The Truth About Twitter Follow Counts

Everyone using Social Media these days seems hung up on the number of friends they have – nowhere more so than on Twitter. Followers and following seem to be the only metric people understand, and a whole new industry has cropped up to help you, “increase your Twitter follow count by 1000s!” Which all sounds about as believable as the SEO ads that promised, “we’ll submit you to 100s of search engines!”

Why? Because a Twitter follow count is the only thing that makes sense to some. People tend to think of their follow counts as if it were high school – if you have the most friends, you’re popular. That’s the way it seemed to the kids wtihout friends, anyway. And with everyone still sure they need a social media marketing plan, but unable to explain why, pointing to a metric like “whole lotta followers” feels as good as anything.

The thing is, the kids who were popular understood selectivity. They were friends with other people who were themselves worthy of having as friends. Think about it – the captain of the cheer team and the quarterback didn’t hang around with just anyone.

The same with the computer nerds. The same with the theater geeks. The same with the goths and the student council and the stoners… each networked with just those people who were good to have as friends. With Twitter, the lesson still applies. You don’t want to be friends with everyone – you want to be friends with people who will:

  • Write you back when you write to them,
  • Create posts that are interesting, valuable, entertaining, intelligent, etcetera,

and possibly, if you’re a marketer,

  • Have interests that fall in line with what you are selling.

The twits who do not feel like this usually are easy to spot.

twitter follow 1

twitter follow #1

This is a screenshot of a profile of a new user. You know this person’s new because they haven’t posted very much, but have put a lot of effort into following other people. This stands to reason, since there isn’t a lot to do on Twitter when you’re new except look for others who post things you might want to read.

Given the amount of following to posting this person does, I’d say they’ll get bored with it in very short order.

Twitter Follow #2

Twitter Follow #2

Here’s another profile, showing someone who isn’t even bothering to hide that they’re here to collect followers – not write posts. With only 6 posts ever, they have managed to collect 706 people willing to follow them. This person never posts anything, valuable or not. They simply fish for users who will follow them back. There are slightly more following than followers, showing they are fishing for new users to follow them back a bit at a time.

Twitter Follow #3

Twitter Follow #3

Ultimately, this user becomes (or hopes to become) like this one – very few posts, but look at all of those Twitter follows! The even number of following to followers shows that this person will follow you if you return the favor, and is always out looking for more people to do just that.

So the first user doesn’t have many fans, and that’s fine, as it doesn’t seem they’ve been “bitten” by the Twitter bug yet. The second one definitely sees Twitter as a sort of ponzi scheme, where they could eventually have a massive following like #3.

And that is all it takes to have a large Twitter following.

But understand, having a large Twitter following does not mean you are popular. People make that mistake when they see people who are popular… and as such have a large Twitter following. For instance, here is the follow count for the dramatically sized ego of Ashton Kutcher:

Twitter Follow #4

Twitter Follow #4

Holy crap, look at the size of that thing! Over 3,000,000 followers? Those 3024 posts must be absolute gold!

Well, no, not really. His follow count comes from the fame he earned, and the hardcore lobbying stunt he pulled in the name of the “Twitterverse” earlier this year.

The mini lesson is that unless you’re already famous, a large twitter following – or Facebook, or Myspace, or whatever comes next – isn’t that important. The buzz from a large following in that circumstance flows one way. It does give credence to putting your Twitter address on your television commercial, if nothing else.

If you are going to put in the time to create any social media account to promote, or even just to do business, don’t stress about having “enough” people following you. Concentrate rather on the “right” people following you. I suggest sites like Twellow to comb through Twitter users by interest or geography, then start writing posts directly to those people. Answer questions they are asking, or engage them in conversations based on what they are talking about. Show how you are a real person, with real opinions of your own, or information to share. Become an asset.

If you do that, you will attract more than your share of Twitter followers, and you will be actively involved with just the right kinds of friends you need.

And for further information on the politics of high school friends, go see “The Breakfast Club.” It was all covered so well there already, I shouldn’t bother digging any further into it.

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