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.
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.
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.
This is why your number of twitter followers doesn’t mean ISH! 😀
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.
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…
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.
Having said all that.. Even if there are 20,000 defunct accounts out of 240,000, that still leaves 220,000 active accounts 😀 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…