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So You’ve got thousands of twitter followers! Who Cares?

I recently read a great paper by Meeyound Cha Hamed Haddadi, Fabricio Benevenuto and K.P. Gemmadi that might have just answered a question that I have been pondering for some time now…..

The researchers found that there is no relationship with the number of followers that a person has on twitter and the amount of times that their message is re- tweeted or with the number of times that their name/username is mentioned by other twitter users.

In other words, the number of followers that a user has on twitter appears not to be an indication of how influential they are. Some might find this strange as one would automatically think that the greater the number of followers that the greater the influence and indeed distance that a tweet would travel due to re-tweets etc.

So why doesn’t this hold true? I present a reason for this which I refer to as The 5 Year Old Syndrome. What I refer to as the five year old syndrome is this reciprocal follower arrangement. This “ I’ll follow you if you follow me” approach. I mean naturally I will follow people who have no interest in what I tweet.  I have to be honest and say that I have no issue if people don’t follow me back, as I’m big enough to understand that just because I am interested in what they are tweeting – my tweets might not be something that they are interested in.

However, many of you, like me, will probably notice that your twitter followers jump every now and again, that one day you might be up 10 or so followers and the next week you are down 10 or so. What’s happened ? The 5 year old syndrome has happened. People have stopped following you because you didn’t follow them back!

The 5 year old syndrome has in my mind been responsible for so many people following other people that they really have no interest in following. This leads to people following thousands if not tens of thousands of people ( often by a script) which I posit decreases the likelihood of making any sort of connection with fellow twitter users. So why do I think this?

The logic behind my reasoning is that if everybody followed 10,000 people then the likelihood of catching any tweets in your timeline that are interesting enough to you that you might re-tweet them are seriously diminished. Then we end up going back to the 5 year old syndrome of “if you don’t re-tweet me then I won’t re-tweet you” but chances are if those following you are also following 10,000 others they won’t even see your tweets and don’t really care what it is that your tweeting about.

Even as a knowledge enhancing tool, unless you are following 10,000 people that are directly related to your area then chances are that when you look at your timeline all you see is a big mess of tweets that you really don’t have any interest in. As a result you just post out your own tweets and hope that somebody who may be following you is interested in them, aka.. “hoping for the best”

So that’s just some of my ideas of why no relationship was found to exist between the number of twitter followers one has and the associated influence of that twitterer. I’d be interesting in hearing others.

Barney Austin, another Bloggertone also did an interesting piece on his twitter story that you might find interesting called Twitter Twitter, Little posts where he shares some lessons learned and is worth a read too.

The report I refer to at the intro is called Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy.

Director of social media for an International Bestselling Author. Check out my site for more information.

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  • Hi Brian, I don’t think that you say that there is no relationship with the number of followers. If I have no followers or very few, this severely limits RTs & mentions, so followers are a factor? I would agree that the weighting followers are given in terms of influence is severely over-estimated. The significant reason for this is that it is easy to build up a massive following quickly using auto-follow software etc. Tools such as are useful in deciding whether or not to follow someone.One challenge is attempting to manage any sort of relationship with a large following, I struggle with a couple of thousand so I have to presume that 10s of thousands must be virtually impossible. Cheers,Niall

  • By the way 🙂

    Why do you unfollow on Twitter?

    Please share your reasons


  • Awesome post. I’m starting to really hate the way the Twitter ecosystem is evolving. Tools like Twitter and Facebook are a great way to connect with people and discover new content, but too many people are only interested in how it can benefit their business which throws off the entire balance of the give/take relationship.

    I also think Twitter is hurting a lot of blog communities. It’s common to see a blog post with over 100 retweets and no comments. It’s so easy to retweet that no one takes the time to actually add to the discussion.

  • Hi Niall,

    not necessarily, If you only have one follower and this follower is a connector or opinion leader for example and decides to retweet what you tweet then many tweets could be spawned as a result. Similarly, if you have 5 followers and they each have five followers who have five followers etc etc and you are all intersted in the same subject the likelyhood of ur tweet being retweeted may be higher than if you have 10,000 followers for example who “don’t really care what you tweet” You should read the report that I linked to, really worth a read…. and gives details of the methodology used etc to substantiate their findings

    Cheers Brian

  • Hi Tyler,thanks for your comments. I think you hit the nail on the head when you refer to the give/take balance and I think this can be done pretty well if companies invest the right time and resourses to social media. In fact I think businesses and customers can have both have some fun along the way. For example, check out a company LaCucina in Limerick ( Ireland) who are on facebook , twitter and have their own blog. I really like how they use social media to benefit their business. I found your last line “It’s so easy to retweet that no one takes the time to actually add to the discussion” really interesting and i’m thinking that it might be a nice piece of research to investigate the change in blogging habbits since the introduction of twitter. It really got me thinking.. have we more lurkers and voyers now than contributors and commentators and if so what kind of impact does this have for the future of blogging, is it good in that more people are reading or bad in that less people are creating new content which for example you just did which spawned a thought in me which between the pair of us creates new knowledge…… Really interesting, thanks TylerCheersBrian

  • I suppose I follow people at different times for different reasons, largely related to my research for my PhD or my day job as a social media specialist. I tend to be pretty particular about who I follow so don’t tend to unfollow all that often.

    I guess one pet pieve of mine is people cluttering up my timeline and if I open my twitter page and see that you have taken up my whole page with tweets because you wanted to get in your ten a day at 8am kind of thing, i’ll prob unfollow u if it happens more than the once.Again, that’s just one of my pet pieves…I’d be interested in hearing other people’s reasons for unfollowing…. Nice add to the blog Niall

  • Brian,

    I’d love to read more on this topic if you do end up researching it. I agree that it’s kind of tricky. I obviously appreciate it when my blog posts are retweeted because that increases my audience, but I also know that the most successful blogs have active commenting communities. If retweeting is happening at the expense of commenting (and I think it is) then it’s a net loss for most bloggers.

    Related to this, are you familiar with how handles commenting? From what I understand, people have to post comments on their own tumblr blog (which then shows up below the original blog post). The idea is that there will be less noise because people won’t want to clutter up their own blog with worthless comments. It’s very similar to how retweeting works. In the case of tumblr, I’ve noticed that the quality of comments is higher than you see on most blogging sites, but there’s almost no discussion (like we’re having here). If you’re interested in how retweeting impacts blog engagement, it might make sense to look at tumblr too since there are so many similarities.

  • Hi Tyler,

    In relation to the length of tweets etc. have you heard the expression…”I didn’t have time to write you a note so I left you a letter” ?

    I think most of us could probably write what we say in a paragraph in a sentece. However, having submitted research papers to international conferences where they demand a minimal word count especially in the abstract I can understand how people would get frustrated as it’s pretty time consuming to whittle down a word count.

    cheers for the suggestion of checking out some tumblr blogs 🙂 , I also checked out your blog “The less Annoying Blog” – love the title !

  • Interesting discussion here, I hope it continues 🙂
    With regard to quality of interaction and folks retweeting instead of blogging, I agree with Tyler (I think you hit the pin on the head), but would like to add a point:

    If no-one interacts with me all week (which is not true), or RTs a tweet of mine, I could meet them at a network face to face, and they are familiar with my tweets, so they do read them.
    I genuinely think when people read a tweet (esp a personal one) they feel connected, because it basically is a connection (both the reason I tweeted it and the reason someone read it). So, in that moment, they don’t feel it necessary to respond. Then of course, seconds later they are distracted by something else…

    Another thing that fascinates me is the “LIKE” feature on FB – I will write an update – 5 people can hit “LIKE” without commenting. – I interpret that as “I wont be commenting (for whatever reason), but acknowledging that I read your update” It can demonstrate that people ARE listening.

    Just some observations, and I think it’s linked to the blogging point Tyler mentioned below: It’s much easier and quicker to RT or LIKE a post, than sit down and write a comment (like this one). We can reach out to many many more people, and improve our own exposure.

    Another point that just occurred to me is the use of SM and SN – comments are getting less in quality because a lot of people are told it will improve their SEO and SEM for their own site – so are they really interacting or just bringing traffic back to their own site??? (Please notice I have 2 updates in the picture above, both RTs). Maybe they should take out the field where one puts in their web address in a blog comment, wouldn’t IP be enough?

  • I LOVE this title as I fully agree number do not mean anything, on their own.

    And, love the conversation happening here; writing a post on Twitter is often fascinating because there are no rules on Twitter and people can do and are doing whatever they want with it, so the conversations and comments are often interesting 😉

    Numbers do not matter, ENGAGEMENT does.

    When I first started on Twitter, it became clear very fast that above 100 followers, you are not able to follow and read your full stream anymore, so in my opinion, and focusing solely on the stream of updates, to have more than 100 followers is the same as to have, let’s say 50,000, as, at the end of the day; the stream is too full of updates anyway.

    However, since for me Engagement and Authenticity (I’ll talk about that later) are key on Twitter, I made sure that as I got more and more followers, I would have a “system” helping me follow the streams. I use TweetDeck and this app gives me the ability of having a genuine organisation of my followers. I have multi-columns and all sorted per interest.

    Because, here is the thing that many people and some business owners on Twitter forget: Twitter is a social media platform, and they forget the word “social”. So, when I tweet, I am me, I am authentic and I tweet about various interests, from business, where I tweet positive vibes and empowering tips and actions to my wiifit and marathon running, without forgetting, my scrapbooking and my celiac disease 😉 I enjoy interacting on all of those topics plus more. Interaction is also very important and personally, I would always interact back and reach out.

    My mindset behind Twitter can be summarize in 7 words: Strategise, Plan, Connect, Listen, Engage, Give, and Receive.

    I enjoy spreading good words and adding my sunshine onto the Twitter stream and I know that my followers are mainly following me because of my positive tweets. From that point of view, the more followers I have, the more I can spread (and be help spreading, thanks to RT) my messages about mindset and how empowering mindset is for your life and business.

  • Hello Brian.

    Firstly, many thanks for the link – appreciated.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here with regards to the “spray and pray” approach that people who are following thousands of people have to be doing – there is no way they can be sifting through their timelines. I know I am still following too many people to make it work effectively and need to do a ruthless cleanup focusing on people who I find genuinely interesting to engage with.

    I think all other points I might have made have been covered off in relation to the fact that influence comes from engagement. Niall raises an interesting point on the fact that without followers you won’t gain influence (no RT’s etc) which is valid. However, if you post quality feeds on interesting topics, followers will come and will stay with you if you are relevant to them.

    Engaging post – thanks for sharing.

  • pleasure Barney,

    cheers for commenting and adding to the discussion


  • Hi Frederique,

    thanks for your comments and spending the time to write such an interesting response. I particularly love your Strategise, Plan, Connect, Listen Engage, Give Receive concept….. I wonder is there an annogram in there somewhere !

  • 😉 Well, they have to be done in that order, so SPCLEGR!

  • Hi Elaine,Just in relation to last point you made “are they really interacting or just bringing traffic back to their own site” … I think social media makes it possible to not only interact and bring traffic back to your own site but also allows you to have some fun in the process and if it improves your SEO along the way all the better.thanks for another great response and adding some more interesting things to ponder. I particularly liked the way you mention how offline and online can converge when you referred to people that you would meet at network meetings having read your blog or post. Excellent !

  • It was definitely more a question than a point – I have been told that about bringing traffic back to my site. I endeavour to write meaningful comments here and elsewhere, which means I cannot write many (they tend to be mini novels)
    The quick attempts at getting as many comments on others’ blogs is similar to following loads of people on twitter, and trying out the “spray and pray” (thanks Barney) system would you think? I would not be strong in this knowledge area.

    Yes offline has led to on-line connections for me and on-line has led to many off-line connections also (location permitting) – it works both ways if one puts in the effort 🙂

  • Hi Frederique
    I have given up Tweetdeck in favour of Huitesuite (for now)
    I follows hundreds of people and mostly can follow the latest conversations – haven’t looked into an Api that works best for me, but I can confirm that following 500 people is definitely not as difficult as 50,000 (but I take your point) – and I have 3 accounts to complicate things more 🙂

  • Hi Elaine,I guess people blog for a multitude of reasons such as connecting with another blogger, advancing an understanding of a topic, sharing knowledge, gaining knowldege, promoting their own work, directing traffic to their site, selling, educating, helping, relieving boredom, enjoyment. These are just some off the top of my head, and the blog strategy used should by in large depend on what it is that wants to be achieved. The problem being in a lot of cases that their is no alignment between strategy, goals and social media. I did a response on my own blog to a blog by Tac Anderson in relation to this that might be worth a read. There is also a link to Tac’s blog on there which i found particular good and maybe even one of my favourite blog posts yet in relation to defining social mediaPersonally, I think spray and pray could only be a short term solution and it’s degree of benefit a function of the input costs of the sprayer and what is it that is being prayed for !I also think that people who read blogs are pretty clued into when somebody is just giving one line blog comments and leaving what I refer to as their “Cat Stain” in the form of a link to their own site. In fact, I have come across some blogs where the owners delete links to the commentators site – a practice i’m not all that impressed with when comments are good but that’s a post for another day in terms of recognition and reward V ownership and self promotion.Your analogy of the spray and pray approach to blogging of being “like following loads of people on twitter” is interesting and has given me some food to ponder upon. Thanks Elaine.

  • Hi Brian,

    I’m a big fan of your no-nonsense, direct and heavily researched blogs! They appeal to the analyst in me.

    I find that every online marketing tool goes through a cycle. There’s the introductory period, the interest period, the growth period, maturity and decline (Sound like another cycle we know…. ; 0 ))
    Around the maturity period, a tool or model is subject to abuse or used with more thought because the users are now clued up. This is usually the stage where people consider tactics and its this that leads to the final stage: decline.
    Many commenters mentioned the lack of quality and interaction…..the SEO involvement. In truth, all online marketing techniques, given the high element of competition, are subject to many behaviours not experienced by other forms. They are so transparent, open and integrated, that they are easy to manipulate.

    But back to the core of your blog – I agree, how can you keep track of so many followers? It’s ‘Twitter’ nature that we build our following….but lets be honest, we only really connect with very few….unless our whole day was spent there. Although some of us here are logged in all day, we do alternate between other sites and external pursuits.
    So yes, Twitter quality is diluted. Your Tweets are no sooner there than gone. If an addictive tweeter tweets ten in a row or a recruitment feeds sends 50 at once, you miss the others.

    Maybe its time to improve or move on…..??


  • I just tried the twitter tool…. thanks for that Niall 🙂

  • Hi Tina,

    sorry I’m just responding to you now. cheers for your kind comments 🙂

    I smiled when I saw you mentioning the product life cycle. In relation to the misuse you refer to I remember reading an interesting blog by somebody ( in fact it may have been yourself that wrote it) about how google had to change some of it’s SEO practices due to people learning how to manipulate them as time went on. Maybe people always knew how to manipulate them and as you suggest when things got into the period where everybody climbs on board maybe it was just that more people became aware of how to manipulate SEO to their advantage. I think this interesting as just reading your comments and referring back in my mind to that blog I wonder did google manage to reverse the decline stage……although, i’m no SEO whiz and maybe i’m just getting carried away 🙂

    You mention an interesting point in relation to the use of twitter by recruiters…. I think it much more appropriate for the bigger recruiters to set up a number of twitter channels specific to a profession. Receiving updates of every job that they have is ( I feel) akin to being sent an email by them every time a job of any description comes in even if that job is in no way relevant. Perhaps more appropriate may be a twitter badge for example which when clicked on would present a number of twitter icons that one could choose from….. XYZ Twitter Accountancy…XYZ Twitter Sales….XYZ Marketing etc.
    Your last line…… “Maybe it’s time to improve or move on”…. rings of a good blog to me……I’ll be keeping an eye out for it !

  • Brian – like the idea for recruiters, targeting by specialism. Will mention it to the developers I know who provide recruitment feeds to Twitter. Should improve the ROI’s etc.

    Will await your ‘Maybe it’s time to move on blog’!


  • Congratulations on an outstanding first year. I have been motivated, inspired and educated by some terrific posts over the past few months since I joined. Even more laudatory, is the community aspect you have encouraged – you know how to put the social into social media! Looking forward to watching you grow from strength to strength over the coming year. Keep up the great work guys! Marie

  • Anonymous

    Great work guys. It is wonderful to see so many excellent bloggers that started contributing 12 month’s ago still contributing such great content. Onwards and Upwards! PS. What was your favourite Bloggertone post over the past year?

  • Great question! Let me get back to you, I have a few 🙂

  • Facundo

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments!
    @Greg I haven’t got a favourite post, or maybe I do but I won’t say it 🙂

  • Thanks very much everybody!

  • Happy Birthday Bloggertone. It doesn’t feel like a year at all. Well done on achieving such a great community in such a short time.

  • Anonymous

    Happy Birthday and thanks to everyone in the Bloggertone community. To expand on Sian’s point, I think it would be great to have an annual Bloggertone face-to-face meetup.

  • Anonymous

    Happy birthday to you, Bloggertone! It’s been so cool watching this site grow in readership, commenters and bloggers. The various types of expertise makes it a useful resource!

    A real testament to Fred, Facundo and Niall as all of you make connecting with others, no matter where they are, look easy!

    It would be such a treat to meet everyone in person!

  • I think I have to tow the party line (see Facundo below) but on the QT, it’s one from Lewis and its cause it was a bit out there which I like, what about you Mr Fry?

  • Anonymous

    There is a reason why I asked the question and didn’t answer it. There have been so many amazing posts over the last year. One that sprang to mind was “Blog, blog, blah, blah – bland, bland?” also from Lewis. I think the brilliant Charlie Booker video made it stand out. –

  • A Happy Birthday to all Bloggertoners and the most excellent contributors and followers!

    Big well done to Niall, Fred and Facundo – the drive to make this work has been phenomenal. Well done and thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Niall:nnThanks for including me at #4 on the list.nnRob

  • My pleasure Rob, great article! Thanks for writing 🙂

  • stay tuned. I’ve only scratched the surface…

  • 🙂 That’s what I like to hear

  • What a great post, Helen! Talk about making me see spreadsheets in a new light 🙂

  • Helen, a super article – thanks for highlighting the vulnerability and volatility of spreadsheets and their users!!
    =20+15*2  – A most common error in spreadsheets is lack of knowledge of simple mathematics. Some would use this simple formula to return an answer of 70, however a spreadsheet will return 50. No amount of auditing/checking will proof something like this.

    I had a client who used Excel for accounting – when moving over to an accounts package, they realised they had not invoiced for 2 contracts!! OK it was only 1000 Euros, but that is a lot of money to be missing out of a small business cash flow!

    Again, thanks for highlighting. Self taught spreadsheet users can be the most dangerous kind, especially when they mentor others!

  • Lewis

     Elaine, I don’t really get your example 🙂 Of course 50 is the right answer to the formula. So that would be an incentive in the use of spreadsheets, or what? 🙂
    We also get LOTS of mistakes with spreadsheets. I mean, mistakes are bound to happen, even with the best of us. Everybody gets distracted or tired sometimes and either you get someone to double check somebody else’s work and someone to triple check that or you have to deal with a margin of error. That said, basic training should be required in every company where Excel or such are largely used (the most of them, actually), which unfortunately doesn’t happen very often.

  • Hi Lewis,
    You are reading the formula one way. Imagine if you wanted to add 20 and 15, and then multiply the result by 2? Basic mathematics and understanding the syntax of a formula would alert us to apply brackets to the aspect of the formula we wish to have calculated together ie. =(20+15)*2 this will return the correct answer of 70. However, if someone does not know or understand these simple principles, they will receive the incorrect result (50) and may not think to check it at all.

    This is such a common yet fundamental issue, I see it in training every day. Precedence in formulae needs to be taught, thankfully this is becoming less of a problem over time. You have hit the nail on the head “basic training should be required in every company…” the very ones to slip through the net are small business owners.

  • Sounds like you have a good delegation plan in place. Thanks Warrren for you kind comments, I’m delighted that I made you smile!
    ~ Helen

  • Thanks Niall 🙂

  • Realising that your spreadsheets are need to be checked for error is half the battle, so many people don’t and place blind faith in them. Glad you enjoyed the article, thank you.
    ~ Helen

  • Thanks Lewis, great to see you having a debate with Elaine here!
    ~ Helen

  • Thanks for your illustration and comments Elaine. Maths does indeed let a lot of people down. However, it should be noted almost all of the mistakes I have cited in my article were made in very large organistions by highly trained people. In fact, one of the mistakes was made by a person holding a degree in Maths and Computer Science and who is a trainer at expert level in MS Office Products including Excel.Scary isn’t it?~ Helen

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