Why your number of Twitter followers doesn’t mean ISH

I was talking with my friend Remo last night and he asked me about Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for over two years at this point. I posted about it back in June 2007 [link].

At some point, he asked me about its usefulness. As I travelled back mentally to when I first joined, I reconnected with the essence of Twitter’s usefulness to me.

H.H. & B.C.At the time I became aware of Twitter, we were all hanging out on the Yahoo Videoblogging Group. South by SouthWest 2007 was in effect, and I got to follow along in essentially real-time as my friends couldn’t get cabs from one party to the next. From my command centre, I could keep up with things going on hundreds of miles away. Actually, I probably knew more than the people ‘on the ground’ did.

The value of Twitter for me was an acceleration of the interaction that was going on in the Videoblogging Group. Instead of sending a post, which was essentially an email, to a bunch of people and then waiting for them to be notified of it, read it, think about it, respond to it and then having to check back to see if I got an answer.. Suddenly, I could get responses to my queries immediately, if not sooner. Everybody that I was following was from our group, so everything I read was relevant and interesting to me, either on an educational or social level.

Flip Da Script

As we discussed the “right & proper” ways to utilize twitter, two camps evolved: “Follow people you want to hear from” and “Follow everyone that follows you [minus spammers]”. I basically joined the second camp. This had two important effects. My timeline had too many entries for me to follow because there were too many updates in each refresh, and the Twitter posts I was looking at were decreasingly relevant to anything at all. This meant that I had to search through MORE posts to find LESS relevant material, because there were only 10 pages of Twitter “archives” you could look through at the time.

So I made a second account, specifically to follow local NYC people. That was all well and good until everyone I was following stopped using twitter to announce where they were going. This was because there were no Twitter groups, so everything you said was available to whomever was following you, whether you wanted them to show up where you were hanging out or not.

Spammers

Meanwhile, people started spamming Twitter with “follows”. Some users would follow everyone in creation, hoping for a “follow back”. This was obvious, because the number of people they were following would be twice the number of people that were following them, or worse. These people continued to play the numbers game until they had spammed enough people to look like people actually cared what they were talking about. In reality, the people they spammed were happy to have someone follow them and followed back either out of courtesy or because they were in that second camp that I was in at the time of following people that followed you.

Useless

This is why your number of twitter followers doesn’t mean ISH! πŸ˜€

You are being followed by people that have no idea what you do. You are being followed by people that have ZERO relevant information to contribute to your education or entertainment. You are being followed by people that flood the potentially relevant information off of your screen before you can possibly read, think about and react to it.

This is why people who claim to be following 60,000 people are full of ISH. I *guarantee* you that they are, because my timeline updates too quickly while I’m currently following 705 people. Even my group that I made specifically to listen to on TweetDeck moves too quickly, and that’s probably only 200 people.

I guarantee you it’s impossible for people to follow tens of thousands of people on Twitter, for two reasons. Updates will force most of those posts off the bottom of the queue before you even get the chance to see them and the time that it would take to read all of those posts, even if you could, would require you to sit in front of Twitter all day, reading irrelevant information and parsing it for something you could use. These people would literally do nothing else all day other than sit on Twitter, aggregate other people’s ideas and regurgitate them to their own followers.

Defunct Accounts

You can go on Twitter Karma and see your list of followers sorted by date of most recent update. At the time that I checked, when I was following ~2,400 people, there were quite a few that hadn’t updated in a full calendar year. Granted.. Some of those people may have blocked their data from being generally accessible, but upon random sampling of these accounts, they had literally updated 200 times or fewer and never used that account again. Also, that doesn’t mean that they’re not listening. It just means that they’re not sharing. It might also indicate that they’re currently using a different account.

Either way, the point is that one of your “followers” most likely doesn’t exist. They’re either not listening to you AT. ALL., or if they’re listening, they’re not responding or RTing (re-tweeting). I would estimate that around 200 out of my 2,400 followers at the time hadn’t updated in 2009, meaning at least for three months. Feel free to speculate about the numbers of defunct accounts for people that have 24,000 followers and 240,000 followers…

Evidence

If you’d like to check what your actual reach is as far as people following you on Twitter, start asking questions. See how many answers you get. Announce a live broadcast… See how many of your tens of thousands of followers tune in. Recently, I’ve seen popular Twitterers doing trivia contests, asking questions and handing out prizes. DO SOMETHING that demonstrates that that number on your Twitter home page actually translates to something tangible and something that isn’t an horrifically-low percentage of the people that have “subscribed to your channel”.

While you’re at it, ask a question that’s relevant to something useful to YOU. Ask about digital video data rates. Ask about replacement blades for your lawn mower. Ask about ANYTHING that’s not some generic audience participation exercise and see how useful your thousands upon thousands of Twitter followers are.

Influence

Having said all that.. Even if there are 20,000 defunct accounts out of 240,000, that still leaves 220,000 active accounts πŸ˜€ It’s possible that you have influence over 220,000 people that have no particular skill set or purchasing power. Of course, this has to be multiplied by the number of people that will RT what you posted.

In a generic sense, this is much better than my personal 2,381 followers (which is probably more like 1,000 followers). You are 100 times as likely to reach out to someone who will accept what you’re offering them.

Unfortunately, when you’re just some idiot that doesn’t specifically have anything of import to say, your followers are a function of that. This needs to be calculated into “influence”. If people follow you because you have a sexy avatar, for instance, that’s not going to be too useful to most advertisers. It’s not that you’re an authority on ANYTHING, so people aren’t going to be very likely to take your product endorsements to heart and actually buy the product.

Similarly, even if you ARE an authority on something, like video editing, that doesn’t mean that your influence is useful at all outside of that realm. In fact, your number of followers isn’t even an indication of the number of people that see you as an authority in video editing, because they might have followed you for other reasons.

Tools & Platforms

Ultimately, Twitter is a tool which affords you the opportunity to broadcast to other people what you know and what you do. If you don’t KNOW anything and you don’t DO anything, the number of twitter followers you have is completely meaningless. All these follow-back schemes are useless, because there’s no point in having 15,000 people follow you who are just as clueless as you are. Nobody’s going to pay you to advertise to your “Clueless Nation’. Nobody’s going to see you as an authority and hire you to do something because you have X amount of Twitter followers.

Your best bet is to stop crying about how many followers you have or don’t have and demonstrate originality and usefulness to the community and get your props the old fashioned way…

EARN IT!

~ Bill Cammack

Twitter: BillCammack
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21 thoughts on “Why your number of Twitter followers doesn’t mean ISH”

  1. love this post bill. well put.

    i’m gonna do a post this afternoon about a twitter phenomenon i just watched unfold online this afternoon. you’re probably 1 of the 2 people that may read it. my realm of influence is about as far as my arm can reach in any direction, and folks who may have found themselves within that proximity at some point in time. i’m old school like that.

    it’s actually interesting to think about. i mean, i self-censor anything i put in writing WAY too much (which leads to a lack of online influence), and say WAY too much when i know it’s “off the record” i.e. uttered (which can make me kryptonite to anyone who doesn’t keep it real). hahahah. let’s do a micro-blogging site and call it “utter” and allow anonymous accounts! wait. maybe not. i think one online service without a business model is enough…

    1. lolol Thanks, H. πŸ˜‰

      It’s kind of “funny”… Your idea for “utter” has zero buiness model whatsoever… HOWEVER… it would be a much-improved source for honest criticism compared to the calculated transparency of Twitter, etc.

  2. To each their own, but I agree. A day doesn’t go by that I do not receive a DM asking me if I want to get ‘ X ‘ amount of followers in 90 (or whatever amount of) days.

    I am interested in being enlightened and/or entertained, not in a popularity contest or an opportunity to spam people.

    For those that want to have many followers, I don’t begrudge them-especially if they have tools to pick apart keywords and are following trends.

    Great post, Bill. Be well.

    1. Thanks, Harold. πŸ™‚

      I’m not knocking people that like to collect amounts of friends for no reason other than being able to say ” Look at me! I have 60,000 Twitter friends! YAY!!! πŸ˜€ “. All I’m saying is that past the ability to get a bunch of people to follow you on a social media site, you’re not proving anything with those numbers unless all of those people are concentrated in a particular field of expertise.

      If you’re a doctor and have 2,000 doctors following you, that’s powerful. If you’re a doctor and have 200,000 random people following you, that isn’t. You’ll still be sought after by advertisers to utilize your so-called network, but your number of followers doesn’t indicate that you have ANY proficiency in ANYTHING, whatsoever. πŸ˜€

      Similarly, you can’t ask your 200,000 randoms for advice on an operation you’re about to perform and get anywhere near a decent percentage of useful responses. Is it possible that the 2,000 doctors are hidden inside the 200,000? Certainly. Unless they @reply you or hash tag their answer, good luck that you’ll ever actually SEE what they have to say within the flood of chatter.

      But yes, those schemes about how to get a bunch of followers are based upon the same spamming techniques that got several people to the top (before the now-infamous Twitter Suggested Users list flooded them out of the running). There’s no benefit in having a bunch of RANDOM Twitter followers. There’s zero ability to target marketing.

      Thanks for the comment, Harold. Cheers! πŸ˜€

  3. Liked your post Bill! It provided a lot of useful information, especially for a newbie such as myself. I use Twitter to gather relevant, interesting information – both personally and professionally (counseling/psychology).

    People fascinate me, so I generally take a wait and see approach in determining who I follow. I’m glad that people see fit to follow me, therefore I don’t spam or tweet stupid comments because I value their time. I believe in spreading knowlege just as much as I like receiving it.

    People use Twitter for a variety of reasons and more power to them. However, Twitter is not a fad or phase for me, it’s a site that I plan on utilizing for as long as it’s around. Thanks again for the post!

    1. You’re welcome, Tracy. πŸ™‚

      You bring up an interesting use for Twitter, in that you’re building a community. Still, your community will be just as good with 50 people as it would be with 500 people if you select people in a planned manner like you stated. It’s the people who just want ANYBODY to follow them just so they can say they have more followers that aren’t doing themselves any favors with their schemes.

      Another reason why people add a lot of people is so they can aggregate their ideas and regurgitate them without giving them credit for it. This is a good trick to make yourself look like you know a lot of stuff, when, in reality, all you did was watch the Twitter stream go by all day.

  4. “Unfortunately, when youÒ€ℒre just some idiot that doesnÒ€ℒt specifically have anything of import to say, your followers are a function of that.” Bless you for saying that. If I build a list of 20,000 people naturally, from among the people that come to my site, who are my fanatics, fine. But even 5000 people who are only following me because I followed them? Not interested!

    While I agree that one person can’t keep up with 20k people’s updates, I also believe that most people who use Twitter just don’t update that much, and once you get past a couple of hundred, you end up keeping up with people who ping you directly, or say something of import/interest at the time you’re on. I like the variety of voices and being able to dip in and out of the stream. I don’t think most people who have tens of thousands of followers delude people into thinking they read every update – at least none of the ones I follow.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Tinu. πŸ˜€

      There are actually quite a few people who claim that they attempt to pay attention to everyone they follow. It’s obviously impossible. Let’s say you only spend ten seconds on each post. 6 posts costs you a minute. You can view 360 in an hour, and 2,880 in an 8-hour workday.

      Let’s even say you only spend ONE second per update. You would be able to see 28,800 posts in an 8-hour workday. That means that if you’re following 28k people, they’d be allowed to update ONCE per day for you to be able to pay attention to what everyone was saying, PLUS that would mean that you didn’t do anything else all day, which is why I find it funny how some people can lamp on Twitter all day and still have a job.

      So, it’s completely disingenuous to say that you’re paying attention to all 60k, 100k or 200k people that you are following.

      You’re right that a lot of people don’t update much, but there are enough people that update all day, every day, that they can make up for the rest of those people and then some. πŸ™‚

      I also agree that what occurs is mostly paying attention to @replies. That’s what I do. I have my list of @replies in TweetDeck, and I strive to respond to all of them, when I’m monitoring the app. However, anyone can @reply you. You don’t have to be following them at all for that.

      Anyway, this is why those “get followers fast” schemes are so dumb. You have a bunch of people that agree to follow each other for no apparent reason and for no apparent ROI. You’re paddling the boat out to the middle of nowhere, and then what?

  5. Bill,
    Totally with you on this. I am usually first to jump on the new shiny Web 2.0 service, and Twitter was no exception. What I don’t understand how nowadays society is so obsessed with the “number” of vapor “friends” they have. I never bought into the myspace game, for one; their interface sucked monkey’s balls, pardon my french.. :), and two; as soon as created an account with them I got bombarded with hundreds of strangers wanting to be my friend… When I checked how long time I was wasting responding to them, I found it easier to simply cut the cord on the myspace frenzy.
    I recently read an article on Jason Calacanis’ non-sense about the importance of twitter followers and, he was trying to offer $500,000 to twitter for adding followers to his account or something of that nature, here http://bit.ly/e66a

    So what is this world coming to? It all seems like a HUGE PR game…

    Thanks for the great article Bill!

    1. Hey Renat! Thanks for the comments! πŸ˜€

      Word on the street is that Calacanis did that to help the Twitter guys set precedent for when/if the time comes that they actually ARE offering services that they want companies to pay for. Also, the difference is that in his particular case, he runs a search engine. It would be totally worthwile for him to shell out ducats to access to a bunch of random people, because then he could broadcast links to them for his own service and gain enough extra traffic to offset his “advertising expense” of paying for more Twitter followers.

      However, to people like you and I, who don’t have anywhere to send a bunch of people, amassing random followers is useless, unless they can get people to drink the Kool-Aid…

      If they can convince people that having a certain number of followers is an END and not a MEANS, then people will be able to say “Look at how many followers I have” and utilize that as a badge of proficiency and relevance. Of course, that’s dumb, because you don’t have to have any skill as a video editor, for instance, to be a highly-followed person on Twitter. Your followers are NO testament to your skill. They’re not even a testament to your RELEVANCE, for that matter.

      People used to be able to say “Look how many Twitter followers I have” and be happy about that because other than having a network of people that would follow you from some other site or show you worked on, the only way to get a bunch of followers was to spam the list with follows and hope for follow-backs. I’m pretty sure Twitter put a cap on that at this point, but back in the day, some people would follow everyone in creation, hoping that they could parlay these people into cred. Some of them made it and are now considered gurus in Twitter because they have so many followers, when all they really did was door-to-door encyclopedia sales. Give them the credit they deserve, for spamming, but not much else.

      So that’s why it’s ridiculous to me that people are making schemes in order for random people to amass a following of MORE random people that have nothing in common other than the mutual desire to… have more followers? Somewhere along the line, having followers on Twitter became an END as opposed to a MEANS and I’ll be interested to see what these people are going to do with their networks once they’re finished gaming the system.

  6. why you think that only your twittes have something good to say?
    the twitter is only a variable of the google search…it would be nice if we coldn’t have more than 1000 followers…

    1. Hello Lou. Thanks for the comment. πŸ™‚

      I’m not sure I understand your point. Please feel free to clarify, so I can answer the right question.

      As far as Twitter search and Google search, they’re two entirely different things. I can find things I said two years ago on Google search, but if you go far enough back, Twitter search ceases to exist.

      I know this because Fast Company TV had put up this placeholder show when they dumped Shel Israel’s show and called it Photocycle. They claimed it was a series, yet, as I predicted from day one, being that it was at least an hour long and shot on location, FCTV wasn’t capable of doing a show like that as an episodic series, so they never released another one. Every few months, I brought this up on twitter, and now there are ZERO mentions of “Photocycle” on Twitter at all.

      So at this point in time, you’re way better off being searchable on Google than you are being searchable on Twitter.

      Let me know if that wasn’t the point you were trying to make. Cheers! πŸ˜€

  7. I finally found out why I have been getting followers that I have never heard of or even care about. It’s especially strange since I don’t really use twitter at all. I opened an account because Jay and Ryanne and Jen were using it, but I don’t think I ever posted anything. It’s just sitting there – gathering followers.

    1. Yeah, Milt. People just add anybody or any account they can in hopes of getting that random “follow back”, making them look prestigious to the uninformed.

      I get new followers every single day for no reason at all. Most of them are following double-digits worth of people and haven’t posted anything to twitter of any relevance whatsoever, especially not as far as anything I’d personally be interested in hearing about.

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