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Twitter Reality Check: How Many Followers Should You Really Have by Now?

When I look at some of the folks on Twitter these days, I find it incredible that some of them have 50,000, 500,000, or even over a million followers. If you aren't famous in your own right, why are all these people following you?

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will-work-for-twitter-followersI’ve been on Twitter since 2007, and I’m approaching 5,000 followers. Maybe I don’t tweet enough.

When I look at some of the folks on Twitter these days, I find it incredible that some of them have 50,000, 500,000, or even over a million followers. If you aren’t famous in your own right, why are all these people following you?

The typical answer: because you are following all of them back.

Luckily, the ways of Twitter are finally starting to wise-up — people are becoming more interested in effectiveness, as we see the use of influence-measurement tools (ie Klout, Twinfluence) and Lists (though these are often misused to purposely omit people from them, but we already knew social media is a lot like high school).

At least Twitter acknowledges that friend overload has become a problem, implementing strict guidelines to the amount of followers you can add daily.

So let’s ask the question: how many followers should people really have? I would argue that it should at least in part depend on an account’s age.

There will always be exceptions to the rule (i.e. celebrities, top name brands, and one of a kind accounts like @shitmydadsays), but how many followers should a typical user of the service actually accumulate over time? How many people should they attempt to follow back?

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  • Rebecca

    You can’t actually keep up with very many Twitterers (assuming you have a job or a life), so following large numbers is artificial. The lists have helped — you can keep up with subsets and ignore most of the tweets that go by — but they don’t make enormous lists any more real.
    The implications for the value of followers are obvious. There are a few people who really care about what you say, and a few with whom you have actual relationships,and the rest are people who happen to ride the train with you.
    If we wouldn’t say, “I’m so influential! Thousands of people followed me to work today on the freeway!” then we shouldn’t imagine that having thousands of followers means much.

  • Brian Wallace

    @Rebecca: thanks for commenting.  People attribute too much of their “Internet fame” to the number of Twitter followers, and while lists can definitely be manipulated, it is a new sense of who is actually caring to recommend you for a more pervasive moment than a simple retweet or friend add.

  • James Morris

    RE: Account age…

    That’s a bit messy of a metric. For example if a SMB starts in 2007, uses their stream for service announcements and have 300 customers/clients… 300 following/followers would be reaonable. In contrast, a regional organization could start an account in 2009. They use their account for engagement, announcements, and extending their scope of influence. Given the entirely different approach taken, many factors would shift dramatically. Also, say this regional organization is based in a major Metro area. It’s conceivable to exceed the more aged SMB account in a single day. Factor external influences and a regional org could max out the number of followers allowed per day if it has a strong Metro WOM following.

    No brand names, no celebs and no one-of-a-kind accounts. Still possible to see a tremendous difference in following/followers. Far to messy since the type of account, purpose and utilization of twitter varies dramatically dependant on market and objectives.

    IMHO, it’s far more important research competitors using the same platform (in this case twitter), research others using your desired model and connect with other influential members that cater to and promote your niche market. Of course, with each analytics can you open, 3 more open, but…

    I just don’t think there is a magic/baseline number you can associate since there are far too many variables at play. Even generalizing could get messy, fast.

    As far as the massive descrepencies… Yup, following autofollowing users is a great way to game your “authority” on twitter. However, anyone who would need to consider such analytical data should also have enough mastery of language to be able to “read” the user’s timeline and make a informed choice on whether to associate w/ that account. Now, that’s in a perfect world where your SMO actually knows what their doing. ;)

    Gimme 2000 Quality followers/following members who will engage and promote my account over 20,0000 sheeple any day! :)

  • Jim Gaudet

    Interesting you are talking about this. Today I started hitting the profile of the tweets I get. I had to stop after 30 minutes and will probably do 30 minutes a day until I have cleaned out the ones I don’t really use.

    I started thinking I needed to “listen” to everyone, but now I can use twitter for the most important and still follow the topics using real time search.

    So to answer your question; who f’in knows how many, :~) I have seen some websites just explode and would expect they have tons of followers. Someone like me; 50 in the first year. But, I guess it depends on the person…

  • Tad Chef

    The question is: How many followers can you handle?

  • Brian Wallace

    Great points, James – thanks for commenting.

    “Gimme 2000 Quality followers/following members who will engage and promote my account over 20,0000 sheeple any day! :)”

    Influence is definitely a deciding factor of true Twitter value.  That’s why services such as Klout are useful.  Also interesting – you can try to do a link strength test: put out a bit.ly link on a 2,000 vs 20,000 account at around the same time of day and subject, and then see how many people are actually clicking through – you might just be surprised :)

  • rishil

    I think following everyone back is a silly idea – expecialy for individual. How do you make sense of the noise signal? At the same time a large number of followers may sound like a great idea, but more important is to judge their interaction with you – if that level is low, then again it’s a pointless exercise.

    I am with rebecca on this one, lists are a great way to manage large number of people you WANT to follow, without having to follow them. (link to a post I wrote on this very issue that yo may find interesting – appreciate your feedback)

  • Brian Wallace

    @Jim Gaudet: thanks for stopping in.  You’re correct in my opinion that you don’t have to “listen” to everyone, especially considering that even subject matter experts might be talking about what they had for breakfast when you’re tuning into them.
    RTS is certainly becoming an influential factor which can be seen from Google and Bing dealing with Twitter integration.  They were getting worried that people might just start skipping the search engine and go right to Twitter search. 

    There is no magic number on the number of followers/following, the main point of this post was to get people thinking beyond the numbers – appreciate your insight!

  • Brian Wallace

    @Tad Chef: thanks for stopping in – how many followers can I handle? How many you got? ;)

    Seriously though, with the advent of groups in several third party tools and Twitter lists, you should theorethically be able to handle any number of Twitter followers.  What I think you’re asking though is how to handle all the followers within one’s friend stream.  That’s a good question that I don’t have a good answer to, especially considering things like Dunbar’s number (a theory that people really can’t keep up relationships beyond 150 people).  The good thing is that we really don’t have to keep up with every single person we’re following: in fact, if you look at many Twitter “celebrities,” you’ll see that they are mainly just replying to people that are mentioning them.  So while it may look like they are hyper active (in upwords of 100 Tweets a day), they are really just taking care of dm’s and mentions.

  • Brian Wallace

    @rishil: thanks for commenting, and I’ve also had a look at your post.  While I do agree with you about following everyone can be rough in terms of signal vs noise, I’d like to point out a few things:

    -some people just think it is good ettiquette to follow people that follow you.  I’d agree that there is some basic courtesy in this, but should not be taken to the extreme of following blatent spammers.

    -one of the latest “trends” is for people to start massively unfollowing people.  While I see the reasons why they do this, it makes me wonder if they would have been able to get the numbers of followers in the first place.

  • James Morris

    Depends. I massive unfollow a ton of people, but I had my account set to autofollow for a couple months and it got loaded w/ spammers. All the people I drop are spammers. Everyone else gets a chance to show their value.

    Since dropping several hundred spammers from my following list, I’ve actually found that the quality of my followers has started to improve (gaining known, influential followers vs. marginal or obscure followers) and I’m getting more of them, faster.

    So, depending on the person, I suppose…

  • Brian Wallace

    Interesting points, James.  Autofollow and then dumping spammers is a good way to get things going as well.  In regard to the quality of followers improving, I would argue that shouldn’t have much to do with followers/following (unless you are way over or underbalanced) but more about the nature of what you post about and the frequency that you do it.

  • SEONOW

    We agree Quality Over Quanitiy. We have reached 12,000 followers. If the people have value will follow them and not drop them. We use Twitter as a introduction tool. The key is to engage the users to establish relationships. This a time consuming process if you want to do it right. Any questions follow us at http://www.twitter.com/SEONOW

  • Brian Wallace

    @SEONOW: how long did it take you to reach 12,000 followers?

  • Lc.David

    I still Havn’t joined Twitter….
    Thanks for the post…

  • Brian Wallace

    @Lc.David: thanks for posting – and don’t worry – despite all the buzz that Twitter is getting in the news, Twitter only has approximately 75 million users.  Do you anticipate joining Twitter soon?

  • http://www.xbox360rrod.net RROD

    You have to really be intriguing to get followers on Twitter.
    I don’t mean that in an offensive manner, but usually people don’t desire to recognize what a stranger is doing every minute of the day.

  • http://twitter darian

    i really dont get i never used to have a lot of followers and now i have more like 18 followers a day and i have to accept them i dont even know THEM! i dont get it because i usually never had a lot of followers before and then all of a sudden there’s so many and its really annoying now help!

  • http://www.netage.co.za Net Age | Web Design

    I still do not get all the fuss about twitter, and have given up trying to follow and sift through all the noise that you get bombarded with. For me it doesn’t offer much value, but I am hoping that something will happen to convince me otherwise. From what I’m seeing quite a lot of the big name bloggers in the make money online niche are promoting building your list huge so you can make some tidy money off sponsored tweets. That I get, but I prefer to make my money in other ways, thank you very much!

  • http://www.avocatbun.com John | Avocat Bucuresti

    This is a difficult idea because the followers can be bots, created just to be able to attract more visitors to their own posts. I’ve tested few things on Twitter and I can say that the automatic tweets are representing a huge percent of the number of totally tweets.

    However, I am impressed by the number of your followers. I have about 800, after a year of work !

  • http://www.strategyinternetmarketing.co.uk/ Mark Sim

    Anti-Twitter here. Despite it’s rapid growth and continued popularity I think Twitter is a fad and not really worth the time of any business. Seriously, what business do you need to be in that requires you to keep you ‘fans’ updated as to your activities on a day to day or hour to hour basis? It’s a great tool for celebrity stalkers and sharing jokes, but has anyone ever heard of a company which made a killing thanks to that tweet they sent? Twitter is a waste of time.

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  • http://www.startupbusinesshub.com/ Nathan Dippie

    I think Twitter is a great tool, I have been using it for about 9 months and have built just under 1200 followers, I am unsure how many of them actively follow me, but my monthly stats are that I get about 800 unique visits from twitter per month or about 7% of total traffic so for me it has been a very positive experience. Our niche is fairly large so an audience of 5-10 thousand followers is possible over time. We just try and keep the majority of our tweets 90%+ about our niche. 

  • Mack Bolen

    Sounds like facebook!

  • Guest

    I will not be going on the bandwagon and joining Twitter, Twitter is effective but it is a fad just like Facebook and Myspace.. Google is a corporation people need to watch out for- it’s worth the time and the way it has branched out over the years intrigues me. Pinterest is also worth the time..it has more room for growth and it is a source to drive web traffic to your site.

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