Twitter is Not a Numbers Game

Earlier this week, I did a social media workshop at a magazine conference, and one of the questions about Twitter was whether it made sense to follow thousands of people – an approach taken by many people such as blogger Robert Scoble and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki.

My immediate answer was “No” for a variety of reasons. One, I don’t think there are any major benefits to following thousands of people.

Given the volume of tweets, it is impossible to focus on the people who matter or offer good insight. It’s like going to a party and trying to talk with everyone.

You have snippets of conversations as opposed to real interaction. In a sense, you’re going through the motions as opposed to being really social.

Second, having thousands of followers is just a numbers game based on the idea that the more people you follow, the more people will follow you. Again, this doesn’t generate real followers but people who are also in numbers as opposed to being social.

There’s nothing wrong with having thousands of followers but it’s far better to attract them through great content – be it educational, entertaining or engaging – as opposed to the you-follow-me-I’ll-follow-you approach. This way, you’re attracting people who are following you for a reason.

Third, social media should really be about quality rather than quantity. In traditional media, quantity matters because it is a way to attract more advertising revenue.

In social media, it’s more about the quality of the conversations that happen and the level of engagement – an important difference when you’re talking to people as opposed to talking at them.

So does it matter how many people you follow on Twitter? The simple answer is that less can be more if it means being able to follow the right people for the right reasons.

6 Comments on “Twitter is Not a Numbers Game”

  1. I think there’s a lot of confusion in this transitional period. While I agree wholeheartedly about content being king, the thing is great content exists in its lonesome without awareness, which requires a sizable volume of followers who may potentially RT your tweets or links. If you’re fortunate enough to find, on your first try, the right combination and number of followers to bring awareness to what you’re saying then that’s fantastic, but for the most part, it’s trial and error – and cyclical(i.e. you’ll play the numbers game then cull the list to only those that are relevant then rinse, lather, and repeat.). Also, I’d be apt to guess that as a percentage, the number of RT’s dwarfs the volume of actual tweets (just a guess though), which means that if you want to get the word out and utilize twitter as any kind of branding utility (whether for business of personal), you’ll require content & volume (the utopia) – so it is to a certain degree a numbers game.

    I think another interesting phenomenon is that humanity obeys a herd mentality, this phenomenon is well documented in the stock market, business decisions, peer pressure, and the like; additionally, people are wary of spammers and fake accounts; as such, if you combine just those two points (among a myriad of other valid points), the lower the number of followers you have, the less likely it is that others will follow you, which means less people are apt to hear your unaltered words. RT’s are great, but often times RT’s get cut off or are edited to fit the 140 character limit.

  2. Thanks for the effort. We have this debate with clients and with ourselves every day. The numbers game doesn’t always create the numbers you can take to the bank.

    I’ll spread the post.

  3. Sysomos,

    Great post with a simple but powerful underling premise: targeting.

    To the commenter that believes in building volume rather than relevancy in his follower base, I must disagree. What good is a viral army made up of affiliate marketing spammers more concerned about hard selling than anything else? This large follower base is simply RTing into an empty, non caring, cavernous gaping hole of disinterested masses.

    The fact remains that of the 105M+/- Twitter users only 4-5% are actually paying attention, engaging, and driving conversation. The best strategy is to follow and attract followers who engage authentically and with purpose on Twitter.

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