Twitter Is Not A Measuring Stick. At All.

There are many of us out there who are driven by statistics. Bloggers especially. We compare the number of subscribers to our feed, the traffic we see, sometimes even the money we make. This post is about how Twitter SHOULD NOT be something we use as a measuring stick.

The Experiment

I have a website that I run every March for the NCAA March Madness tournament. This will be the 8th year I’ve run it, and until now, it has grown completely organically. Friends and colleagues told their friends and colleagues, and before I knew it, I had over 500 people filling out brackets on my website.

With the rise of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks, I thought I’d see what I could do with a little promotion.

So I created a new Twitter handle: cutdownthenets. I started by following about 25 some of my close friends on Twitter. But that seemed silly, because they were already going to know about my site. I am trying to reach people that I’ve never met before.

How do I find a huge number of people that are interested in sports, brackets, or the NCAA tournament? Well, ESPN has a Twitter presence, what if I just follow everyone that is following ESPN? They’ve got over 40,000 followers. Surely some of them will be interested in my site. Heck, if I got 1% of them, that would be 400 new participants in my little office pool.

So I opened ESPN’s “followers” page, and started following every single person I could. Fatigue started setting in around 1,000 though. So I left it at that. Based on my expectations, if I only got 1% of those people, I’d have 10 new followers the next day.

When I woke up this morning, cutdownthenets had over 200 followers.

Are you kidding me? Surely this can’t be right. As it turns out, it is. About 20% of a random sample of Twitter users followed me back, without knowing anything about me, and certainly without reading any of my posts. (I’d only made 5 posts TOTAL at that point).

In fact, my 1% number did come into play in all of this. About 1% of the users that I followed had an automatic follow and DM action set up somewhere. I got lots of messages like these:

What This All Means

What this little experiment has made me realize is that the number of followers someone has is almost completely artificial. There’s TONS of services that try to compare people based on the number of Twitter followers they have, and that’s just wrong. If I wanted more followers, all I need to do is start following a ton of people. Heck, I could even “unfollow” those people the next day to really inflate my Twitter Ratio.

The quality of a Twitter user should be determined by how relevant their content is to their followers. There are plenty of popular users that have a signal/noise ration approaching ZERO. They don’t participate in the conversation, it’s just a constant stream of noise in the form of links, messages, and more links. (I’m looking at you, Guy Kawasaki.)

So the next time you get followed by someone, take the time to look at their posts. Read their bio. Truly determine whether listening to that person is valuable to you. I’m re-evaluating the people I follow because of this. There’s a bunch of noise out there, and I’m in search of value.

How This Can Be Harnessed For Good

Twitter could be a very valuable tool for companies. Some, like Dell, really seem to get that. They can provide valuable information and resources directly to their customers. But this can be taken a step further.

What if every time someone mentioned your product on Twitter, you knew about it? What if every time someone had a negative experience with your company, you heard about it, and could help to remedy the situation? Using the Search features at http://search.twitter.com, or a desktop application like TweetDeck, I am able to pay attention to the specific terms that I am interested in, and interact with people that use those terms. The terms I am currently following are “Zune”, “March Madness”, and “Microsoft Tag.” If ANY Twitter user mentions one of those things, I immediately get a notification in TweetDeck, and can reply to them, follow them, etc.

It allows me to meet and interact with other people that have similar interests to me. THIS is where the value of Twitter is. Finding common interests, and having conversations about them. Just getting a HUGE number of followers is not.

I no longer care about how many followers you have. It doesn’t matter.

6 thoughts on “Twitter Is Not A Measuring Stick. At All.

  1. Twitter sets limits: you can’t follow too many more people than follow you.So for accounts with several thousand followers, total follower #’s could mean something. Alas, there are other pyramid-style methods to get followers than just following people.One of the best metrics of who is worth following is who gets retweeted the most (we’re in the top 30 in the world)

  2. YES. I’m confused by all the people who seem to care about follower count for its own sake. Other than ego, why?

  3. Thanks, nice one, very instructive.I'm going to follow you

  4. So True. I am constantly pruning my list to reduce noise. I am sure it keeps my follower stats down, but I really don’t care. If, for me, Twitter has the noise that Facebook has, I am likely to stop using Twitter.Thankfully, Twitter allows me to customize my experience to a good degree.

  5. Would be nice if twitter had more of a filtering option. For example: I follow several MS speakers. Yet 8 in 10 tweets are personal remarks to friends or “the local temp is…” kind of posts. So I add someone for the sake of getting valuable info. Yet I still must deal with the daily tweets that hold no value to me. Maybe tagging of some sort could be an option?

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