Twitter Reflections on a Milestone

Recently I hit the milestone of having 1,000 followers on Twitter. I’m not trying to boast, as I’m a big believer in quality over quantity, and I’m fortunate that both apply here. Still, it’s a convenient time to reflect on what that means.

1) Friending vs. Following
One of the more interesting paradigms with Twitter is that there isn’t the requirement of reciprocity that’s common on social networks. On Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, two people need to agree to be each other’s friend. On Twitter, for all public accounts (which is the most common form), you can follow whoever you want, and there’s no need for the people you follow to agree.

There are many reasons why you might not follow someone back:

  • They post too often
  • They post too infrequently
  • They only post about themselves
  • They only post links with no commentary
  • They’re boring
  • You’re overwhelmed by your current volume from who you’re following and you’re cutting back
  • You only follow people you really know

All those reasons are valid, and there are no questions asked (though if a significant other, boss, or client follows you, suck it up and follow them back to keep the peace, even if they fall into one of the bove buckets).

2) Some Followers Matter More
Not everyone following me matters. Okay, maybe that’s a little dismissive, but there are several tiers of followers:
a) Followers who are subscribing to your posts via IM or SMS so they get notified of each one
b) Followers who are active on Twitter and are reading your posts on a regular basis
c) Followers who don’t catch most of what you tweet but still see your tweets periodically, reinforcing your relevance in their network
d) Followers who connect with you because they know you or just think they should but never see anything you do; there’s still a bit of value in that first point of contact, and it could grow down the road
e) Followers who are following everyone just to try to get more people to follow or even notice them
f) Brands, organizations, or other non-humans following you because you follow them or because they found you in some Twitter search, but who won’t be going back and reading who they’re following (
g) Twitter spammers – the get rich quick schemers, snake oil salesmen, and the like (a subset of category "e" but more malicious; it’s the difference between a used car salesman who’s a nice enough guy but you’re wary of because of his profession, and the used car salesman who’s actively trying to screw you)

I’d estimate that about 10% of my followers fall into categories e, f, and g, and so they don’t matter as much to me; I don’t need to attract followers to inflate my own numbers. That percentage is definitely more than 5% and has to be lower than 20%, but it’s hard to keep track. And there’s no real way of knowing the breakouts for a, b, c, and d, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m just grateful they’re connecting with me here. (I also have no hard feelings for friends of mine who are on Twitter but don’t follow me; as mentioned previously, there are too many good reasons for that to take offense, and I don’t follow a number of people I respect immensely.)

In any case, maybe I’m Tweeting about this milestone too early. If it’s really 20% who are in the ‘don’t matter’ bucket of followers, should I wait until I get to 1,200? The content of this post would be the same regardless; the number’s just for convenience.

3) Value of Network
Twitter gets increasingly valuable as more people follow you since, generally speaking, you’ll have more people in the a, b, and c buckets above who might make for meaningful interactions. If you have a question, there are more people who can answer. If you have a great link to share, more people will get to see it. If you respond to someone, more people may provide their thoughts to that response.

An added bonus is that the size and quality of your network aren’t all that matter. I recently posted that a friend needed help setting up a blog, and the one person who responded wasn’t even following me (he was probably just tracking relevant keywords like WordPress). It wound up being a good fit, and the blog launched that day because of it. So you could have no one following you and still reap the benefits of people listening.

Having followers helps though. To my followers, thank you, and let me know how I can make my posts and interactions with you more meaningful.

Update: Be sure to read the comments. There are some very thoughtful, interesting stories of how people are using Twitter (and a couple ideas that I might include in a new version of this post). If you do comment – as I hope you do if you’re so inclined – be sure to mention your Twitter name.

8 thoughts on “Twitter Reflections on a Milestone

  1. Personally, I only follow people I am interested in, and think that I can learn from – a handful are business contacts, a handful of media savvy types, and yes, Mr. PC, John Hodgeman because Biz Stone told me to and he seems like a nutball
    http://www.deals365.us

  2. David, Just loved your explanation of Twitter. I’m in the quality vs
    quantity camp just because I’m too time starved to watch too many things more than I already am. I joined Twitter not long ago and have 39 following and 33 followers. I was surprised when certain well-known individuals started following me. It was fun to know they would be interested. Knowing who is following me makes me a bit more careful with what I post. I try to keep it interesting, either some tidbit that gives some insight into who I am or, perhaps a link to something that I think most people won’t know about and knowing about it will definitely enhance their life. As to those I follow, I enjoy reading about the antics of the cat belonging to the CEO of Zappos as well as following some of the CEO’s business connections.
    As to the value of Twitter I discovered it early on. I am now in touch with a CEO that is proving to be critical to one of my current projects. It was the Twitter connection that did it.
    Also, following Guy Kawasaki allowed me to have the privilege of commenting on his new book: http://www.shirleyderose.com/blog/?p=21
    So, overall, I am finding great value and great fun chirping out a tweet once in a while. I guess it was the “a little birdie told me…” that pushed me over the edge to join you and all the others 😉

  3. Helpful post for new Twitterers David. I very much agree with Justin about the follower-to-follow ratio. It that looks OK, I will always check out a follower’s blog before following them back. The easiest way to get someone to follow you on Twitter is to comment on their blog. Now you definitely have my attention. Even then, I will dutifully check their profile and blog before following them back.
    When I check a profile, as you mentioned, I check for conversation versus a monologue. Perhaps because I am a woman, I also check their latest tweets to screen for evidence of nastiness. Ironically, I know I could have missed some of my favorite TwitterBuds had I caught them on a day that they are having a bit of a row with someone. If in doubt I file away to look at later.
    Twitter is not MySpace. It is not about amassing as many friends as possible. For me it is about relationships.
    @lindasherman

  4. After being a twitterer for just over a week, I have 8 followers and I’m following 5. I had 4 more g types following that just had links to porn lists or software. I blocked those. These weren’t real people to me.
    I began following a few people including David because they seemed more interesting than myself. I actually came across this blog by following a link from someone else’s site.
    I am still learning twitiquette, so please forgive me if I appear to be doing something in that list.
    I really want to use Twitter for it’s apparent purpose; making contact with people you find interesting.

  5. David – Very insightful and useful blog post – which are two of the very reasons I am a “follower” of yours and also subscribe to your blog. For me, Twitter is the convergence of quality of content and quality of relationships. Other than straight up face time, I don’t know of another format that blends these so well. In addition, Twitter is really about relevance – and the measurement of relevance is not eyeballs (or followers) but conversations. In any given week, some of the most inspiring and interesting conversations I follow and/or participate in are on Twitter.
    Final thought – I rarely follow anyone that has their follower-to-follow ratio out of whack (no more than 4:1). I think there is a unwritten rule of reciprocation; even if there is no direct dialog. Or maybe I’m just a conversation purist 🙂

  6. Per your tweet here are some comments: I follow you because I get your Media Post column and like what you have to say. I never expected you to follow me back – but thank you for it! Now that I have twirl, I can actively see the tweets of people I follow, and have become more active with the information ie. this comment.
    Personally, I only follow people I am interested in, and think that I can learn from – a handful are business contacts, a handful of media savvy types, and yes, Mr. PC, John Hodgeman because Biz Stone told me to and he seems like a nutball. I’m not really actively trying to follow more people, but if someone I follow is following someone interesting, I’ll tag along. I only follow 17 people currently.
    I have a handful of people following me that I do not know and that I do not follow who are e, f, and g. I never expect anyone to follow me unless they know me or think that I can enrich their life. I do tweet items of import about social media, healthcare, medication adherence, restaurants, wine, etc… but I also tweet about walking my dog and late night feedings of my infant. I also have 17 followers strangely enough.
    I do see the value of the twitter network, and I have found some benefit from it. Some personal anecdotes: My father said when I explained it to him: “Isn’t it a big waste of time?” Another friend who I tried to convert said “Why?” When my wife went into labor at 4:30 am, I texted everyone to follow my tweets to see the progress, but none of my fiends understood or knew how to access twitter. One of my female colleagues who I told to join twitter got a little freaked out by two guys she did not know following her. One is a head hunter and another is in the pharma industry, so I assume they are trying to grow their contacts as well.
    To quote JH: That is all.
    Best,
    @knightsicre

  7. There could be another category that lives between f and g for fake profiles. These are real people who squat profiles for stars or media figures who need to be a part of the conversation because we’d expect them to answer, the fake profiles can be anyone
    But these are not spammers, they could be brands, but they are ‘personalities’ or ‘institutions’ friendster had this ‘problem’ when people started making profiles for their high schools and colleges but I think it’s very interesting that these sort of ghost profiles exist, and I confess that I think they are a lot of fun, i.e. @darthvader others though can be political, damaging to brands or just confusing @maozedong @jackcafferty. Whatever they are, they actually manage a community around a perceived media brand whether real or ficitional. And there’s a lot of them.

  8. Dave – great post. Perfect timing too. Recently I had an ego “reality check” when certain people who I followed did not follow me back, even though I attempted to interact with them on several occasions. This prompted me to write my personal “twitter manifesto” which are rules that I will live by. I will post it this week, hopefully.
    Talk soon,
    Michael

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