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Earned Followers Are Better Than Junk Circulation

By - May 10, 2009

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(image) The way some folks’ numbers are blowing up on Twitter, it seems to me perhaps we might create two types of Twitterati – those who have purely “earned” audience base, and those whose base has been wildly inflated due to their inclusion in Twitter’s suggested users feature, which I wrote about earlier last week.

I’m not usually one to talk about this stuff, but for whatever reason, it’s been bugging me. I remember when I started this site, and it started to get noticed by people whose opinion I respected. Then concentric circles of folks found out about it, and it built organically, to the point of being one of the largest blog sites focused on tech and media (that was 04-05, before I abandoned covering news and started pointing folks to Danny and Mike). That felt good – I had earned the respect of an important audience, and my numbers showed it. The same is true of Fred at A/VC, Mike at TC, and many, many others.

But that’s not how it’s playing out on Twitter lately. I’ve spoken to a number of folks whose Twitter numbers have recently skyrocketed, and they all have said the same thing – followers may have increased dramatically, but engagement – folks who reply, or click on a link in your tweet, or Direct Message you – increased only marginally. In other words, the system is creating what we used to call, in the magazine business, “junk circulation” – numbers for numbers sake, without a lot of value.

That’s a game many have played, and continue to play, in our Comscore obsessed Internet world, but it never ends well. Ever.

And I don’t think that is in any way good for the Twitter ecosystem.

Just my two cents.

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13 thoughts on “Earned Followers Are Better Than Junk Circulation

  1. Mary Hodder says:

    I totally agree that things like this never end well. More importantly than the individual effects and the negative impacts they have, are that the community as a whole has a flavor of inorganic, manipulative behaviors and is trained in ways that don’t help the system and company at all.

    These behaviors are critical to sustaining a real community that interacts around useful, meaningful and enjoyable interactions.

    Flickr is a great example of this, where they grew slowly and the community was well versed in what they offered as a service, those features and social norms, which continue today for the better of the overall community.

    I respect the Twitter founders and have enjoyed the service, but recently the recommended follower phenomenon and attendant effects has caused me to enjoy it less, to rely on it less, to find less value and meaning, and to suspect that it will have trouble sustaining over the long term as something many people want.

    @maryhodder

  2. Jason Nazar says:

    and yet, most of us would all trade the mega followers in lue of the smaller engaged group

    it seems like its easier to get 500,000 followers to be more engaged than it is to turn 1000 engaged followers into 500K

  3. Atul says:

    One way to measure how engaged followers vs junk followers stack up is to look at the click stats (via bit.ly) for some one with 500K followers vs. people who have engaged followers. Based on my limited data points, I have observed that the click thru ratio of links shared by people with 500K seems to be lower than someone with smaller number of engaged followers. More scientific and rigorous data collection and analysis is probably required to substantiate that.

  4. Quality vs Quantity. That’s what I’m looking for.

  5. nmw says:

    John, numbers are meaningless.

    :) nmw

  6. Kerry says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Companies especially should realize that engagement is ultimately way more important to a brand than some huge number is.

    For the most part, I disagree with automation on social networks. Yes, it takes more time to build an engaged follower base, but it’s worth it.

    People can tell when you’ve automated your Twitter account (just use a feed to your blog, auto-follow, sign up for a scammy follower pyramid scheme). This separates accounts with value from accounts that are just using social networking because they feel like they have to. Set it and forget it won’t work.

  7. Andi says:

    Actually many accounts (really big companies, I’m taking down names) are very busy manufacturing fake followers. This will be a wonderful scandal when it breaks. @andilinks

    And the numbers, while grossly distorted, are not meaningless–they do say a lot about the account.

  8. Kathy Buck says:

    In business you see the innovators, the imitators and the idiots. Twitter is the innovation. There are imitators imaging models to ride the innovation. The idiots – the ones flogging the innovation on how to get gobs of followers for a price. The reality is those paying for any follower is an act of desperation. To me it’s like a handsome man sat in the dark winking at a cute girl – only he knows what he is doing and why.

    Moral – I don’t know who you are, what you stand for, your reputation, your product, your clients -what did you want to sell me again?

    I’ll take 50 people who were drawn to me VS 50,000 that where not.

  9. Chris says:

    could it be that these “followers” never return? This Nielsen study reports that the majority (60%) of Twitter sign-ups don’t go back.

  10. Chris says:

    could it be that these “followers” never return? This Nielsen study reports that the majority (60%) of Twitter sign-ups don’t go back.

    http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/update-return-of-the-twitter-quitters/

  11. Gabe says:

    seems to further add merit to the idea that Twitter is the new MySpace, how many celebs w/ huge six figure plus friend counts actually get really engagement with this audience

  12. We all get followers offering you their junk – I assume many take great delight in blocking these, because each time I do it I sense I have refined something you value.

    Hmm (how about a “may I follow you” button – think of the credibility that might engender). 

    I would like my advocates to be confined to people with some values.  It is not only the message, but the messenger that counts.

    For the same reason I generally follow people who add opinion rather than simply retweeting it, that small investment imbues it with a certain credibility.  However there is sometimes value in the simple RT of messages that are of value precisely because  they are broadcast.  These are messages for humankind.  

    A great example is this TED talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7ktYbVwr90 -@drgrist:disqus by @drgrist  ( I hope you do not mind me illustrating but I would argue this is a message that serves us all while illustrating my point).

    Finally I would note that a simple pattern recognition algorithm could very simply sift these behaviors.  It is perhaps the one twitter app that I might use, but because style wins over content and volume and repetition over message in the view o many marketeers – I am not aware of such a thing.- Back in the old days this was called quality assurance – and it assures.

  13. this is a theme that I am reading about more and more. I sincerely believe that the future of the web will revolve around small communities (100-150 people) that will have have high a degree of influence on its members. The best social metric for such groups will be the degree of online engagement and conversation verus the number of twitter followers or retweets or likes.