click to shareFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
WTF Ashton Kutcher Twitter billboard ?
Image by LDubTown via Flickr

Twitter is getting more and more attention from traditional media lately. Whether it’s a news-story mentioning Twitter, a Twitter competition between a celebrities, or using Twitter to gather reports on the Iran elections, the average person sees the word “Twitter” more and more often.

But with the Twitter rush a new bubble seems to be forming.

Remember the days of the 2000 Dot-Com bubble, in which every site displaying a million page-views could raise money as though it had already become profitable?
I feel we are repeating the same mistake, only in social media.

The new fashion among some Twitter users, individuals or companies, is to brag about the number of “followers” they have for their Twitter account, or the number of followers their employees have. There is also a new buzz-word: “Reach“. Those self-proclaimed Twitter experts will use tools like TwitterAnalyzer to show others that their Tweets are supposedly read by even more people than their Twitter followers, using a repeat publication (“Retweets”).

And there lies the illusion.

The number of Twitter followers (or reach) is usually meaningless

Twitter usage is based on the magic principle of following/followers. You follow other users that may interest you, and being followed in turn by others who find your updates interesting.
But suppose you just opened an account on Twitter – how do you get followers?

If you are a celebrity like Ashton Kutcher, have a TV show like Oprah, a successful blogger like Robert Scoble, or simply a leading TV channel like CNN, than you have it easy – you just need to mention your new Twitter account and the masses will follow you.
But you need to be well-known to the public prior to opening a Twitter account.

But what if you are an average Joe, looking to become a superstar on Twitter?
You can use an unwritten rule, saying that if someone is following you, it’s polite to follow that person back. Twitter users interested in inflating the number of followers they have simply need to follow thousands of others, hoping those others will follow them back.
The less ethical among them wait for another to follow, and than stop following that person.
To sum it up: such a user has 20000 followers, not because he is THAT interesting to them, but simply out of politeness.

The principle behind “Reach” is similar: if you wrote an update, and one of your 20000 followers repeats it, and that person has another 10000 followers (not shared by you), your message could have been read by 30000 folks. But again, people exploit the technology, and open multiple accounts, each of them having thousands of followers (as previously mentioned), and than repeat that message from all their accounts. Twitter defines this as Spam.

In addition to all that, there is the face that 10-50% of all followers are either dormant/inactive accounts, bots, spammers, or other irrelevant accounts.

Million follower don’t actually read your updates

And suppose Mr. Kutcher writes something on his Twitter account, does that mean all of his million (plus) followers actually read it? Of course not!

On my personal Twitter account I follow only about 200 people. Each one publishes a number of updates during the day, reaching thousands of updates each day. Since I’m not sitting glued to the screen, when I check for updates I usually see only updates from the past 30-60 minutes. Written something when I wasn’t checking for updates? I’ll probably miss your update.

To put it differently, if you wrote an update and have a reach of 100000 users, it’s 100000 of users with the potential to read your update, but most likely most of them will never see it.

So don’t be tempted by false promises from Twitter “experts”. We are light years away from a reliable, measurable advertising model on Twitter.

Adi Avnit has been a team leader, software developer, technology leader, technician (when needed) and geek for the past 10 years, using Delphi and .Net C#, in various companies.