If you tell your friends that you regularly interact with Angelina Jolie’s Oscar-famous right leg or a traffic cone, they will probably run to set up an appointment for you with a shrink. But regular Twitter users will laugh and tell you that they are one of the 4,28,145 tweeple that follow the Big Ben (@big_ben_clock).
Yes, London’s iconic Big Ben tower is on Twitter. It keeps company with Goldman Sach’s Elevator (@GSElevator), The Orange Cone (@TheOrangeCone) located at the NASCAR pit entrance and the Mars Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity).
These are just a few of the inanimate objects that have found a voice, often humorous, on Twitter. They have followers that run into thousands and often interact with real people.
What is it that keeps followers attracted to these accounts?
Humour, for one. Some element of global recognition also helps as in the case of @Big_Ben_Clock and @MunchsTheScream that's inspired by a world famous painting by Edvard Munch. It has 5,133 followers who hang on to its every tweet, usually a scream 'Aaaaaahhhhh!!!'
“It’s mainly the content," says Ankita Gaba, co-founder, Social Samosa, a social media agency. "The tweets that are put up have some emotion... either they are funny, inspirational or sarcastic.
And over a period of time the handle/object develops a personality of its own which people start getting emotionally attached to. I bet if the Big Ben Clock handle stops tweeting, many followers will be heartbroken,” adds Gaba.
Some accounts are created after an actual event or are based on something that's happened in the news. They usually work for a while because they combine humour with information. So, the large number of empty seats at the 2012 Olympic Games in London resulted in @olympicseat2012 and @OlympicSeats handles. But such news-dependent handles may find it difficult to sustain their popularity after the news has died out.
Last year, NASA launched the official Twitter account of the Curiosity Rover, the star of its mission to Mars. @MarsCuriosty tweets pictures and videos and other fun information about its adventure in space. It has 13,84,286 followers.
Closer home, a Khap Panchayat parody account (@KhapPanchayat) was created a week after a Satyamev Jayate episode on honour killings led to a countrywide discussion on Khaps. “Anonymous accounts provide people with a way to have their opinions heard, especially if you tweet about sensitive issues,” says Tushar Sharma, a 21-year-old engineering student from Jaipur who created the handle. Sharma was worried at first about disclosing his identity but soon realised that the points he was taking up were not wrong.
Not just humour
There's much that the creators of these accounts must keep in mind when tweeting. They have to be funny, interact with their followers and never let up on their ‘interesting’ quotient. A tall order, for sure.
That's why Sharma, who found it difficult to constantly tweet something interesting, limits himself to one or two tweets a day.
Even then, he gets plenty of trolls who hate him for 'misrepresenting khaps'. “People in India can take a joke. It just shouldn’t be about them, their caste, their religion, their political preference, their favourite actors, their state and what not,” he says.
Humour can take on other roles too.
@StealthMountain has 25,037 followers and 3,37,094 tweets. All it does is alert people who type ‘sneak peak’ when they mean ‘sneak peek’. Not all of them get the humour though — the handle receives plenty of negative feedback and abuse.
That's no surprise because not everyone likes a grammar Nazi or, for that matter, an eavesdropping elevator. “I have had one person try to sue me. Alex Turnbull, a Goldman employee who didn’t like a couple of tweets in which he was mentioned,” says the career investment banker (who wishes to remain anonymous) who started the popular Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip
(@GSElevator) in 2011. It tweets things its creator has overheard in his 15-year long career in elevators, bars, trading floors and hotel lobbies. It also adapts tweets from submissions by people.
“It's a novel concept with a sense of truth, honesty, and anonymity.
And it's funny,” he says. The handle, which has over 4 lakh followers, has received death threats and marriage proposals.
“I think people have lower expectations when they interact with an inanimate object so we do get better feedback. If they annoy you, it's easy to ignore them, which is not the case with real people,” says Alex Parker (name changed), the scream behind @MunchsTheScream.
Whatever it is, if the popularity of these accounts is to be believed, non-human handles seem to be way more fun than regular handles.