TweetDilution:Are you visible?

Detail view of a hayroll against blue sky
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:

  • 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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