More is not always better: how many Twitter followers do you want?

Tempting though it may be, especially when it comes to chocolate, more is not always better. Driven in part by a desire by some to emulate the sort of “opportunities to see” and “reach” calculations common in more traditional PR and marketing work, it is common to see people judge social media activities by the “more equals better” formula.

The number of followers a corporate Twitter account has, for example, is an easy number to track, makes for nice looking graphs and has a certain logic. However, looking uncritically at such numbers is also a trap for the unwary.

Followers may – indeed almost certainly will – include defunct accounts and spam accounts, which boost the numbers artificially. They may also include followers who have no relevance to the audiences which would be useful.

My own Twitter account is followed by a Chicago firm which supplies chemicals to plumbers in that area. I’ve yet to work out what set of circumstances will make that a useful connection for either of us…

The risk with focusing on crude totals is both that it can distort behaviour (including, in the worst cases, encouraging people to do silly things in search of numbers) but also obscures whether or not the right people are being reached.

An example from the US gives a stark reminder of how success does not have to come from volume:

We created a Twitter account recently for a trade association client with an issue on Capitol Hill, and at its highest the account had between 30 and 50 followers. But those followers were reporters covering the issue, members of Congress on the right committees, and the client was thrilled. (William Beutler of New Media Strategies, Politics Magazine, Nov/Dec 2009)

5 responses to “More is not always better: how many Twitter followers do you want?”

  1. My thoughts on Twitter are that it might just as well be called Twatter as the software is so flaky and doesn’t seem to know what it’s actually about.

    Why would the general man or woman in the street use twitter? I’ve still to find how to add to a thread say on Dr Who. Doesn’t work.

    My view is that by the end of the decade we’ll be saying `Twitter – ah yeh I remember that`

    FB will go from strength to strength

  2. John: there’s not one simple answer to “why use Twitter?” because across its millions of users there are lots of different ways people use the tool, including to share information or to have discussions. There are certainly plenty of discussions and expressions of opinion about Doctor Who on Twitter – especially during / after the broadcast of shows on BBC1.

    So when you say it “doesn’t work” I wonder if it’s that you are trying to do something (“add a thread”) which is an action that applies to other tools (e.g. add a thread on a discussion forum) but which doesn’t really have an equivalent on Twitter?

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