Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Hugo Chavez should optimize Twitter

June 3, 2010General

Venezuela's charismatic president, Hugo Chavez, is the country's most popular twitterer, with more than half a million followers. A Reuters story details how his Twitter account has become the destination for online supplicants. I just checked out his account, and dozens of requests are pouring in every minute. This volume has led Chavez to hire a staff of 20 just to monitor and respond to the flow.

Chavez is making the classic mistake of responding to a network phenomenon, which grows exponentially, by adding staff. He'll never be able to scale up his responses. His other problem, which makes him both popular and spectacularly ineffective, is his tendency to respond to individuals one by one, instead of tackling the big problems they all share.

What Chavez might consider doing is to mine and analyze the tweet flow, to understand the most common complaints, and to address the causes of the problems, not the symptoms. Chavez could use some analytics.

But that's hardly his style.
At 2 a.m. this morning, a Venezuelan called Cenith de Gonzalez sends this tweet to Chavez:

@chavezcandanga 60 años tngo. mas de 6 dias esperando su respuesta mas de 6 años sin ver a mi madre ayudame por favor 02617310278 (I'm 60 years old, more than six days awaiting your answer, more than six years without seeing my mother. Help me please.) In another tweet, Gonzalez mentions that in an attempt to attract the president's attention, he affixed a picture of Che Guevara to his Twitter home page.

At 2:34 a.m. Chavez, or someone tweeting on his account, finally responds:
@SRCENITH. Pues la verás a tu mamá SRCENITH!! Vamos levanta ese animo q la vida es bella! Tarek: urgente!! (Well you'll see your mama SRCENITH!! Come on, lift your spirits, life is beautiul!... Then he tells his assistent, Tareck, one five people the president follows on Twitter, to follow up.)

But at 8:45 this morning, Cenith is still waiting for a response. He tweets:  
(Tareck, what happened? The president gave you the order and you haven't called me. Please...)

Meanwhile, the requsts flow in, and Chavez responds on his Blackberry the best he can, tweeting once or twice a minute. He steers a geology student who needs help with his thesis toward the national oil company (PDVSA). He directs the president of PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, to help another. In a country of 28 million people, this retail approach is fruitless.

But having a president reading tweets gives Venezuelans a good chance to tweak him. This morning, if he was reading his Blackberry, he would have seen: @chavezcandanga QUE RESACA!...LEVANTATE!!!...A TRABAJAR! (What a hangover! Get up!!! To work!)

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