It Doesn’t Matter How Many Followers You Have

March 3, 2012

Let us begin with the understanding that none of us are Kanye West. We’re not Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. Nobody is hanging on our every word.

Let us also assume you are not an active news aggregator, sending out 5 to 10 tweets an hour. The only stream you’re dominating is your mother’s, since she only follows you, your younger sister, and Oprah.

Instead, we must accept that we are merely a single source of information in a world flooded with data. By tweeting, we are tossing out a small piece of information to a handful of people who may or may not be giving you their full attention. Who may or may not accept your implicit offer to look deeper into whatever you are talking about.

If you seek out current data on how people use Twitter you’ll likely see that the vast majority of users are not very active. Using the year-old numbers I found online, approximately 80% of Twitter users follow and are followed by under 50 people, a sharp contrast to the 7-figure numbers we like to talk about with celebrities and prominent media figures. Twitter statistics also show that most people infrequently send out tweets (less than 4 a month), and many never even tweet after they sign up. The statistics indicate that as the numbers of Twitter users increased, the measurable pro rata activity on Twitter decreased.

Or, to paint a fuller picture…there are a relatively small portion of Twitter users who are very active on Twitter, while the vast majority of Twitter users joined later and did not maintain the activity level of the early adapters.

Conversely, there is no data (that I could find) concerning how people read or perceive tweets. Nevertheless, there are certain logical conclusions one can draw based on what we know about out-going Twitter communication. While there are certainly people who treat Twitter like a constantly-changing passive source of text, it does not seem likely there are many people who send vastly more tweets than they read, or read vastly more tweets than they send: the most active tweet-readers are likely the outspoken minority who are most active in sending out their own tweets.

In other words, those 20% of Twitter users with more than 50 followers are the people most likely to be reading your tweets. They will be seeing your tweet on a screen with 10 to 15 other tweets from the 50+ other people they are following. Depending on the refresh setting of their particular Twitter app, and how active the Twittersphere is at that particular moment, your tweet will be appearing on the screen of your average, active Twitter user for a minute or two at most, before it is replaced by other sources of visual stimulation.

Whether your particular tweet caught the attention of that active Twitter user and spurred him to react in some way is anybody’s guess.

I say all of that to say this: trying to increase the reception of your tweets by trying to increase your followers is illogical. Yes, if you have more followers there is an increased chance that people will happen upon your tweet. But an atmosphere that promotes how many followers a user can accumulate also increases the amount of data being pushed at each Twitter user, leading to less productive, more scatter-shot form of communication.

The more followers you have, means the more people your followers are following. Which means your followers will be less likely to perceive your particular tweet. A race to collect followers is a race to diffuse a message.

When considering Twitter followers, it should be about quality, not quantity. Better to engage with 10 active Twitter users than to lob a tweet at 100 passive Twitter users. Better to use Twitter as a tool, in conjunction with other means of communication, than to think there’s a magic number that will make a social media campaign all worth while.

Focus on the big picture, not the easy numbers.