On Attempting to Measure “Success” on Twitter

by Jamison Koehler on July 11, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, somebody appropriated my name, photograph and biographical information for over a month to tweet some of the most inane things you have ever seen on Twitter.  (And that is saying a lot.)  Although my impersonator avoided tweeting anything blatantly offensive or crude, it was still distressing to see my name and photograph associated with some of the stupid things the impersonator was putting out there.

I was also bummed, I have to admit, that the fake Jamison Koehler was able to garner over 10 times as many followers as the real Jamison Koehler.

Five or six months ago, Mark Bennett posted on Social Media Tyro about the so-called “reacharound followback”; that is, the strategy of following someone with the hope that the person will follow you back.  Bennett noted that many people will follow anyone who follows them back.

To test this theory, Bennett set up a Twitter account in the name of FollerbackGirl and ultimately had the account follow over 5100 people. He was completely straightforward about the purpose of the account:  “I exist to boost your follower account,” FollerbackGirl tweeted last September.  Then a week or so later:  “If you follow me, I’ll follow you back!  Please retweet!”  As of this writing, a Twitter account without a single substantive post had generated 4600 followers.  In other words, 90% of the people FollerbackGirl followed were willing to follow back based on nothing more than the fact that FollerbackGirl had followed them.

Bennett also discussed the strategy of continually following and unfollowing someone with the hope that you can prompt that person to follow you. He wrote specifically about a colleague who had followed Bennett four times in a single month.  “To do that,” Bennett wrote, “he would have had to unfollow me three times in a month.  I asked him what was up with that.”  The colleague’s response:  “I’ve found that I don’t like to ‘follow’ without being ‘followed’ back.  Seems a one way conversation – not fun for me.  I found that some people would follow back after the second time I followed them.  Assumed the email we get was the reminder, soon buried under more recent ones.  The theory has worked, with people I know who are less tech savvy.”

The 90% return follow rate for FollerbackGirl would indicate that there are a whole lot of what Bennett termed “worthless followers”; namely, followers who have no intention of actually reading anything that you have tweeted.  Wrote Bennett in a different blog entry back from last September:  “[F]ollowers are like money you can’t spend.  They  are like money because they have zero intrinsic value, and are only worth something because some people agree they are worth something.”

All of this makes me feel a whole lot better about the large number of followers my Twitter impersonator was able to generate.   By the time my impersonator’s account was finally taken down by Twitter, he had generated close to 500 followers while following over 1000 people.  This means that his follow-back strategy and mumbo-jumbo posts enjoyed less than a 50% rate of success, far below the 90% rate Bennett’s fictional twitterer achieved.  It would also suggest that very few of the impersonator’s followers ever bothered to read what he had tweeted.  No harm, no foul.

A far better method for measuring Twitter success – based on the notion that “more interesting is better than more followers” – is what Bennett has termed as the Twitter Interesting Index v1 (or TII-1).  Writes Bennett, TII-1 “is the number of followers a person has, divided by the number of people he follows (v2 will be recursive, so that being followed by more-interesting people increases your Interesting Index more).  A person gets more followers than he follows by being interesting.”

Based on current numbers, Bennett has a TII-1 of 2.5, I have a 1.5 and Lindsay Lohan has a 3,532.  More telling, FollerbackGirl has a TII-1 of 0.90 and my impersonator an abysmal 0.46.  That I was able to beat out my impersonator in the interesting index also make me feel a whole better. I’m just sorry I couldn’t outdo Lindsay Lohan.

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