Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What if your number of Twitter followers didn't matter?

I asked this question earlier on Twitter. What do you think? Would your behavior change if you knew that no one could see how many followers you had? If you remove # of followers from the equation, how would you then define 'influence' on Twitter?

What if we had no idea how many links a blog had? What if numbers were removed from the equation? Would interactions be based on something more personal and human? How would we determine who is worthy of being followed?

A lot to ponder. Seems too many decisions and too much of our behavior is predicated on numbers, and not on personal interactions.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think that if the follower count was concealed it would take some of the 'monetization value' out of twitter that seems to attract spammers.

Anonymous said...

I think many people's behavior would change (including my own) because part of what's fun about Twitter is getting followers and following others. Let's be honest, it feels good to know (or think) that people out there value your knowledge and opinions, and gaining followers helps feed that validation (even though having lots of followers doesn't make you an expert). We want to be important even in our own space.

That being said, I don't think people would stop using the medium, after all at the end of the day, what's great about Twitter is the communication it facilitates. There's no replacing that.

Just my .02, but the metrics are both blessings and a curse when it comes to who to follow.


krissy knox said...

My number of followers don't matter to me. I do have 494 (I just had to check, LOL), but the numbers doen't matter to me. Except for the fact that I like to have a lot of friends on Twitter -- it allows me to know a lot of people, have a lot of relationships, have a lot of friends. I like this b/c it helps me to expand myself -- I know a lot more people this way, learn a lot more, explore a lot more facts and cultures. I am learning so much, and having so many friends.

Having said that -- do I change my personality, not tweet certain things, because I don't want to lose a certain amount of followers, to keep others? Absolutely not! I am who I am! My brand is my brand! People will have to take me for who I am. It was hard and scary at first, thinking I could lose friends, but if people don't want to take me for who I really am, they don't need to be in my network! I am now used to being myself -- it only took me a few weeks. I just be myself, just like you do, Mack!

Great post, Mack!

krissy knox :)
my main blog: Sometimes I Think
Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iamkrissy

Frank Reed said...


What if, God forbid, we were forced to base our decisions on content and value vs. numbers and gaining advantage? I guess it might make for a more sincere Twitterverse but how do you monetize realism and sincerity? Does that sound too cynical? Thanks for making me think.

jnwilliams76 said...

I think it fluffs people's sphere of influence. Without the numbers, your reach would really reflect the conversations you are engaged in. I would prefer to have a reliable core of dialogue than 15,000 followers.

adamcohen said...

Mack - great post topic and based on our conversation one that could require more than 140 characters to answer.

If follower account were concealed, people would be driven to more interaction - looking for making personalized connections fruitful since Twitter would be less about broadcasting and more about dialogue and conversation. On the flip side, those who horde (and value) numbers of followers would shift - they'd be 'baiting' contacts to follow for messaging later. Somehow the malcontents seem to find a way - diffusing those folks would create opportunities for others.

I agree with your implicit point here - the number of followers doesn't matter. I'd rather have 10 people I mutually follow, interact with and engage in value-add conversation than 1,000 "empty" accounts. As always, great food for thought and thanks!

Mack Collier said...

Frank think about the business possibilities if you didn't view Twitter users as numbers, and instead remembered they are real people. Would you come up to someone on the street and ask them to check out your site? Then why send an Auto DM with a link to your site?

I think there will always be a business model that can be built around being genuine and open with other people.

Doug Haslam said...

I don't think it would change my behavior...much. I would assume stuff bubbling up to the top would be "popular" and that people who are constantly "@"ed are also popular- and that if i got a lot of response then by golly I'm popular- or what i said is popular- for the moment at least.

Anonymous said...

I tend to follow those that have similar (PR, MarComm) interests as I, as well as those I think I can help. For me, it's about learning and helping others. But, I guess there are a few folks I follow because I feel like I 'should' due to their numbers. :-)

Peter Kim said...

Good question for someone at LinkedIn, as they cap the network number at 500+

Warren said...

As Peter said LinkedIn has a display cap of 500 and also limits the number of invites one can send. And Facebook caps friends at 5000. Twitter has its own cap of 2000 unless you are following more. All three of these policies do influence user behavior to some degree.

So having said all that, I think we all agree that a focus on the conversation, interaction and qualitative aspects of Twitter would be much more appreciated. As Greg Verdino said in Peter's "Social Media Predictions", "
suddenly being Facebook friends with your Mom will seem less rediculous than following 4000 strangers on Twitter".

Gavin Heaton said...

I am almost completely oblivious to the number of followers that I have. The biggest challenge is keeping up with the conversations.

Like real life, we are attracted to the sparkling ideas of some conversationalists. That is where the value lies.

Anonymous said...

I think some behavior would change, yes. It depends on the individual and why they're there. For myself, I could care less whether I had followers of not, as long as I was privvy to the conversations (however short), the links, websites, interesting & knowledgeable people, etc...I've leaved a lot and I've only been on for 6 weeks.

Jasmin Tragas said...

I rarely check how many people are following me - although I love having the opportunity to connect with people from all kinds of backgrounds.

The thing is, with applications like Tweetdeck around, you could potentially have 1000 followers, but only 3 or 4 people actually reading your tweets on their "chums" list. It's all relative, see!

Anonymous said...

Like the previous commenter Ryan said, it feels good to think someone is reading your tweets and valuing what you have to say. However, it's important to look at who's following. Are they genuine connections? Or, are they people who add to boost #s, companies or even TV show characters?

If you're making quality connections then that's all that matters in the end, not how many followers you have.


Anonymous said...

Forget about Twitter for a moment, Mack. Look at your blog. Scroll near the top of your sidebar where you have a little widget that displays how many people are subscribed to your blog feed.

Why do you include it? I don't look at blog feed numbers when deciding to read blogs. I look at a combination of content and word of mouth that may have got me there.

Do you want people to judge your writing, or gauge their following your RSS based on the number of your feed readers?

Mack Collier said...

Personally, I include the subscriber count because it's easier for me to track it here than it is to visit my Feedburner account, which I often forget to do.

And I don't want to give the impression that I don't pay attention to my 'numbers'. I can tell you one any day almost to the number what my # of followers, # of subscribers or # of blog readers are that day.

I use these numbers as one way of measuring if I am creating content that others find value in. But the key is, I create that content for people, not to get higher numbers.

Mack Collier said...

Ari I care about the people that are NOW reading my tweets. I want to make sure I give them something of value. Because if I don't, then they will stop reading my tweets and stop following me and stop replying to me. And then the value I find in Twitter falls dramatically.

I don't care from the standpoint of whether or not having more followers makes me 'more' influential or some such. There's always going to be someone that has a higher number than I do.

Again, if my sole goal was to have the highest number possible, how I use Twitter would change.

Gavin Heaton said...

Interesting discussion, Mack!

And just so we're clear, Ari, while I don't care how MANY people read my tweets (let's face it, I can be unfollowed at the click of a button), I do care about the conversations and the people I have them with. Like you, I prefer people over numbers ;)

Anonymous said...

I think it might make a difference to some Tweeters but, frankly, I'm just too bloody arrogant to care what people think when I tweet.

I send messages when I have something to say or notice something I think people might find interesting. Without looking, I honestly couldn't tell you how many people follow me. I'd guess it's of the order of a few hundred and I'm certain it's fewer than I follow.

*goes to check*

Not a bad guess, I follow 559 and have 403 followers. Frankly, not enough people to care about it changing how I use the service.

The things that do make me self-censor or change how I'd word things are the usual ones, really: should I really say this — pticly if it's to do with work or things people might think should be private?

If I had thousands of followers, I'd possibly be a little more circumspect about drawing attention to things that might not be able to handle the load (either technically or emotionally), but I don'think that's ever likely to become an issue. I'm never gonna be a Stephen Fry or a Cory Doctorow ;o)

Anonymous said...

(Oh, and I'm @oenblacker, if anyone really cares ;o)

Anonymous said...

Doh. @owenblacker even

Anonymous said...

That would probably affect the behavior of some users. But it depends mainly on what industry you work in. I mean if you are a well known expert in your branch people will know it and follow you anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack,

I have to admit that there was a time, not that long ago, when the number of follower was like Twitter's money for me. The more the better.

At some point I started to ask myself the question how could I see how many of my followers are really interested on what I say or what links do I post on Twitter. So, I started an experiment on which I post a photo every day and send out the link. I usually get an instant 25 views of the image and along the day the total numbers are between 50 views and 90. I have about 1,100 followers and only 90 of them are really interested on what I say. So I think this is the real number of people following me.

What good is having so many followers and so few that really follow you and interact with you ?

I also believe that we tend to post interesting stuff just to get more followers. The problem is we don't have enough time to interact with all.


Anonymous said...

The question I’m asking myself by being on Twitter is “can you have meaningful conversations with tens of thousands of people or even hundreds of thousands?” I don’t know. Do I aim to find out? You bet. And the only way I know how to find out is by getting a lot of followers. Would it change how I use Twitter if I didn’t know the number? Truthfully, it would just make me feel kind of stupid. Like there was a piece of information I wanted to know, but didn’t.

In every facet of life we use numbers to help us figure out the world. The problem is not with the numbers themselves, but that we tend to judge other people based on theirs. I believe the wonderful thing about Twitter is that it can be used as both a broadcast medium and a conversational tool. Use it beautifully and elegantly for either, or both, and perhaps the number issue will sort itself out on its own.

Pam Martin said...

Great, thought-worthy, post Mack!

I know that for me Twitter is a wide, vast- yet strangely personal experience. I like gaining followers because there's that much greater possibility that I'll pick up people with whom I can make a more personal connection.

It would be an interesting exercise to determine some conversion percentages- per 30 people that follow me, I follow X per cent back, and of that X percent, I actively communicate with Y percent. Hmmm?

Thanks for getting my brain working this morning Mack!

Anonymous said...

I think if my followers were concealed from the public, it would definitely put emphasis purely on content. When I'm skimming a profile of someone who's followed me, I generally look at the bio, the most recent tweest, and the ratio of followers:following. If they're fairly equal, and also in the thousands of people range, I tend to wonder what kind of connection I would actually get from that person. If you took the number away from me altogether and I had no idea who was following me at all, even privately, I think Twitter would lose a lot of it's value. I'd like to see more development in seeing followers - ie seeing what followers you have in common with somebody else to make even more connections rather than concealing that data. It takes away from that open transparent feeling as well that tends to accompany the social media scene.

Anonymous said...

The altruist in me says it makes little difference. That sharing is sharing and that this is valid to a denominator of just one.

The egotist in me revels in the feeling receiving attention creates and wants more. The more the better (without using any tools or techniques to do this though).

The realist in me admits that if I had less it would mean less and if I had more it would mean more (to me).

I do sincerely hope that some combination of these remains intend on showing up and being present, participating from a giving way of being no matter who or how many are watching.

A question of deeper thought, that helps to guide this is, 'Who am I when nobody is watching?'

Anonymous said...

While some people believe that your follower counts are what matters, the reality is that there is no right or wrong answer. If having a large number of followers is important to you, then great for you. However, I believe it’s the quality of the conversations that is the real value of Twitter. After all, social media is about interaction and interaction is meaningless without substance.

Dowell Family Team said...

I look at the followers and subscribers to help determine if I will follow a blog or twitter account. If that data was not there, I'm not sure how I would first determine what sites to follow.

Anonymous said...

I just got an image of talking into a dark room, not knowing who, if anyone was listening. Creepy.

Taking away followers takes away the social aspect of it. In which case, behaviour would definitely change. Who's going to talk into a dark room? Aside from asking if anyone's there...

Anonymous said...

I think following people you do or don't know is one of the most interesting things about Twitter and that's what makes it what it is. The number of followers might not be single important factor but it can make people do a double take. If not others, definitely for myself I would be more interested in seeing what type of posts one person had with 800 followers vs another with only 10.
But as for creating real and honest conversations with all 800 people - it might certainly be hard to do.

Anonymous said...

Still playing catch-up, so I'm late to the party, as usual...

Mack, these may be the best questions anyone has asked about Twitter and other social networks in a while.

When you put a carrot in front of people, they'll reach for it, even if they don't like carrots. We're programmed.

Ironically, follower count is what makes Twitter successful. Without it, many of us wouldn't be as interested (though we'll never admit it). It's just one of those "must have" features we expect from our social networks.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant questions!