Number of Twitter followers is the most overrated metric in social media

by Mack Collier

Seriously, it’s total bunk.  I know because I spend WAY too much time tracking my referral traffic from Twitter, and the people that send that traffic here via tweets and RTs.

Two examples of how # of followers can be deceptive:

1 – Several months ago a member of Twitter with 70K followers tweeted a link to one of my posts.  I got a grand total of 3 visitors from that tweet.  I checked, and the guy was following 80K people.  When you try to follow everyone, you usually end up following no one.

2 – Last year, @ShannonPaul RTed a link to one of my posts.  Shannon had around 10K followers at the time.  Her RT led to an additional 600 visitors to my blog that day.  After Shannon’s tweet, a ripple affect started, as people within her network started RTing her tweet, which led to more RTs in their networks.  But the chain reaction started because Shannon was well-connected to her network.  They trusted her and the content she linked to (like my post). So even though Shannon’s network was 14% the size of the guy with 70K followers, her network sent 600 referral visitors, while the guy with 70K followers only sent 3.

This is why I think there is WAY too much emphasis placed on number of Twitter followers that a person has.  Especially when attempting to determine that person’s level of influence.  From what I’ve seen, it’s far more important to see how closely connected a person is with their Twitter network.  If you have a Twitter network of 150 close friends, your effective reach is likely much larger than a person that has 10,000 strangers following her.  I know that when certain people, like Shannon or @BethHarte RT a link to my blog, that I am about to get a flood of traffic.  Because Shannon and Beth are both highly connected to the people they follow.  Roughly 66% of their tweets are replies, so they are constantly interacting with the people that follow them.  That leads to stronger bonds and connections.

So if # of followers doesn’t count, how do you define influence and authority?

Look, I’m not saying how many followers or subscribers or friends you have is totally worthless in determining how much influence a person has.  But it shouldn’t be the only metric you examine when trying to decide if someone has established trust and influence with their network.

For example, last year I worked with TMG to create and execute a blogger outreach strategy to promote a webinar that Citi was producing (Recap HERE).  In deciding which bloggers to reach out to, we looked at two key areas:

1 – Total readership of the blog.  This could include number of subscribers, or number of visitors.

2 – Level of interaction on the blog.  How many comments is the blogger getting, and is she replying to those comments?

We placed a far greater premium on the level of interaction, when deciding which bloggers to reach out to about being involved in the webinar.  Because we wanted bloggers that had actually connected with their readers.  I remember in one case we purposely did NOT contact a particular blogger that had almost 100K subscribers, because there was almost no interaction on their blog.  And in another case, we reached out to a blogger that had a far lower number of subscribers, but there was constant interaction on their blog.

The end result was that signups for the webinar exceeded TMG and Citi’s goal by 100%.

Really when you boil it down, level of interaction and how connected you are to your network almost always trumps the SIZE of that network, when it comes to determining influence via social media.  Over a year ago I had a well-known blogger ask me why my blog posts always got more comments than his (despite him having 10X the traffic of my blog).

I told him “Because I can tell you the first name of almost every person that comments on my blog, the name of THEIR blog, and what they do for a living. Oh, and I thank them. And they know I mean it.”

Numbers of followers/friends/readers matters, but in my opinion how connected you are to them is even more important in determining influence and reach.

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