Why Your Twitter Follower Count Does Matter

By Dave Kerpen, CEO, Likeable

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of talk from social media expert-types and novices alike, arguing that the number of Twitter followers you have or Facebook fans you have doesn’t matter. It’s all about the quality of the followers and how engaged you are with them, they say. While I’d be the 1st person to agree with the importance of building a highly engaged, well-targeted community across social networks, quantity matters too.

Numbers count, a lot.

The main reason that both quality and quantity of followers matters is that quality alone doesn’t scale. No large organization on the planet or employee of a large organization can claim that a highly engaged, high quality,small social network community is anywhere near as valuable as a highly engaged, high quality large social network community. Can you?

Two months ago I launched a challenge to my entire staff: Demonstrate your thought leadership. Grow your follower count on Twitter as much as possible. Use Twitter’s new ad products Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets and see what you can do. I awarded prizes to the top 5 in number of followers gained. Of the 28 individuals in the competition, everyone gained at least 200 followers. Two people, Brian Murray and Amy Kattan, each gained over 4,000 followers. They also gained lots of insight. Here are a few of my staffs’ thoughts about gaining followers, quantity vs quantity, & thought leadership on Twitter:

Brian Murray: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Engage with everyone who seeks you out. You never know where the #GameChanger is going to come from!

Amy Kattan: You are your own brand, so promote yourself creatively. Utilize the resources you have, both on Twitter and off. Think outside the box.

Jenna Lebel: Anyone who provides valuable, relevant content and has an outlet for getting it out there can be a thought leader. You get what you give.

Allie Herzog: There are a lot of crazy Beiber fans on Twitter!…oh & be yourself, converse, share, RT & people will want to follow you!

Dhara Naik: Quality of followers that will actually engage with your brand is more important than the number of followers.

 

We got lots of great feedback on this competition for our staff, clients, and community. But we also got negative feedback from the competition, and from a similar Twitter follower competition we host for interns. Most of that was from rival agencies. Kaitlin Maud, a social media strategist at Sapient Nitro, wrote of the competition, “They’ve demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of social strategy from the CEO down and they’re one of the many vendors and social media “agencies” giving other social media professionals a bad rep.”

Sheesh. Onward…

It seems to me that as important as engagement and quality of followers is, if you’re going to use social media to drive business results, you need a lot of followers as well. Here are four examples of relatively high Twitter follower accounts across different use cases driving real business impact:

1) Dell: @DellOutlet’s over 1 million followers led directly to over $6.5 million in sales.

2) Jet Blue: @JetBlueCheeps has over 230,000 followers and have used the account to generate thousands of flash sales.

3) Ashton Kutcher: He has used his over 6 million followers to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for several causes.

4) Likeable Book: On a much smaller but not inconsequential note, we amassed 1800 followers on Twitter in just 6 weeks, part of the reason we launched a New York Times bestseller.

 

According to Google, there are over 2.4 million “social media experts” out there. Unfortunately, too many of them are either preaching “it’s all about quality” OR “it’s all about quantity.”  I say the numbers do matter. Both quality AND quantity matter on Twitter and in social media. What do YOU say? Let us know in the comments!

[...] For more discussion on the quality versus quantity of followers, here are two interesting posts. [...]
[...] For more discussion on the quality versus quantity of followers, here are two interesting posts. [...]
Greg & Mike December 18, 2011
Absolutley agree. It's important to be well engaged with your followers, which is what I always hear. But I also completely agree you'd be stupid to think having 30 followers is just as good as having 3,000 followers.  I obviously don't agree with buying followers or any automatic means to get them, but the quality is just as important as quantity. 
@WiiFollowBack September 11, 2011
As a professional twitter promoter, I'd venture to add if your staff had $65 bucks on hand they could have purchased 3500 followers in an instant. Keep an eye open for klout.com they are the perfect way to filter through whats hot and whats not. I can be found managing several high volume accounts on twitter ranging from 300 my personal account up to 100k follower. Quantity is ok for now, however I believe Quality will prevail.
[...] admin on July 15, 2011 printI recently read an article by Likeable media titled “Why your twitter follower count does matter” the article was pretty interesting, and didn’t realize how many conflicting opinions there [...]
eugene lavatman July 14, 2011
I receive about 15-30 notifications daily in my email box stating that I have new followers. Before I make a decision if I should follow somebody, I usually do the following: A) check their latest tweets, B) look at how many followers they have, versus how many they are following, C) Check their website (if im not too busy). The unfortunate truth here is, some social media experts have been doing their expert work for so long that they forgot how it feels like to be a regular person. There could have been plenty of 1000 quality followed roofers, but if I was interested in roofing and noticed the so called "roofing expert" only had 1000 followers I am not sure if I would have followed them back. I am very busy i dont always have the time to click on websites and look through their content. My automatic response without conscious thought is to look for "experts" with 5,000-10,000 followers to assume somebody is probably a thought leader. We see so many twitter users with 1,000-2,000 followers that its hard to distinguish who is a real thought leader and who just writes fluff. In the real world things dont work like they do on paper, If I approach a beautiful woman on the street or send Private message via Facebook and give her a nice compliment with a follow up question in the hopes of initiating a conversation, there is no guarantee she will answer me. Many beautiful women get approached on a daily basis, just like we get followed on twitter on a daily basis. Us heavy twitter users just like beautiful women developed split second assumptions to make it easier for us not to waste our time. Quantity in this scenario worked counter intuitively at least in my eyes, because I made this assumption multiple times: "high quantity of followers with low ratio following = more likely the twitter user is a thought leader. What are your thoughts? My twitter name is @eugenemech
Annie Pettit July 5, 2011
Anyone using one single measure (quantity or quality or or or or or) will always fail to grasp the full picture. Single numbers are fun and convenient, but multiple numbers are meaningful and actionable. Keep on promoting quant plus qual.
@cshaban June 29, 2011
I agree, although I used to think quality was much more important. Maybe this is why I have very small number of followers although I have been on twitter for months now!
peter klein June 28, 2011
Agree with you completely regarding both quantity and quality being important. I don't understand why this is a contentious point - its not like these are conflicting goals -- it isn't hard to pursue both. While the benefits to quality are self evident - I don't really see any downside to going after volume also? As a consumer - I tend to automatically assume that people with more followers are more credible . . .
Morgan June 28, 2011
While I believe that both are important, in the end, quality is far more relevant to me. If I have 20,000 followers that are following me just to follow me or because they were told to build my list...then what benefit does that have for me? They won't be interested in what I have to say. However, if you build a quality list of people that turns into quantity, then that's different. They're more likely to listen to you and what you have to say and vise versa. Yes, you're right, you do need followers. But you need followers who are going to care about what you have to say in order for any of it to count. Cheers for the article!
B.L. Ochman June 28, 2011
Quantity only matters if - your followers are humans and not bots; - are actually active on Twitter, and not people who haven't posted in more than 6 months; - if the people who follow you have followers and if they engage with those followers; - if the people who follow you contribute a reasonable amount of original content that's not just self-promotional or re-tweets If you're spending your advertising and marketing dollars on "followers" who aren't human, aren't actually on Twitter, or who don't engage with others, I say you're wasting your money.
Gail Sideman June 28, 2011
I disagree that follower count equals success on Twitter. Unless you're trying to sell something that appeals to a wide range of people, such as your book, I rule in favor of quality over quantity -- and most don't do both, well. I've met some super people via Twitter, and that, I believe, comes from vetting everyone that follows me. (I don't follow back unless I see a benefit for both of us.) Unless I know I can truly communicate with a follower, I won't join what often appears to be a numbers game for some. There are too many who do little but sell and don't engage on Twitter. Often -- not always, but often -- the higher a person's follower count, the lower the engagement level. I have recently established a Twitter page to communicate sports stories to media. If I eventually find no one else except that group that follows the site, I'm a happy camper.
Nancy Cawley Jean June 28, 2011
Dave, I really appreciated your post. I read a lot of things, and it's always the quality that is stressed, and how much you engage with people. I completely agree with that, because social media is about engaging with people on a personal level. But I have also heard of the 90-9-1 rule, where you will never hear from 90% of the people who follow you, you'll sometimes hear from 9% and 1% will be very engaged. Tweeting for hospitals, unfortunately I have not engaged with all of the people that follow us, but that doesn't mean they're not reading some of the the health messages we're getting out there. Just because someone doesn't respond doesn't mean they didn't hear you. It just stands to reason that the more followers you have, the more your message will be heard and the more recognizable your brand will be. I agree, that it's BOTH quantity and quality. Thank you!
Basil Puglisi June 28, 2011
Dave, So glad you did this article, I was actually talking about this at Yotel during the Likable conference with several other attendies. Our industry has sure split about this issue and its so nice to see someone like you step out and make room to explain both! Basil Digital Brand Marketing Education
[...] via Why Your Twitter Follower Count Does Matter | Likeable Media. [...]
Jeffey Benjamin June 28, 2011
The way to quality is through quantity. Great insights for social media. If this blog post was not on twitter I would not have found it. Thanks!
Dave Kerpen June 28, 2011
Wow, thanks for all of your comments! Thanks to Adam, Feffe, Kevin, Caleb, Mark, St. Jon and Emma for your positive feedback! You rule! Kevin, thanks for your feedback, and I'm sorry to have shocked and appalled you. I did in fact respond to Ms Maud on Emma's blog, but then her comments were deleted. Here, all I did was repost her exact comments, in the context of making an argument contrary to what so many "social media strategists" say, like Ms. Maud. As for her employer, it was listed right on her Twitter profile, and she put down my company publicly. If any employee of Likeable posted negative comments publicly about our competitors, they would surely face consequences. Like it or not, we are all representatives of our companies online, especially when we list our employers on Twitter and when we talk publicly about competitors. She wrote, "I never recommend them as a vendor", which definitely brought the work context into play and motivated me to look up her employer. Her words, not mine. Ms. Maud called my office today but I was unavailable. I'm happy to speak with her at a mutually convenient time, Kevin, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree in this case. Scott, I do agree with you - it does depend - but my argument is that both quality and quantity always matter. So in the case of the roofer as you suggested, 1000 followers is terrific - but 1200 followers for the roofer down the street is better, all other things being equal. Nice article, too. Jeff, I'm advising people to go after both quality and quantity - hard work, to be sure, but if my 30 staff people can do it - anyone can. Russell - I am saying both matter. I agree that social media is about the long haul and I think you'll find Likeable's work and my book reflect that. I'm happy to share a free copy of the book if you'd like- just dm me your address on Twitter. Best, Dave
Russell Allert June 28, 2011
First up, I would have to agree with Kevin Wang about how you handle negative comments - that was pretty poor. But as to your article's main point: quantity over quality, which despite what you say at the end, is basically what you are saying, I would have to say that you are missing the point. The point of social media is to engage people. Gaining large numbers are followers quickly through such means as the competitons you mentioned in your article is neither engaging nor wise. Social media is about the long haul, but you seem to treat it as a popularity contest. Having said that, I do believe the sheer numbers of followers/likes are important from one point of view - public opinion. I think that when your average Joe sees someone with 100,000 followers he automatically assumes they must be good, when in fact they could of easily of bought those followers (either through nefarious means or through ads). Personally, I would much rather have a small, very engaged audience than a large, mostly disinterested following. Similary, I would love to belong to a smaller more engaged community rather than a large, emotionless one. That's not to say that you cannot have a large, enagaged community, but not by the methods you outlined in your post. You need to give time for a real community to develop and grow. Russ
@Vinformative June 27, 2011
Great article, and oh so true. Vinformative joined twitter 6+ weeks ago and has amassed over 500 followers during that time precisely by following the strategies discussed by the Likeable Thought Leaders!
Jeff Yablon June 27, 2011
The problem with your argument is that most (seriously, MOSSSSSST) people can't make that happen, short of employing bulk follower software dirty tricks. As such, advising (most) people to go for quality over quantity is the right choice. Of course, if your Ashton Kutcher or Kim Kardashian, it doesn't matter that only .3 of 1% of your followers are actually engaged, because it's still a pretty large number AND you're selling advertising to over-excited number chasers who think you somehow actually matter, but haven't figured out ow. Oh yeah, wait; Ashton and Kim never read the advise not to chase #s. More on this, here: http://answerguy.com/2011/02/10/social-networking-makeitagain-twitter-ashton-kutcher/
Scott Paley June 27, 2011
Sigh... in my previous comment, by "your," I of course meant "you're." Must... proofread... better...
Scott Paley June 27, 2011
Dave - Doesn't this depend entirely on the *kind* of business you're talking about? Sure, if your a scalable business where you can basically sell an unlimited number of something, we can probably agree. But what if you're a roofer? Does it matter if you have 1,000 Twitter followers or 100,000? Maybe. But what matters much more are WHO those 1,000 followers are. With this example, I'd rather have 1,000 local homeowners following me than 100,000 random people from all over the world. But again, if you're trying to sell a "Likeable" book, then sure, size matters. :-) And apparently it matters, to a degree, for SEO as well. I'm curious if you agree with my conclusions here - http://blog.abstractedge.com/2011/06/is-google-rewarding-people-who-buy-friends/
Kevin Wang June 27, 2011
Though I agree with your content, I'm shocked and appalled with the way you handle criticism. It's admirable to choose to respond to negative comments in a public forum, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. Reading over Kaitlin's comment: she may be very opinionated, but her post is not a blind attack. Her points, regardless of whether you agree with them or not, are supported with evidence and analysis. The proper way to respond would have been to simply leave a rebuttal on the said blog, and contact her personally (if you desired to) to have a conversation around your company. The IMPROPER way to respond, as you have, was to call her out on various social media channels, involve her employer (which you had to go out of your way to look up) and bully her into rescinding her comments. Your mention of Kaitlin in this blog post doesn't even add any value. In fact, I believe it's deliberating constructed to orchestrate a backlash against her. As a #WOMMA graduate, Boston University student and a former AE under someone you once mentored, I've had a great deal of respect for both you and your company. In this instance, however, I find your actions neither defensible or likeable. (At the risk of facing a similar fate, I'd like to stress that these thoughts are my own, and not reflective of the opinions of my employers.)
@emmatangerine June 27, 2011
Great post, Dave! Thanks for linking mine in the article. I definitely agree it's a balance of both. After talking and tweeting with some of the Likeable interns, I definitely think they learned some of the "rules of engagement" on twitter. Although on my timeline it seemed like a lot of Bieber tweets or followback hashtags, I think the process taught many of the buzz builders how to gain a strong network and manage connections. I also echo your quantity point: numbers do matter. However, the value of those followers is important. I don't think an account with over 100,000 followers is a strong representation of their company if they don't engage with their followers. Thank you for taking the time to write this article! One of the thinks I really like about Likeable is how engaging the entire community is. As Adam mentioned in his post about Likeable on Twitter(http://genyspot.com/2011/06/24/likeable-media-on-twitter/), the entire company really engages with it's community and establishes itself as a powerful agency.
inspirationfeed June 27, 2011
Thank you for this, I cannot agree more!
St.Jon Clark June 27, 2011
I think it's about both. As in the offline world, you need to either have something important to say or be important or famous enough that people will want to hear anything you have to say. One of the benefits of Twitter is that it enables broadcast of potentially important messages from people who might never have had an entry point. If you are starting small and you want your message heard and shared you need to make it compelling enough to be passed on and make sure that the people that are passing it on have a large audience as well. So in that respect, quality would mean actual people who are participating and engaged enough to spread that message. The more of them the better. :)
[...] “Why Your Twitter Follower Count Does Matter” by Dave Kerpen (@davekerpen) of Likeable media (@LikeableMedia) [...]
Caleb Galaraga June 27, 2011
I'm reminded of a old preaching on relationships that says quality is also defined by quantity. The larger your reach, the more quality your network or community brings to the table. That's one of the reasons why the top blogs in the world are the most read, the number of people that read them helps define the value such entity possess.
Feffe Kaufmann June 27, 2011
Really good artical on the complexity of the matter. Im not suprised over the amount of "Social media experts". Find it even a bit amusing!
@AdamBritten June 27, 2011
This is great. I love how you openly post quotes from negative articles and respond to them. Nice post!

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