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Twitter: Followers Metric is Flawed

2:52 pm on Jul 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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I've had it! Almost daily someone is writing about the number of followers they have or someone else has. Not one of the articles I've seen written about number of followers takes a close look at the makeup of a large following, not one! They see the large numbers and immediately think the person is a Twitter Deity. I'm going to use one Twit as an example and that would be [twitter.com...] (Ashton Kutcher). This was quoted on CNN recently and probably the reason I'm writing this post. :)

"But when it comes to Twitter, the world's most popular Tweeter knows what he's talking about."

The world's most followed Tweeter on Twitter

Take a moment right now and view the first 1,000 followers for @aplusk...


What do you see? Look at all of those o_O! As of this date and time (2009-07-27T07:30:00-0700) @aplusk has 2,948,362 Followers. Yes, almost 3 million followers. Unfortunately the tools that I utilize to perform statistical analysis on Twitter users will not work with those who have extremely large numbers like this. Based on my review of the first 1,000 followers, about 90% of them are typical Twitter mites. They're all over the place and they are part of the machine.

Of those almost 3 million followers maybe, just maybe 300,000 of them are active Twitter users. The rest of them can be removed from the equation. Even after the cleansing, @aplusk is still the most popular Twit. Don't ask me why either, have you looked at his timeline? If you look at the origin of Twitter, @aplusk is the classic Twit. :)

Listen folks, for most Twitterers, the number of people they have following them is a flawed metric. Very few people manage their following and it ends up being a Free For All (FFA). That's exactly what it is. Your number of followers can grow exponentially depending on who you follow. Once you get on the right Follow Train, it goes into auto-pilot from there.

If you look at those that are following me, you'll see one thing in common. They don't have very large numbers from a Followers/Following perspective. But, they have quality Timelines and they are far more influential than those with 25k, 50k or 100k. In fact, I stay away from all of those who have a equal balance between the two. If I see 25,000 Following and 23,500 Followers, I know exactly what is up in most instances. That is someone growing their following. If you check them out a week or two from now, the numbers will be greater by a noticeable percentage. They've already reached the auto-pilot zone and few "truly engage" with their followers. It's a numbers game.

Sidenote: Twitter need to provide another way to remove followers without BLOCKING. I've BLOCKED 1,665 from my followers since I came out of Protected Mode on 2009-03-06. I was Protected from 2008-07-25 to 2009-03-06. If I hadn't been in that mode from the beginning, I'd probably have at least 5,000 BLOCKED. Why do I bother? Here's the deal, if you leave them there, they attract the others. There are a plethora of Follow Trains on Twitter. Once one of those little buggers jumps on board your train, their followers come with them. The auto-follow routines on Twitter are out of control. There is probably an auto-follow set up by someone for just about every popular word. I run tests occasionally on this one. In one day, I attracted close to 100 new followers just by using certain keyword phrases, it was a blast. I BLOCKED every single last one of them too!

3:43 pm on July 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member ogletree is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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I have followed you for some time and you convinced me of this a while back. Almost all that follow me I end up unfollowing. I have not gone back from the beginning but I do from time to time go through my list. It was easy to go in and take off all the people that did not have images or people that have not said anything in a year. Twitter helped me out recently and automatically took off about 40 people. I have kept a few people that have a lot of followers and follows. If somebody gets too chatty or start posting stuff via api I will block them. I really wish tweetdeck would let us filter by "via".
10:16 pm on July 27, 2009 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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I agree, P1R. The problem is exacerbated by real users who autofollow all new followers out of courtesy, laziness, or just to keep their numbers up.

Right now, I probably block a third of my new followers (spammers or those who promote stuff like making money on Twitter), and neither block nor follow another third (people who seem human but still post in annoying way). I do follow new followers who are definitely human and aren't promoting anything, even those outside my topics of interest. I've had some interesting interactions with tweeps whose bio interests might not seem to overlap but who find common topics to discuss.

11:28 pm on July 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I had a look at my numbers a little while back. At that time I had blocked more than 70% of attempted followers as spam.

For some other accounts that I set up for organisations and businesses, some have blocked in excess of 90% of attempted followers.

11:45 pm on July 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Is this a case of the blind leading the blind or the pied piper....both maybe.
7:10 am on July 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Having followers just for the sake of numbers is nuts. I think Twitter is a nice tool for communication and by communication I mean two way tweets. I ask, you answer, I postulate, You agree or disagree, it's all about communication and dialogue.

Having tens of thousands of followers is either vanity thinking (the higher the number, the more important) or push marketing (Yes, you can call it spam).

I hope my followers follow me for the quality of my tweets, just like I follow people with quality tweets, informational tweets, interesting tweets.

So, Pageoneresults, I totally agree with your post.

4:05 am on July 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am generally in agreement with you about following the people that have millions of followers.

Here's what I am doing. I only follow people with less than a thousand followers. I follow them for a week and unfollow them if they in turn do not follow me.

My objective is to get my tweets read and to have people click on them. I am marketing through twitter and trying to reach people that want to read my posts.

My experience is that after a month, twitter accounts for 20% of those that visit my site. I viewed my click-through average for the two months prior with my click-through average this month. It is approxmately the same.

I am working with the idea that twitter users are coverting about the same as the other ad-driven users. Now this has serious statistical flaws and I know it has to be wrong (but I think it is in the ballpark). Twitter users may be either higher or lower when it comes to conversions.

For the moment I can't tell. My tracking software is to primative but it gives me an incentive to continue using twitter.

5:08 am on July 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I agree in principle, but... let me play devils advocate for a sec (and I hope I don't get shot for this):

But at the end of the day, you even said it, Kusher still has 300,000+ actives. If he says something... they hear it.

he has a insane load of spam followers too... but so what?
they might not be active...but some percent of them may actually see something and RT it. Cast a wide net...and few might be good. esp, if the net is very wide

And unlike SEO, is there a really a downside to spam follows (inbounds)? well, other than getting annoying tweets everyday (but I doubt he really looks anyway.) Sometimes perception IS important. and if the masses still believe more IS better... to a certain degree.... isn't it?

again, I'm on your side on this... I grow and manage my net pretty much the old fashioned way.. but when it gets down to it... what is the real downside of "more"?


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