Twitter followers: quantity versus quality?

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This topic contains 38 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Samuel Lovett Samuel Lovett 5 years ago.

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  • #164265
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Most Government agencies and entities at every level are using Twitter more and more these days to reach and better serve their customers. What’s more important for you, the quantity or quality of Twitter followers?

    How is a “quality follower” defined for your purposes? Is it better to have 10,000 followers of minimum to medium quality, or 500 followers of maximum quality — based on your definition?

  • #164341
    Profile photo of Samuel Lovett
    Samuel Lovett
    Participant

    I’m all about quality over quantity because it’s a more vibrant community, but it seems more people are impressed by accounts with lots of followers.

    I enjoyed all the talk about Newt Gingrich’s twitter account only having 92% fake followers during his campaign. That would be a good example of valuing quantity.

  • #164339
    Profile photo of Corey McCarren
    Corey McCarren
    Participant

    Both. The thing is, quantity without much quality may not improve my personal experience on Twitter, or even drive sales for professional accounts I manage, but it does impact perceptions, and that’s an important thing. If people are looking for a subject-matter expert on social media, the person with many followers often looks like they probably impart the most knowledge. It may not even be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to be viewed that way.

  • #164337
    Profile photo of Nena Moss
    Nena Moss
    Participant

    The answer to this question may depend on your purpose for using Twitter. I value quality of Twitter followers and connections because I’m looking for information. I go to Twitter to find the latest activity in Web technology and accessibility, so I’m interested in innovators in those areas.

  • #164335
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    How do you define “quality” in a follower of your agency or organization?

  • #164333
    Profile photo of William Blumberg
    William Blumberg
    Participant

    As with all social media tools, my first question is what result do I want. If my purpose is to inform the public-at-large then the numbers of followers is important because I want to cast a wide net. This may also be true if I just want to show off my klout score to my fellow public services, which may get me the result I want but for a very bad reason. if my targeted audience is more restrictive then quality may be more important. I want the right kinds of followers, which should be based upon giving the right kind of content.

    However, this very question is somewhat misleading because there is no right answer. The question itself is what is important. It should rise out of the questions of what is my intended result. The reality is that often our first venture into social media is done without much thought upon these questions. Oh, I do not mean that we are without reasons, only that it is my experiencing the use of social media tools that I hope to gain the insight into how and when to apply them.

  • #164331

    Steve Cottle pointed me to this thread. I actually just republished my list of 15 Twitter worst practices, and valuing quantity over quality is #3 on the list. Here’s a link to the intro post on GovLoop:

    https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/15-twitter-worst-practices-for-rookies-and-others-to-avoid

    And here’s a link to the full post:

    http://www.sminorgs.net/2012/06/15-twitter-worst-practices-for-rookies-and-others-to-avoid.html

    It seems to me the emphasis on quantity isn’t as strong as it was in the early days, but maybe I’ve just gotten better at ignoring it!

    As with everything, an individual’s or organization’s goals and objectives should be the strongest driver of the decision of which to value. I personally would love to have more followers for @SMinOrgs but I’m not willing to game Twitter just to accomplish that and I don’t have the resources to accelerate our organic growth. It’s on the list, though… : )

  • #164329
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Excellent point, Corey. As we all know, percpetion is often reality — especially here in D.C. Moreover, who has the time to check out the hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of followers for any given user/account to assess their value? Further, perceptions of value will certainly vary and may be more subjective than objective. Do you think Twitter should thus consider following the example of LinkedIn, which just lists 500-plus once a user exceeds that number of connections? Perhaps Twitter should break down followers broadly, such as under 500, over 500, over 1000, over 5000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000, etc. — whatever the numerical criteria may be? Thanks for your comment.

    DBG

  • #164327
    Profile photo of William Blumberg
    William Blumberg
    Participant

    Thanks Courtney for links.

  • #164325
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Samuel. I’ve noticed that some agencies/orgs with multiple internal Twitter accounts have fewer followers for communications offices, while program and policy offices may have 10 times that amount. If you’re using Twitter to disseminate news only, then I suppose the quality over quantity argument makes sense to an extent, based on the value of any given media outlet — like the AP vs. the Kalamazoo Gazette. Regarding Newt, it appears that his Twitter following wasn’t the only thing bloated in his campaign! (lol)

    DBG

  • #164323
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Yes, different strokes for different folks, William. However, one of my concerns, per the question, is that Twitter has become to much of a popularity contest — similar to Facebook — which may diminish from a professional user’s substantive purposes. Thanks for weighing in.

    DBG

  • #164321
    Profile photo of Corey McCarren
    Corey McCarren
    Participant

    I’m not certain, I don’t really know what the benefit of breaking down followers like that would be, or what it is on LinkedIn. What is the benefit of it? Discouraging people from judging based on connections past a certain point?

    I think that if people want to judge based on number of followers as opposed to quality of content that’s their decision, for better or worse. Maybe it’s opportunist to take advantage of those without the time to delve deeper, but such is reality.

  • #164319
    Profile photo of William Blumberg
    William Blumberg
    Participant

    You are right that by looking at Twitter, or any social media platform, only as a popularity contest then its purpose is lost. However, this is a social platform thus human nature tends towards popularity contest unless there are clear measurement tools to see if you are reaching your goal. Even with that, it is hard not to compare and even cater towards building a popular platform. It is easy to look at someone’s 50,000 followers and think that they are better while losing sight of your goal.

    Yet, I still ramble and am not answering your question about how is a “quality follower” defined for my purpose? A “quality follower” is:

    • In my targeted audience
    • Complete my call-to-actions
    • Has less than 150 follower (Dunbar’s number) themselves in order to see my tweets

    Now with that being said, I may also want a few highly engaged followers with a large following (over 5000) and also follows that increases the perception that I am an authority in the field. If I was tweeting about space exploration but did not have NASA following me then am I seen as an authority in the field.

  • #164317
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Thanks for sharing the great info, Courtney — and please thank Steve for alerting you to this discussion. I found your posts to be very informative and insightful. Can you offer any elaboration on the quantity vs. quality debate? How do you define the level of “quality” in a follower for professional purposes? What do you think of the comments so far? Anything specific catch your attention? How have your views about Twitter, specifically followers, evolved over the years? Thanks again for chiming in!

    DBG

  • #164315

    You’re welcome, David – and I thanked Steve too!

    I think several other commenters, beginning with William, did a great job of addressing the false dichotomy implied in the question. The correct answer really does depend on a person’s or organization’s goals and objectives, preferences etc. That said, if someone has to choose between the two, they should choose quality over quantity. In the early days, social media mania dictated that more is more, more is better, more is everything – but even the most ardent enthusiasts have recognized that a heavy emphasis on quantity is neither realistic nor sustainable, and at some point you hit diminishing returns.

    Although it isn’t as critical for commercial enterprises, I think government agencies in particular should be concerned about the quality of their followers and weed out inappropriate elements. If you’re tweeting on behalf of the Dept of Ed, for example, or social services, do you want some of those spammy Twitter followers who share R-rated content? I would think not…

  • #164313
    Profile photo of Corey McCarren
    Corey McCarren
    Participant

    I think that the problem is, how should the government define what is inappropriate? Someone who posts offensive things could also be legitimately interested in the mission of the Department of Ed, and is a taxpayer as well.

    It can definitely get murky.

  • #164311

    I agree, Corey, and I was thinking about that as I was typing my comment last night. On the one hand, no one wants to be embarrassed by an inappropriate follower that someone decides to make political hay from… on the other hand, no one wants to be accused of censorship. Murky indeed!

  • #164309
    Profile photo of Steve Ressler
    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    To me, the #1 goal is to drive a mission result. So I’d focus less on # of followers but on # of folks that take the action you want (which may be take a flu shot…or may be as simple as click a link and view your info)

  • #164307
    Profile photo of Corey McCarren
    Corey McCarren
    Participant

    I would say that we shouldn’t be held responsible for our followers. To me, it’s like a reporter being judged on his audience rather than the news he reports. Following is just a way to get information, and not necessarily an endorsement one way or another. That being said, I think an agency should be more cautious about who they are following as opposed to who is following them.

    I think the people who make political hay out of followers would be people who don’t understand the technology too well, and educating them on it may be a great approach. Or maybe just people who are against the mission of the agency and want to create trouble where it shouldn’t exist.

    Unfortunately, as you’ve realized, the reality is that people WILL make hay out of it for their own gain, and organizations need to be aware of that regardless of what action they choose to take.

  • #164305
    Profile photo of William Blumberg
    William Blumberg
    Participant

    Yes Corey, when I am thinking about whom to follow, I look at who they are following and not who is following them. Nor do I worry about who is following me beyond am I getting my results. Although I am a little worry right now about using all those “who” and “whom” correctly : )

    Yet, the reality is that I get asked these questions all the time in local government. What happens if the “wrong” person starts to make comments on our blog or “how do get the right people”. These are not bad question but they can slow us down (perhaps rightly so at time) or even stop us from engagement.

    Although I worry more about getting my hash tag (#) highjacked more so than who follows me.

  • #164303
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Corey — the benefit of breaking down followers lessens the urge to engage in a “popularity contest” by adding followers just to boost the perception of an agency’s profile. Of course, cabinet-level departments and larger agencies will likely have more followers, like DoD and NASA. Thus, this levels the playing field to the extent possible. Perhaps not a grand solution, but a small step in the right direction, nonetheless.

    DBG

  • #164301
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    “False dichotomy implied in the general question”? Really, Courtney? OUCH! What would be the correct dichotomy then for such a question, in your opinion? Finding out more about the dichotomy range is actually the point of asking the question in the first place. One has to start somewhere to get the discussion going. And, as you’ve noted, the comments speak for themselves. I’m curious, though, how does one hit “diminishing returns” by having 10,000 followers compared to 100? Why is this “not realistic or sustainable” — as it appears that many Twitter users have a large number of followers. That also helps when broadly disseminating one’s message. Also, OPEN GOVT means being transparent and inclusive. Thus, your advice to “weed out inappropriate elements” may be anathema to transparency and inclusion. Of course, if a follower is exhibiting inappropriate actions, then that’s a different story. But rejecting followers based on false assumptions and negative stereotypes may amount to bias or bigotry. Just something to keep in mind when remembering that Government works for the people, the taxpayers — not the other way around.

    DBG

  • #164299
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Could point, Steve. But why can’t a Government entity have it’s cake and eat it too? What’s wrong with a large number of followers who “take the action you want”? Perhaps quantity and quality can co-exist with one component complimenting the other — regardless of the number of followers? Just a thought. Thanks for chiming in.

    DBG

  • #164297

    My apologies, David. My reference to a “false dichotomy” wasn’t intended as a criticism. My impression from both your initial query and the comments that followed was that we all recognized that this was not simply an “either/or” proposition, but rather a “yes to both” and an “it depends” kind of question. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight.

  • #164295

    I hesitate to answer your questions because I seem to have antagonized you with my earlier comment, but I will give it a try…

    With respect to diminishing returns, the answer depends on whether the intent is to use Twitter as a broadcast medium or as a means to engage with followers. If one-directional communication or broadcasting is the primary intent, then there are likely not to be diminishing returns. If engagement is the objective, however, then Twitter may not be the right channel and having a huge number of followers could be overwhelming. Plus, increased quantity has the potential to increase the volume of noise relative to signal. Even with my relatively tiny following, I feel like we have too much activity on some days, and I worry that people will tune us out based on volume alone.

    But I was actually addressing the issue of quantity more broadly, not focusing just on number of followers but also on number of accounts followed and general activity level. When someone follows 15,000 (or more!) people, for example, it’s impossible for them to keep up with the chatter or engage effectively – even if all they did was tweet all day.

    My exchange with Corey already addressed your other question about the concern about type of follower. I wasn’t offering an answer, I was mostly thinking out loud about the potential risks. And to be clear, my reference to “inappropriate elements” was very specific. Perhaps in my effort to be discreet and diplomatic I was unclear, but I can’t think of a clear and inoffensive way to label the accounts I’m referring to (perhaps, “for a good time call” or “check out my nudie pictures”). Nothing in my comment should be construed to convey false assumptions, negative stereotypes, bias or bigotry as you seem to have inferred.

  • #164293
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    You hit the nails on the head, William. Thanks for the exemplary analysis. I find the comments on quality most interesting because I use Twitter strictly for broadcasting purposes. That’s not to say quality does not factor in. But a quality account with quality information usually attracts quality followers, at least I’d like to hope so.

    DBG

  • #164291
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    More excellent points, Corey. I particularly like your journalism analogy — being a former journalist I can say that was AWESOME! I also especially like your point about agencies being sensitive to whom they are following, better to be safe than sorry.

    DBG

  • #164289
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Thanks for your elaboration and clarification, Courtney. You make several excellent points. Fortunately, I haven’t been privy to any such inappropriate and graphic language in my experience with Twitter thus far. I would certainly consider a user who posted that stuff to be an unsavory element worthy of exclusion. Having standard protocol to address indeceny and foul language is important for the credibility of an account. The accounts I run are for broadcasting purposes, not engagement. Thus, for me, the quantity outweighs the quality — which is not to say that quality shouldn’t count; it should and does — but it’s more of a key factor for the purposes of others. The accounts I run are for a Federal agency. Thus, we want to be as open, transparent and inclusive as possible to reach a broad range of customers and stakeholders.

    Changing subjects: regrets for any irrational exuberance per my prior reply. Your comments, Courtney, are a valuable contribution to this discussion and are very much appreciated by all. Thanks! 🙂

    DBG

  • #164287
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    As you say, Steve, it’s all about mission-driven results — that’s the bottom line. Well put, “Sir” GovLoop!

    DBG

  • #164285
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Please pardon the inadvertent typo above, Steve. Scratch “Could” and replace with “Good” — well, while we’re at it, why not just replace with “Great”! So when did you say the Spellcheck function was coming? (lol) I’m probably the only one who would use it.

    DBG

  • #164283
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Any other Twitter enthusiasts in GovLoop-land care to offer a unique perspective or personal comment on this question? Thanks for your valuable feedback.
    DBG

  • #164281
    Profile photo of Robert Bacal
    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    David, in the private sector, re: marketing and growth, quality is defined as influence — someone who has lots of followers, and tends to retweet. I don’t believe that’s relevant to government, at least not in the same context.

  • #164279
    Profile photo of Robert Bacal
    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    Unfortunately, one has little control over who does what on Twitter, and that includes posting irrelevant stuff on hashtags, although it is supposed to be against the rules to hijack, but you know…getting action is a different thing.

    One has no control over who follows you, and I think no sane person would criticize someone because of who follows them.

    There is NO way to prevent someone from posting whatever they want to your public timeline. You can block them, but that’s just symbolic. It’s trivial to use a bot to bomb anyone, following or not. If someone wants to make your Twitter life miserable, and knows what they are doing, you can’t stop it in the short term, and you’d have to rely on Twitter taking action, and I can tell you from personal experience that that’s not an easy thing.

  • #164277
    Profile photo of Robert Bacal
    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    David, I regularly trim the people I follow (I have no control over who follows me. It’s to keep things manageable. So periodically I set some critera (for example, if they have specific religious words in their description, if they have the word “marketing” in their description. I have to have some criteria, and I don’t particularly want to read their tweets. Could government do that? Probably not. But government doesn’t have to follow to be successful on Twitter.

    If you buy into Twitter as an interactive medium (it’s not), then you can’t possibly converse with 10k followers. But, in fact, Twitter is a BROADCAST MEDIUM as used by real human beings, as opposed to the pundits who keep preaching otherwise. In a broadcast medium, you want the most people following you.

    But since you can’t “reject” followers in any meaningful way (you seem to use that phrase), it’s kind of moot.

  • #164275
    Profile photo of Robert Bacal
    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    So, it sounds like you use Twitter a lot so you’d know: How DO you exclude a user posting obscenity to your twitter account?

    I don’t believe you can. It’s possible I’m wrong but if I’m correct, then shouldn’t you know how Twitter works?

  • #164273
    Profile photo of Robert Bacal
    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    No followers, no action. Having followers is a necessary but NOT sufficient condition of influence via Twitter. So, tell me, though (and I agree about the action part), where does that leave us? There’s no disadvantage in a broadcast medium to having more followers, and after all, ;you aren’t going to screen followers using some litmus test to indicate they will take the actions you want?

    I presume you’d want people to follow you who are interested in your content, because they’d be more likely to read, and pay attention, hopefully to act. But you have no control over that. This is an awfully weird conversation.

  • #164271
    Profile photo of Robert Bacal
    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    Samuel, I agree, except that there IS a numbers issue here. The vast majority of tweets (between 70-90%) never receive ANY measurable response, so if you want a vibrant community, a small number of people doesn’t work either. However, I also have to say that it’s probably not an accurate to use the notion of community with respect to your followers. THe only thing your followers have in common is that they follow you, and that is not a basis for a community.

  • #164269
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Thanks for all the great feedback, Robert. I agree with you that Twitter is most effective as a broadcast medium, which is what I use it for to reach stakeholders and other followers of my office’s account: @EEOC_OFO. I also agree about paying attention to who you are following and periodically making cuts to avoid unnecessary information overload. Thanks again for all the excellent points, Robert.

    DBG

  • #164267
    Profile photo of David B. Grinberg
    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    FYI, Robert, I followed your excellent advice and recently cut folks I follow — via the government account I manage — by nearly 50%. That’s @EEOC_OFO for those interested. Also, we’re closing in on 7,000 followers — not bad for a relatively small department within a relatively small agency — I think. Again, my dept. (Office of Federal Operations, or OFO) uses Twitter mainly as a broadcast medium to highlight stakeholder and public outreach and training — and to build brand recognition. Interestingly, the communications office only has about 600 followers for the agency’s news account. What’s your take on the quantity vs. quality debate of followers for press office purposes vs. public/stakeholder outreach? Thanks.

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