TweetDilution:Are you visible?

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There's a needle in there somewhere

A few days ago a minor firestorm brewed over the importance of your (whether that’s you, your brand, your company, etc.) follower count over at Kate’s post. Everyone providing commentary had valuable input (in my opinion) and certainly each has a different goal, or at the very least different way of approaching the issue. One even found great pleasure at the hypothetical situation that an account would have more followers outside its target audience than inside of it because then at least there’d be confirmation you (or the account) was in-fact doing something right.

All of these conversations centered on how many followers the account itself has. There is another factor to consider in this formula to determine reach — How many people are your followers following? Yes, I’m serious.  We’re talking TweetDilution people.

The math’s pretty simple but hard to pin down any real numbers on since users vary so widely from a qualitative perspective – everything from interest level, experience, presence on other platforms, etc. differ and are factors. I’m basing the primary assumptions used here on the presentation created by the folks over at Twitalyzer. Unfortunately I can’t pin down an exact date but the presentation was uploaded to Slideshare 9 months ago, so it’s likely at least a year old.

If you’re not interested in watching the whole preso, here are the key points we’ll be working with. Nota Bene: Even if these numbers are a bit off due to the data’s age and Twitter’s changing demographic, my own hypothesis is that each of the stats has tracked (i.e., risen or fallen the same amount across the board) so proportionally everything is still likely the same or pretty close to it. And if that’s not the case we’ve truly got no chance of creating any solid and consistent working model of Twitter (and likely the other SM platforms), though that’s iffy at best to begin with.

• 10% of “us” account for 90% of all Twitter updates. The rest of the stats are based on a sampling of that 10%.

• Approximately 75% of that 10% updated more than 10 times per week, which has been labelled as being “Active” (My own commentary: 10 a week = Active? Hardly, but ok.).

• The “Vast Majority of ‘Active’ Users’ (and this is what we’re basing the below on) have an average of:

  • 403 Followers
  • 398 Following
  • Update 44 times per week

This is the “Joe 6-pack” (or Joe the plumber if we must go there) of Twitter users.

Let’s consider Customer Alpha (I refuse to call her Joe): Alpha’s an average Twitter user and either a customer or potential customer of yours (or fan of your product / service / industry / whatever). Basically you want Alpha to hear your message. Your following is anywhere from 25% to 75% Alphas (my own broad guess, anything lower and there’s a problem, anything higher and you’re likely an “influencer” and can stop reading because you’ve got a strong fan(atic) base).

All of your Alphas are following around 400 accounts, each of which is tweeting 44 times per week (~ 6 times per day), doing the math, each of your followers is potentially seeing around 2400 tweets per day (or more likely in a 12 to 16 hour period – your own ‘prime time’ unless you’re a truly global brand with a single Twitter account).  Assuming the 16 hour Twitter day your followers get 150 tweets per hour, or around 2.5 tweets per minute. Assuming a 5 minute refresh time on a Twitter client that’s 12 or 13 tweets per refresh. Which is manageable to watch – if they’re desk jockeys and catch up on each tweet (and if they’re that active they’re likely following more people). Assume they’re checking every 30 minutes, so between 24 and 32 times per day (which seems like an outrageously high number).

With a 30 minute gap between checks we’re looking at 75 tweets on average to look at everytime someone checks their stream. Let’s assume that’s feasible (though probably unlikely)

Here’s where seeing how many people your Alphas follow becomes important. Assuming the amount you Tweet stays the same but your Alpha eventually starts to follow 800 instead of 400 – your messaging has just become diluted by 100% (or odds of a tweet being seen decreased by 50% depending on how you want to look at it) by the additional people your Alphas are following. And realistically following 800 or more isn’t outrageous after some time on the service. Your soapbox just got smaller to a segment of your audience, but stayed the same to a lot of them and to further complicate matters you’ve got some new onlookers as well. Now you’ve got a more diverse audience to address with the same bullhorn.

Of course as these folks add new people to follow they’re hopefully becoming a bit more SM savvy and know where to look for the content they want (which is hopefully yours).

Now explain all of that to clients when they think the follower count is the Alpha and the Omega of Twitter.

Thankfully Twitter’s not really a soapbox (unless you want it to be and then you might as well just start a blog) and thankfully you can interact with Alphas on an individual and group level.

Here’s a few ways not to do it:

  • repeat the same tweets in a cycle in a period where the same person will see them all the time or notice identical tweets in their stream (can tick off the green Alphas)
  • Tweet something, delete it, then tweet it again. Those of us who are desk jockeys a) might go looking for it to send to someone who might be interested and b) we see you. It’s annoying.
  • Follow the more of anything is better theory.

Here’s how it can work – don’t expect them to find (or talk to) you, at least not all the time. Go to them (or if you like fortune cookies – Bring the mountain to Mohammed). On a group level the integration of lists makes this even easier than before (and yes, I know, I’ve discussed lists before).

Yes – the key is engagement. I know it’s been said before (by me at least a few times), but unless you’re truly a rockstar, or for some other reason in the news (heaven help you), you’ve got to give your Alphas a reason to keep looking for what you’re saying and hopefully begin to seek you out. Fanatacism only goes so far and certainly can’t be relied upon.

How you do this depends on your goal and who you are. If you’re a Mom & Pop retail shop on Main Street you likely know your customers (and their Twitter accounts) on sight – you know what they’re interested in. Talk to them about it, individually or in groups – whatever works for your business.

Global Brand? Then it’s tougher. You might need a database (or use a private List). Sort out your followers, or at least the ones you consider “worthwhile” (again, not to be determined solely by follower count), into what they’re interested in (or more importantly, why they followed you or what you’ve previously interacted with them on – features, new locations, new products, etc. When something happens that affects them – let.them.know. Everything else is somewhere in-between.

Yes engagement doesn’t just happen. It will at some point, either to get started or to get moving again following a plateau, take more work from you than your “people” but if you’re looking for loyal customers and evangelists can’t be beat.

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  • dianekrose

    Way too much math in there for a Friday morning (or at any time of the day for a word person). I powered through, though, and truly appreciate the spreading of do not “repeat the same tweets in a cycle in a period where the same person will see them all the time or notice identical tweets in their stream.” By using my lists, I can get easily get to the info I want from the accounts I deem especially important. The repeated tweets irritate me as they clog/take up space/waste my time when I scan.

  • http://twitter.com/TheWaltWhitman Walt Whitman

    Following 800 people on twitter would be absolute torture. It would be like a full-time job which was 24 hours of meetings, all day every day. Let's all be a little more discriminating in who we follow and what we post, otherwise I'm going to unfollow you the way I've had to unfollow chicks on facebook who post about nothing but their bellowing infant spawn.

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

    Walt –

    Thanks for your comment – it's truly a sign of the differing uses of Twitter (which makes messaging all the more difficult). I follow nearly 3K (mostly in communications or writers) and at least a few times a week find something new through someone I rarely (if ever) actually interact with until that point. I don't even try to keep up with everyone.

    There are certainly those I speak with more often or that I know will have valuable insight though I know I may not see it because of differing schedules, etc. — and so I've created a private list of those folks.

    Thanks so much for the read.

  • willfessenden

    Thanks for the great information. Back in December I blogged about the “Social Networking-Social Capital”. In essence the quality of your “fans” and “followers” is perhaps more important than the quantity.

    http://encompassmarketing.blogspot.com/2009/12/

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    Walt I love your comment.

    Here's my question, why follow 3k people if you don't communicate with them at least once a week? I don't think I could make a conscious effort to keep in contact with that many people once a week. That's exhausting. Now with that being said. I often communicate with new people each week that I found or have found me via a mutual Twitter friend. But I feel like once we get up to thousands of followers it's got to be so difficult to really be in touch.

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

    Hey Christina -

    Great comment – once again, all depends on how you want to use Twitter. For me it's a never-ending source of people in the biz to talk to about the biz (and other things we might have in common) and to make friends (and find great links to content).

    So why “follow” more than I can actually actively follow – because you never know where the next person you have a lot in common with will come from – I certainly can't guess from a 160 character bio and as our little group has certainly demonstrated length of time knowing someone is definitely no indication of how fantastically you'll get along or what projects you might want to work on together – why close the door to those possibilities?

    Certainly it's more difficult from such a large pool so the percentage of what I see from each person goes down, but with the number of people staying high there's greater diversity. Really great content (whether it's a link to a study or blog post) or a “good” tweet) I tend to see through numerous retweets, etc. so it's almost crowdsourced intelligence (in the 'gathering intelligence' sense). At the same time by following so many there's a chance I'll come across something very few others have and be able to let others discover the information/concepts and possibly a new person to follow they may have a lot in common with.

    Do I see a lot of tweets? – heck yes. Is it possible to keep up with them all – heck no. But I also don't keep up with all my acquaintances from high school or college on (my proper) Facebook account at the same level – there are some people I'm closer to than others and pay more attention to their updates, new pics, etc. That doesn't mean I don't want the occasional update (or to grab coffee if they're in town). And that's where lists (specifically private lists) come into play.

    As you say, I certainly can't interact with everyone on a weekly basis – but I've read, at least when one of us started following the other, every single follower/followee's biography and those that I've found interesting have immediately started a dialogue with. Others I keep active because a great relationship might just be ready to spill forth as soon as the stone is talked to (Exodus ;) ).

    Lots of brief conversations – definitely. Lots of people from all over the world (quite literally) I've gotten to have coffee or lunch with or work together with in some capacity – also definitely.

    Thankfully those that I've gotten to know particularly well have moved onto other platforms – FB and email to communicate more heady information. Different platforms, different purposes.

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