelli warns that such individuals still have an early-adopter grace period but warns of backlash and mass mutiny.
  • BrandBaggers. These folks “bag” anything related to their brands and use tools like Twitter as a customer-service or resolution proxy. Machiavelli points to Frank, a.k.a. ComcastCares, as a classic example of a brand using Twitter to reach and engage with consumers, or even sandbag potentially bad news. (Full disclosure: Comcast is a client.)
  • BankRunners. These are the folks who post “end is near unless you act now” messages, potentially eliciting a sense of panic — a run on the bank, if you will — among Twitterites. Here’s a sample post from high-reach Twitter maven and search guru Danny Sullivan: “smx advanced 85% sold, less than 100 tickets left. today’s early bird deadline so more will go. not joking, book now.”
  • RingCiters. These are the folks with real or virtual ring-side seats at sporting events who can’t resist sharing even most mundane play-by-play, as though the rest of Twitter Nation is glued to their modern day Howard Cossel-inspired tweets. Really exciting stuff like “he’s about to shoot” or “Kobe’s breaking a sweat.”
  • Tweetniks. People who try to write literature with Twitter. Every once and a while you’ll find someone turning Twitter into haiku.
  • FamilyTweeters. These are folks (like myself) who tweet about the most mundane of family-related issues. We’re usually (mistakenly) convinced Twitterites are interested in our family drama and engage in silly comments like “Just changed a diaper,” or “Back from childcare.” Machiavelli warns me that family tweets will decrease the more my Twitter network grows.
  • ProudRouters. Quintessential connectors, these folks love to forward things from other Twitter posts. In Twitter parlance, the ProudRouter usually puts the @ in from of Twitter profiles. By definition, they’re social connectors and love to bring folks together, make introductions, and take credit for matchmaking. Former colleague Max Kalehoffis a classic ProudRouter. Machiavelli urges moderation here.
  • TravelTeasers. These are the folks who create a bit of mystery about exactly where they are. Are they really on business? Could it be a job interview? A secret affair? Sometimes we just don’t know, but we can’t resist playing out scenarios when they say something like, “Here at Amsterdam coffee house” or something.
  • WeightWatchmen. These folks believe Twitter’s potential for peer pressure might have motivational value for losing weight or achieving some other major goal. So they report results in real time, like “Just swam 20 laps.” Machiavelli points to über early adopter Jason Calacanis, who now posts photos to Twitter of himself on the treadmill. Machiavelli has doubts about this tactic.
  • TweetSquaters. These are folks (sinister or entrepreneurial, depending on your view) who squat on well-known Twitter names. Machiavelli points to Judah, for example, the dude who registered an account ostensibly from John McCain. Then there are the bogus tweets from folks who falsely impersonate Steve Jobs or Chuck Norris.
  • AdverTweeters. Lots of brands are tweeting these day, observes Machiavelli. Tony Hsieu of has nearly 4,000 folllowers — a sign of Zappos’s appeal. In the process of his fans following his most mundane activity on the Zappos publicity tour, a whole heck of a lot of branding and advertising takes place.
  • Twitterazi. Even worse than paparazzi, Machiavelli warned. These folks send Twitter updates on any scoop or personality they see, touch, or even imagine. Sometimes it’s supported with a link to a photo or video feed. Sometimes you feel like the Twitterazi are after you at conference.
  • GameTrappers. These folks post Twitter messages to an entire distribution list hoping to snare an unsuspecting target to respond (usually in error) to the entire group. GameTrappers try to force adversaries to take sides prematurely, especially when they know how others will pounce on the first responder. They also know it’s extremely difficult to unwind a Twitter message.

As you can see, we have a brave new world. Thanks to Shiven Ramji, Stephen Tompkins, Greg Hay, and Barbara Baker for input (via Twitter, I might add).

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