Feeding the five-thousand


What does one do with a growing dragon fairy?

In recent months, Puffles bounced over the 5,000 followers milestone. The nature of how I manage my Twitter account means that I cull spambots regularly. Thus most of the followers are people who have made a fairly conscious decision to follow Puffles.

I guess in part it’s because 5,000 feels like a nice round number – halfway to 10,000 where you get an extra zero on the end. Also because some of my other friends on Twitter such as Frances Coppola and Jon Worth – who blogged about hitting 5,000 here, have gone before me, albeit in their own capacity rather than as a mythical creature.

Does a growing number of followers change how you use an account?

This is what I’m still trying to work out. The persona of Puffles was highly influenced in the very early days by Millie Kidson, @QofE and Sophie Warnes, who between them and a few others decided they were going to interact with the persona of a baby dragon fairy not long after I launched the account, having decided to tweet in the third person. This was back in…January 2011, when there were fewer than 50 followers. All I did was respond to the conversation that came back. None of it was pre-planned. Reaching the big 5-0 was quite a milestone for me back then – the 50th person following being Nick Hillman – former Cambridge PPC for the Tories, and since 2010 David Willetts’ special adviser in the Department for Business.

Below 500 ‘real’ followers (i.e. ones that converse with you), you can fairly easily maintain a chatty conversational persona. The pressure isn’t there in that it feels very much like the old internet chat programmes that I used to use around the year 2000. With that I was fairly comfortable with it. Once you get beyond the 500 level, maintaining that level of chattyness (if I can call it that) becomes somewhat harder because both of the numbers involved and also due to the growing presence of people who follow but seldom interact (or don’t interact at all). That’s not to criticise those that use Twitter in this manner – it’s perfectly legitimate to use social media in a passive rather than an active sense. A number of Puffles’ followers have very good reason to use Twitter in that manner – for example the nature of their work prevents them from expressing political opinions.

I instinctively want to be on first name terms with everyone…

…and can no longer be.

Much of that is an insecurity thing on my part. I spend much of my day physically in my own company. More than anything else, this is the result of my mental health condition: my mental health crisis has meant that working regular hours for now at least, is no longer an option. That, if anything has been the biggest ‘game changer’. How can you explain to someone that you are permanently exhausted all of the time, that it takes ages to recover from what to most people is a normal day of working? The past week for me was a case in point. Does spoon theory sound familiar? At a public gathering or a workshop, I may seem fine – nothing looks wrong. But I know that it will take me a day to sleep off the exhaustion. The more full days, the longer the recovery time afterwards.

Thus my social network is made up of a very large number of weak-to-moderate friendships. The life that I live is not one where I’m with a group of people that I see say on a daily basis that I live and work with, and who look out for each other. The perils of freelancing and self employment – for another blogpost. The bigger picture is that, like younger generations I don’t separate offline life from online life. For me they are one and the same. They have to be. I can’t think of a single person outside of my family who I stay in touch with through means other than online.

It’s one of the reasons why I can be quite ‘intense’ face-to-face

It’s like I want to take a pin to my head and just gently let the pressure out, rather than being like: “Here’s all the stuff I want to say and I am going to say it all very very very quickly and you won’t have a chance to get in a word edgeways” – something I have to regularly pull myself up on when out with others. It’s that insecurity of not having the close-knit group of long-term friends in close proximity compared with childhood when they were around the corner. Yet trying to manage that intensity isn’t easy. It’s incredibly draining. Hence why I struggled with CBT.

Cuddly-toy Puffles takes some of that intensity and seriousness away when I’m out and about at events. How can you be 100% ‘serious’ when you’re carrying a dragon fairy with you in a corporate environment? In a strange way, having Puffles with me means I don’t have to worry about talking about myself – again a horrible habit of mine. Having Puffles with me allows me to introduce people to all of you – those that read this blog and/or follow Puffles. (Far more interesting). When I’m running workshops and seminars, the presence of Puffles strangely takes just enough of the serious edge off of things to make them successful, although understandably not everyone gets – or even wants to get what Puffles is about, let alone what I’ve learnt from it. Occupational hazard of the training industry is that you will never be able to please all of the people all of the time.

Is 5,000 a game changer, or can I carry on as now?

Everyone in the field of social media training is constantly evolving how they do things. I’m no different. What I worry about more than anything else is my medium-to-long term future. Since my mental health crisis, many of the certainties I had about working full time, having a career, relationships and the stability that goes with settling down have gone out of the window. It’s one of the reasons I wrote this blogpost on giving up on the own-house own-car own-kids future. I simply cannot visualise a future where I’ll have any of this – but rather than dwell on not having those things, become occupied with something else.

Where things become tangled up and messy is the intersection between my mental health and my current direction of work. In my head I have what feel like really exciting ideas, but not the health with which to see them through to fruition. It’s one of the reasons why for me the social media digital video projects described here were so exciting – some of the ideas came through to fruition with results I could never have dreamt of. At the same time, I have tried as much as possible to refrain from unleashing anger in tweets and blogposts. It’s only when there has been something that is a major propriety issue, or where I feel part of a group that is particularly targeted (such as the recent Home Office campaigns – this being the latest, along with this racial profiling) where I have felt compelled to shout out.

The evolving nature of Puffles’ follower profile – and what I do to earn something of a living

Remember that Puffles always was meant to be nothing more than a bit of fun. At the same time, at offline gatherings (where I’m normally in a room full of unfamiliar people) I’ve found it easier to talk to people when I have Puffles with me than without. It’s long been the case now that people familiar with me expect me to bring Puffles along to such gatherings. It’s now normal for me to hear people say:

“Yeah – who’s that bloke with Puffles?”

Or to ask:

“Why haven’t you brought Puffles with you today?”

Perhaps I detect a tension between corporate world that cannot ever understand a persona such as Puffles (but is the one that pays for the workshops I deliver), vs the autonomous world of early followers that Puffles…well…grew up in. The former pays the bills, the latter is the world that I learn from and also help keep people informed about too. Having feet/wings in both worlds is mutually beneficial. At the same time, I’m struggling with the number of policies that are coming out from the current Government that feel at odds with what I always understood to be the core values of the civil service. Despite their number, serving civil servants are restricted in what they can and cannot say. I’m not claiming to be their voice – I only speak for myself. A civil servant I may no longer be, but at the same time I cannot wash my hands of it.

What about the people that follow but do not converse?

It continues to fascinate me as to why so many different people from diverse backgrounds follow Puffles. If I had the artistic talent (and the energy) I’d love to paint one of those big pictures with lots of faces, objects and buildings on them to illustrate that dynamic and diverse group of people and personas. (Some of Puffles’ followers have four legs).

When I look at the profiles of many of the people that follow, I am fascinated by the expertise and experiences that you all have – from those just about to start their GCSEs and have grown up only ever knowing a world with the internet, to those that have since retired. From those that live down the road to those who are on the other side of the world – it’s awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time.

And so many questions for you all too! Not just the “Why do you follow Puffles/What do you get out of following Puffles?” but things far beyond, from areas of expertise to what are the things that make you want to get out of bed in the morning?

So if you’ve been following Puffles for a long time but haven’t sent a tweet to Puffles, please say hello!


2 thoughts on “Feeding the five-thousand

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