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Sunday May 8, 2011

Aaron rules in local Twitter land

Aaron Lee may call himself an average Joe but this student is Malaysia's top Twitterer.

OUR Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak may be the leader of the country but in twitterverse, another Malaysian rules the roost: Aaron Lee.

Err.. who, you ask?

Better known as Ask Aaron Lee on the social media network, the international marketing student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah has notched a total of 169,056 followers 60,409 more than Najib, according to twitter counter Twitaholic.com.

The self-proclaimed Average Joe is quick to put things into perspective when the issue of his popularity is broached, though.

“Well, I guess that is only true (that I'm more popular than the PM) in Twitter because I have the time to manage my account more actively . . . since I don't have a country to manage!” he quips, before adding “As we all know, our PM is much more influential.”

Still, Aaron admits that he relishes being at the “top”.

“It is definitely a nice spot to be in, although there are more accounts catching up like @AirAsia.”

Of course there are sceptics.

First, there are the “Never heard of him” reaction when his name is mentioned.

Then there is the fact that the number of followers does not necessarily equal influence.

Huge following: Aaron at the recent global digital media conference iStrategy Singapore with friends Stephanie (left) and Amelia.

As fellow twitterer G. Yeoh highlights: “Twitterers who follow massively insane amount of people, and then get followed back doesn't count as popular'...” (Aaron follows 131,738 twitters).

Grey, another twitterer, nonetheless notes that “Aaron does have a lot of followers, including a few of the social media people in town... so maybe he is genuine.”

Crucially, before one dismisses him as a narcissist who cannot stop broadcasting what he had for breakfast and lunch or a shameless fame-seeker, it must be recognised that Aaron's tweets mainly deal with queries on social media hence the moniker Ask Aaron Lee.

He receives various questions from social media network problems to latest tech and business trends.

He points out that Twitter allows him to do the two things he likes connecting with people and learning new things, especially about social media.

“When I started using Twitter, I only wanted to connect with people. I love connecting with new people and engaging. I also love to learn and one way to learn is to read and tweet about it.”

The social media advice he offers is based on his own experience, he adds.

The most common question people ask him, he shares, is “how do you build your followers?”

“Second question would be are you a celebrity?', which I usually respond with I wish' and a big LOL'.”

The strangest question he has ever been asked, he reveals, is What is the meaning of life?'

“Of course I didn't know, so I used Google and found out that the answer was the number 42' which appeared in the movie The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.”

Aaron says he started tweeting in March 2009.

“I actually stumbled onto Twitter by accident. I posted a link of a blog and I got curious about the site. I searched around and saw people talking; so I followed them and responded to them, and a few minutes later they responded back! Then I realised I had stumbled onto something big because it was something I couldn't do on other sites like Facebook.”

Now, he says, Twitter is his favourite social media network, Hands down.'

What he likes most about Twitter is how fast it moves compared with other social networks.

“Stuff goes viral instantly, just like the news on the earthquake which hit Japan recently, and it allowed me to keep up-to-date with real time information from people on Twitter. So happens, one of my followers was from Japan, and I was able to get real time information from him quicker than a lot of people.”

Malaysians, however, generally prefer Facebook to Twitter, he concedes.

“I think they feel more connected on Facebook as their friends are already on it. Not many Malaysians like to tweet, I guess.''

Still, he believes that Twitter is growing in Malaysia and this year could probably be the year (it explodes here).”

Unlike many social media proponents and observers, Aaron feels that Malaysians are not ignorant about the safety and privacy issues of social media.

“Most people around the world aren't really aware about their safety and privacy on Facebook anyway. Last year, someone from the US was fired because she posted something bad about her students in school. It shows how open Facebook or Twitter is.”

His advice to them to keep safe: “I would recommend thinking twice before you say or post something on social networking sites or set the privacy to be closed to the public. Today, even employers are online and they will monitor their employees' account.”

As for the use of social media among Malaysian politicians, Aaron feels there is a lot of room for improvement.

“I've seen improvements over the past year but I wish more of them would be more personal and more responsive. I notice there isn't a lot of two-way communication online.”

He says our PM has the best online profile and the best strategies on the social media network.

“Our Prime Minister created #TanyaNajib and allowed people to ask questions on Twitter and he would answer them on a video. I do hope in the future, he would take in more serious questions and stream the answers live on the Internet.”

He counts himself lucky to have the support of his family and friends.

“At first they were sceptical about me being on Twitter but today they are extremely supportive.

“My brother is on Twitter too but he is not as active as I am. My mum and dad don't tweet but my dad is on Facebook and he has been extremely supportive, reading my feeds and liking' them.

“Some of my friends do poke fun at the nickname @askaaronlee just for laughs but my close friends are extremely supportive of what I do online,” he shares.

Living in Sabah, Aaron shares that Internet connection can get testy but he is not deterred.

“The reception here is not good in certain parts of the state, I depend a lot on 3G so that I can bring my social networking' with me most of the time. And when the reception is not as good, I just land line (streamyx) when I get home.

“It's tough for me not to be online as most of my work requires me to be online. When I am not online, I am either reading a book, out with my friends or attending classes at my university.”

What is certain is that Aaron cannot imagine life without social networking, especially Twitter.

As he puts it, Twitter has changed his life completely.

“Three years ago I was on Facebook playing games and today, I am connecting with amazing people around the world like Alyssa Milano who is following me on Twitter.

“Last year, I was invited to attend a social media conference in Singapore because I connected with the creative director of Philips, @thomasmarzano, one of the speakers of the conference on Twitter. Today we're good friends.

“In April next year, I'll be hiking the Himalayas for charity with people whom I've connected on Twitter.”

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