Twitter: The Numbers Game

Posted by Derrik Jacobson | Follow him on Twitter
Let me start out by stating that Twitter is an open environment when it comes to social media. A VERY open environment. Setting up an account is a simple process and only takes a few minutes. However, to become influential and credible, there is an entirely new set of skills to master.

I am not going to discuss how to use Twitter.

Nor am I planning to help you filter through the fire hose of Tweets that make up your Timeline (see Lists). How to quickly read and understand the language of Twitter? You're not going to find that here either.

How about Tweeting effectively? Nope. That only takes a little bit of time and patience, and if you stick with it, you'll figure it out soon enough.

Okay, so what am I going to talk about? Numbers and credibility.

Twitter is a fantastic tool for listening. Yet, it would nothing without those that are adding to the conversation. By sharing quality content, whether it be news, articles, humor, etc., an individual can gain an amazingly large following.

So here's the theory that I am questioning: Quality content is the fast track to a large Twitter following. This should be pretty straight forward, right?

Truth: in Twitter, quality content might actually come in a distant second for the most effective way to create a large following.

What was that one Tweet that yielded 573 followers for Kallie Grote above? Here you go: a Re-Tweet of a 50%-off shoe sale (see right).

To say that this is the most profound, efficient way to Tweet would be extremely short-sighted.

Yet, upon further examination, Erna Catinella's efforts are remarkably similar. Although these are but a few examples, an underlying trend exists that muddies the viability of distinguishing whether or not a user is actually a credible and influential person on Twitter, strictly by the numbers.

Aside from celebrity-like accounts and large news networks, this trend repeats itself over and over and pollutes any value that might stem from the number of followers displayed on an account. The three users displayed side-by-side above game the system by following a large number of users in hopes that they will reciprocate the follow. After a portion of them follow-back, the rest that do not are purged and more are added in their place. Rinse, repeat, and down the rabbit hole we go.

Think this is an isolated occurrence?  Far from it... and look who is following MORE people.

These three examples definitely have some clout in the social space. I am not questioning that at all, nor the quality of their content (as I follow all three of them). The numbers, however, tell a story. Perhaps they speak as to how they amassed the thousands of followers they have. Or, perhaps a portion of them are driven to follow via other sources; speaking engagements, blogs, articles, etc.... or is the content just that good to get them there? I have my doubts.

Casting a large net always proves to yield the most fish. If exposure of your message is your end goal, then perhaps this is the way to go. Does it lead to credibility and influence? I don't believe so, at least not directly. Messages from users like these may be listened to more often than naught under the false pretense that they are credible by their numbers. Maybe that is all that matters, but it is only half the story.

Klout is quickly becoming the industry standard in measuring social media influence. At the time of this writing, it rates all three of the above examples at 76 or higher out of 100. This is not an easy feat to accomplish. However, all of Klout's worth is based on a number-crunching algorithm. So, according to it, these users have some merit. Unfortunately, it cannot rate their content. Just it's reach.

From a brand's perspective, would I reach out to these people on Twitter as influencers in hopes of having them tout my messages? Definitely not. The odds of being heard through the fire hose of updates and messages users like these receive are close to zero.

Would I be more likely to give their updates a share of my attention at first glance if they had an much larger following than accounts that they chose to follow? Yes. How about if they had roughly an equal friend-to-follower ratio (if I did not follow them already)? Maybe, but I would scrutinize their content more at first. And, if they followed way more people than followed them? Probably not as likely.

However, would I even know of them if they had not followed me first? Referencing the people above: yes, no, no.

In the end, are these users inherently credible? Do they have what it takes to command such large followings in less than 74,000 Tweets? I think it would be overly hasty to say yes.

But, did they get my attention and do they all play the numbers game?


And, are there a lot more out there?


How much do the numbers matter to you?

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About Derrik

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I am a nomad of responsibilities that I still can't quite seem to explain to grandma. I analyze, create, stream-line, manage, and fix stuff that breaks.

Soccer is my passion, learning is a full-time hobby, and coffee is a way of life. My adventures have led me through numerous travels, an exploration of language, critical thinking, and a world of design. You can now find me in Seattle, leading the charge to push the limits of technology at Project Bionic.

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