My followers are bigger than yours: On Twitter, quality beats quantity

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Ian Lurie Jul 22 2010

I’ve been doing an unscientific study: Watching a random sampling of folks who retweet my blog posts, and then tracking the number of folks who respond to their retweets.

As it turns out, on average you’ll get more visitors when someone with a moderate following retweets your post. I’m leaving out @GuyKawasaki, of course – one tweet from him can crash entire server farms. Here’s the results in a nutshell:

followers vs retweets

How this got started

I started collecting this data after someone (call him @Spammyguy) with 32,000 followers retweeted 10 tips for publishers. I’m not an idiot, and I knew he’d probably used The Ultimate Solution To Generating Lots Of Twitter Followers And Making Millions While You Sleep. But I figured his spam tweet (spweet?) would generate at least 30-40 clicks. Guess how many I got?

Three. Clicks.

In case you’re wondering, that’s .009375% of his total following.

Then I tracked what happens when someone like @Rhea (3000+ followers) or @AlexHardy (700+ followers) retweets my stuff. The range is huge, and the potential for me screwing up the math is even hugerer, but when a relatively popular person with a following of under 10,000 followers retweets a post, they generate a 3-10% clickthru rate.

Conclusion: It’s not the size of the following, it’s how you use it

twitter response followers

@Spammyguy’s 30,000 followers probably see him as an online boil of sorts: For now, they’re stuck with him, but they do their best to ignore him. And after the 40th affiliate link to a get rich quick site, or the 30th Rickroll to a porn site, they sure as hell don’t click on his tweeted links.

@Spammyguy is using his audience as a target: Shoot stuff at them, and maybe a few will bite. He has a big audience, but wields almost zero influence.
On the other hand, smart Twitterers cultivate people they want to talk to. They build smaller, quality lists of interested listeners. They may not seem as impressive, at first glance: Their audiences are relatively small.

But they wield tremendous influence. Their tweets may ‘only’ reach 700 people, but most of those people will re-tweet to their friends, and so on. These folks use their Twitter audience as part of their daily conversation. Because of that, they can reach third- and fourth-hand audiences. So while their direct reach may be smaller, their actual reach is enormous.

tags : conversation marketing

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10 Comments

  1. The only thing that isn’t connecting for me here is “@Spammyguy’s 30,000 followers probably see him as an online boil of sorts: For now, they’re stuck with him, but they do their best to ignore him.”
    If you were bothered by someone you were following, wouldn’t you just unfollow them? I suppose that the only way they could see him as a nuisance and not unfollow him was if they wanted to keep their number up and were afraid they would lose him as a follower if they unfollowed.

  2. @paolabrussels

    love your copyright notice; very tempting. More seriously, wouldn’t it be great if there were some tool which analysed the quality of someone’s Twitter following ? Be nice to see what that is worth with all the auto-follows and spammy sorts removed…

  3. Rhys

    It depends on who your followers are. I have a fair few followers but they are spread over a number of niches, so although I have a lot of followers, they may not retweet as much as people with a dedicated niched following.
    Nevertheless, consider yourself retweeted :)

  4. Ben

    What doesn’t make sense to me is why Spammy Guy who connects with 30,000 people has 30,000 followers. If all he does is post affiliate links then I would either unfollow, or not follow to start with. In fact I’d probably block him entirely…

  5. Dennis

    Are there that many people on Twitter that just don’t care about the quality of their following…30,000 to 1?
    Or maybe its just a big circle you know what of auto-following twitter fools…is it possible the spweets are just spweeting each other now!
    @paolabrussels I’d like to see that tool as well…

  6. brian

    I do agree that when it comes to Twitter quality is more important then quantity. We have grown our following to 26,000 followers but at what price?
    We seemed to have more influence and better engagement when we had under 10,000 followers.
    It takes more time to manage the account and get rid of the noise.
    We have found that are most loyal followers have under 10,000 followers and those RT’s have a further reach.
    Thanks for sharing and we will RT to our followers.

  7. I always love to hear data that support the conclusion that quality trumps quantity. It’s what my gut and conscience tell me should be true, so nice to hear it confirmed. It’s just part of the same cycle that seems to happen with every new technology that hits: first the true enthusiasts discover it and trial/test it, then it moves into the trendy category and a bunch of trend-followers look to scam it, then it finally settles into general use by the “reasonable masses” who use it for its real proven value. Twitter seems to be comfortably in this last category.

  8. This is a really good post. I have only just started using twitter as part of my online presence. I feel lucky to have run across your post. They are words that I will heed. Thank you.

  9. Some good facts about Twitter! As a marketer I have experienced many benefits from Twitter in spite of the fact it can’t beet Facebook under reliability! I would like to provide few tips to identify fake twitter accounts. Look at the tweets made by the account who has thousands of followers & the ratio of tweets should be equal to the number. Second, you can search in the twitter search field with the users account like this: ‘@twitterusername’. If you find zero or very few results it means that the account has no popularity in its network!

  10. dianeski

    Well, I’m a corporate slave, not a small-biz owner seeking to drum up business, so I use Twitter basically to connect with people I know and learn from experts like Ian. I also vent and rant about my job a lot. Which is why I protect my tweets.
    I have a close friend here at work who sits just a few pods away from me. (A pod is an eensy-weensy minuscule cubicle, hexagonal rather than cube-shaped. We work in a giant honeycomb of pods. I guess that’s why they call us worker bees. Yes, it’s just as icky as it sounds.) Anyway, my colleague-friend and I tweet to each other about work a lot. It’s easier than shouting over the pod walls. More discreet, too.
    In summary: I really don’t care how many followers I have. For me, quality definitely trumps quantity. But that’s partly because I’m not, personally, peddling anything.
    I wish Lisa Barone and Jill Whalen would follow me, though, so I could pick their brains. [pouty face]

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