Why Follower Count is a Lousy Metric: It’s Nearly Meaningless

megan-berry-kloutl.jpgMegan Berry is Marketing Manager for Klout and I’ve asked her to educate us on why follower count is pretty meaningless.
Megan Berry is Marketing Manager for Klout, the standard measure of online influence. She also occasionally blogs on Mashable, Huffington Post, and Brazen Careerist. She is a graduate of Stanford University and considers herself a social media junkie.
It can be tempting to measure your Twitter success based on follower count. It’s easy to understand, easy to measure, and seems to be the way the world judges your Twitter presence. But, to put it simply, it’s a terrible metric.
Let me give you an example. One person builds an audience slowly, through engaging those in their area of expertise. They form real relationships with other people interested in their field and are careful about who they follow and the content they produce.
Another person is more interested in getting lots of followers. They follow a lot of people, then they unfollow them if they don’t follow back. They tweet using irrelevant trending hashtags. Now, both of these people could have the same number of followers, but who’s more successful on Twitter? It’s a no brainer.
Follower count simply isn’t a good measure of Twitter success. Here’s why:
Most followers don’t really follow you. I hope I’m not bursting your bubble, but clicking that follow button doesn’t mean someone cares about you or your business. It doesn’t mean they’re reading your tweets. It doesn’t mean they’ll ever click your links. Many people follow thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. It is impossible to read that many tweets. If they’ve never engaged with you it’s probably because they’re not paying attention.
It’s too easy to game. You can see the extreme example of this above, but anyone can fall victim to this trap. If all you care about are followers you set up the wrong incentives for yourself (or your business). Want more followers quickly? Follow people, or have a Twitter contest, or create a method that makes people follow your account when they sign up for your service. You may want to do all of these things, but the reason shouldn’t be solely about getting followers.
So, how should you measure Twitter success? That will vary based on your goals. Your metrics will vary if you’re looking for brand awareness vs better customer service vs leads. My suggestion is to focus on tangible actions instead of follows. How many people @ message you, retweet you or click on your links? Of course, I have to suggest checking out Klout because we measure Twitter influence based on action (bias alert: I work there), but either way just, please, don’t only look at follower count.


About Ramon Ray

Ramon Ray, Marketing & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com & Infusionsoft. Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

  • http://answerguy.com jeffyablon

    “She’s Right”.
    Yes, of course she is. And there’s longstanding (funny that I can use that word in this context, huh?) research on the subject. Take a look here:

    How Important Is Twitter Follower Count?

  • http://websavvypr.com https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmVtWI-6wvNLSWg7x7NhaiyuPaLed3pECU

    It’s true, judging someone by their follower count is like judging a book by its cover – we might be misled and pass up a good book, or buy a good looking book that is not worth our time to read.
    Follower count is just one metric in the puzzle of online influence, and as said above it can be gamed.
    One additional metric I use to gauge involvement on Twitter is the ratio of follower count to number of lists someone is on. It is not perfect either, but it adds another piece to the puzzle. Someone with 10,000 followers who is on 10 lists – it not someone I am likely to choose to follow – unless there is another compelling reason. But if they have 10,000 followers and are on 800 lists – that says something to me. Essentially that 800 of their followers decided that they were valuable enough to pull them out and add them to a list.
    Now, not all twitter users use lists, and if your following is not tech-savvy, they might not use them at all. But I find it a useful tip – I have found that those with a higher ratio of followers to lists are usually those that provide useful information and/or engage with their followers. Those are the people I prefer to follow in my stream.
    Now someone with 1,000 – 2,000 followers who is on 700 lists – THAT is even more impressive to me.
    And someone may have only 50 followers on Twitter yet still run an amazing business, blog or be a great person – but they may just be new to Twitter, not yet have taken the time to make it work for them, or may just be building followers one interaction at a time.
    I try not to read Twitter through your own narrow POV, it can lead to assumptions, and we all use it a bit differently from one another.

  • http://blog.sysomos.com https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlnsCrgXB49jLarEwyHy4PKrX6EpYwCqbs

    Great article Megan!
    As someone who works in the social media metrics industry I find that this is an all too common mistake. People assume that if they amass a large following on Twitter that people are actually paying attention, but many times this is far from the truth.
    Having followers is still important because they are the people that are going to see what you’re doing, but a much better thing to measure is what your followers are doing with the content you’re putting out to them. Are they clicking links? Are they engaging with you? Are they trumpeting your efforts to their followers? etc…
    Followers are important to have, but they’re really only half of the battle. Knowing what to do with them once you have them is the other half.
    (insert some kind of good G.I. Joe “knowing is half the battle” reference here)
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos