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.