In Defense of Twitter Follower Count

Today, I bring you a guest post from Stephen Forman.

* * *

For years, I’ve watched in bemused silence the attacks levied against Twitter follower count - It’s a poor gauge of social net worth. It’s a lazy metric that is easily gamed. It’s been supplanted by dozens of newer, more telling data points.

However, such conventional wisdom suffers in interpretation of how Twitter’s follower count ought to be wielded: not as a metric, but as a marketing tool.

Seeding the Tip Jar

When strolling the sidewalks of an unfamiliar city, scanning for a popular and inviting nightclub to try, would you be more likely to wander into a friendly, well-lit and busy establishment, or a dark, shuttered and desolate one?

Starbucks baristas and sidewalk buskers understand this effect as well: you are more likely to tip a jar which is already stuffed full of dollar bills than an empty glass mug with a few pennies clinking the bottom.

So it is with one’s Twitter account. If you want to attract visitors, you must turn the lights on. As the old saying goes, “The rich get richer”—accounts in the millions of followers continue to grow like perpetual motion machines, while accounts in the tens and hundreds languish.

Opportunities Abound

It’s incumbent upon every business to create their own good fortune. However, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”, and one can say this is true of larger follower counts as well.

As a national insurance marketing organization, when I first surveyed the social media landscape several years ago, Twitter stood out as an ideal, vacant target. “Hit it where they ain’t,” was my mantra: I had no intention of following my competition onto other platforms (read: Facebook), but instead planned on establishing LTCA’s dominance on Twitter well in advance of others’ arrival. This meant creating a beachhead of followers and a trail of great content.

When our company’s social media footprint was less visible, it was proportionately more difficult to make headlines: the reverse is also true.

Once our followers began surging—crossing 10,000, past 30,000, past 100,000, as high as 140,000—our business received passive attention and recognition, and our opportunities for good [social media] press increased.

The Master Plan

In a move some will cite as controversial, I employed a variety of legal services to augment our follower count, each with varying degrees of success. (Examples of such online services can be found here and here.)

With the exception of ensuring I was dealing with reputable firms, I never asked “how the sausage was made”, and while I cynically expected some might attempt to deliver me “fakes”, I hoped there would be few—since my firm sells insurance only in the United States, it does us little good to add international Justin Bieber fans to our rolls.

By design, our follower count spiked very high during each campaign, then once the paid and organic followers were fully conflated, any sham Followers began to “attrit” (my word for dropping off), leaving behind an increasingly true and authentic body of followers. Qwitter has proven invaluable in monitoring exactly this sort of behavior.

Although our count has peaked as high as 140,000, it has now deflated back down like a soufflé—as of this writing it hovers just over 117,000, and that more than meets our needs at present. While the attrition of the sham accounts continues like a radioactive isotope with an infinite half-life, every day we pick-up red-blooded living followers, too.

Where once I was intoxicated on our follower count, today I am proud to place our content up against any in the financial services industry—I believe we’re delivering on the mission we set out to do, “Education Through Social Media”.

“The Forman Doctrine”

Having said that, let us summarize the philosophy at work behind investing in a large follower count—although contrarian, it is simple and watertight. The Forman Doctrine is this: “All other measures being equal, bigger is better.”

Mind you (!), the predicate is that we are comparing accounts or campaigns that are equivalent in all other areas first. This means you’ve invested all you can in making sure your content pops with originality and timeliness, your relationships are zesty and reciprocal, and your marketing is crisp and compelling.

But for all the casual conversation that size doesn’t matter? Come on… at the end of the day—all things being equal—who wouldn’t want to go bigger?

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What do you think of follower counts? Is it a good metric to use? And, is it ever okay to buy followers? What metrics do you find useful?


Stephen FormanAbout the Author:
 
Stephen Forman is senior vice president of Long Term Care Associates. He has spent the last 20 years helping producers and clients plan for their future long term care needs. Although agents from all across the country seek his expertise, he is proudest that his own LTCA producers rank in the top 1% of Specialists nationwide, as recognized by AALTCI, our industry’s trade group. You can follow LTCA on Twitter at @ltcassociates.

 

Image credit: Joe Lazarus

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  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    If “bigger is better” means only 16% of the count being good, then I’ll stick with slow, non-paid organic. ;-)

    • http://twitter.com/ltcassociates Stephen D. Forman

      In which case, Danny, you would’ve missed the entire point of the article.

      • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

        Nope, I got the point. Your own summary re-emphasizes that point:

        “The Forman Doctrine”
        Having said that, let us summarize the philosophy at work behind
        investing in a large follower count—although contrarian, it is simple
        and watertight. The Forman Doctrine is this: “All other measures being equal, bigger is better.”

        • http://twitter.com/ltcassociates Stephen D. Forman

          You bet. I stand by that.

          So we ask, to what end? It has netted many gains I couldn’t have achieved waiting for the “slow boat” to arrive.

          Your strategy (which is perfectly legit) has been to grow organically over time, and you’ve now amassed a very respectable– and engaged– following.

          I’ve done it in reverse. I’ve overshot the mark. And now I let the count attrit and fall off as organic growth catches up “underneath”, simultaneously. I incur benefits of both in the meantime.

          • http://www.flybluekite.com Laura Click

            I’m with you @dannybrown:disqus – I’ve chosen to grow my network organically. It’s a much slower haul, but I think that’s the best choice most of the time.

            However, the reality is (whether we agree with the notion or not) that larger numbers offer instant credibility. So, while I don’t necessarily think that buying followers is the best approach, I appreciated @twitter-68761151:disqus’s perspective that buying followers then helped him gain traction and experience more organic growth and get attention for his brand. I guess the question is if it helped him accomplish his business goals, does that make it worth it?

            Just wondering aloud….

          • http://twitter.com/ltcassociates Stephen D. Forman

            Hi Laura,

            You know that I won’t discourage either tactic. However, I just came back from reading New England Multimedia’s blog post “Buying Twitter Followers & Facebook Fans” (http://t.co/MRiPBjAR) and wanted to comment on a few things which struck me there.

            First, if you’re paying $430 for 5,000 followers, you’re paying too much. I won’t go into specifics, but you should be netting a LOT more followers for that kind of money.

            On the other hand, I would say there’s an inverse relationship between quality and quantity [of followers] when you decide to go this route. Sure, you could buy 10,000 followers, but you will probably get the sort described in the NE Multimedia post. Then again, there’s a site (not listed in my article) which is rather pricey– who will deliver much fewer followers, but who are all legitimate, high-quality. I’ve met lasting colleagues as a result.

          • http://newenglandmultimedia.com/ Michelle Quillin

            Stephen, thanks for checking out the blog post “Buying Twitter Followers and Facebook Fans.” How interesting that you worked for the company quoted in the article referenced there!

            As I said in the blog post, I’m not a fan of buying followers, but at the same time, I know there’s a powerful psychological effect that makes a Twitter profile appear credible and trustworthy when people see a large number there. After the initial boost, though, as you stated on Twitter, it’s up to the manager of that profile to get to work and reach the social media goals — whatever they are for that account.

            In other words, i totally get it, and I’m not averse to recommending a follower purchase to a brand that needs an initial “credibility boost” to get rolling.

          • http://twitter.com/ltcassociates Stephen D. Forman

            Hi Michelle,

            As evidenced by the title, “In Defense Of…”, I only wished to tell the other side of the story. It seemed to me that many experts were besmirching this tactic w/o fully appreciating the subtleties.

            One small correction: I’ve worth WITH that fellow R.W. as a client. I never actually worked AT his company.

            Cheers.

  • http://twitter.com/ltcassociates Stephen D. Forman

    I’m glad Danny Brown brought to our attention that “Fakers.StatusPeople” site. I’d actually never seen it before, but it’s illuminating. Although I’d read that many of the top-ranked names on Twitter utilized bought-fans in order to bolster their accounts, I had no idea just how widespread the practice had become. Let’s look:

    @LadyGaga (31.2M) only 30% good

    @JustinBieber (30.2M) only 36% good

    @rihanna (26.6M) only 37% good

    @oprah (14.8M) only 24% good

    @billgates (8.80M) only 24% good

    @cnn (6.53M) only 27% good

    Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

    • http://newenglandmultimedia.com/ Michelle Quillin

      I hadn’t heard of Fakers.StatusPeople.com. I was thrilled to discover that one of my favorite Tweeters, with nearly 44,000 Twitter followers, has NO fake followers, and only 1% are inactive!

      • http://twitter.com/ltcassociates Stephen D. Forman

        Ya’ know? I think I’m going to be using that service a lot!

        I was thinking about this topic overnight, and here’s my conclusion– it’s rather like the steroid era in baseball. When you look at these inflated Twitter Counts (be they the 31.2M followers of LadyGaga or the 140,000 Followers that we once had) we may have to affix an asterisk next to them (*).

        Eventually, MLB started steroid testing and cleaned itself up. The algorithms which give preference to such metrics will one day have to run Follower Counts through the “Fakers” filter; until then, what does the public want to see? They want to see Home Runs baby! Most consecutive starts & batting average just don’t exude the same cache…

      • temafrank

        And who is that?

  • Mark Ackerman

    Great post, guys.

    By the way, I came across a great service recently that
    claims to help you grow a targeted Twitter fan base by growing your followers
    organically. A colleague of mine is using it and says they do a brilliant
    job. They are called http://www.TwitterConsult.com.
    Worth looking into.

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  • http://www.ltc-associates.com Stephen D. Forman

    Good news, readers.

    I was so enamoured by the Fakers.StatusPeople service that I signed up for it. Turns out the 16% “Good” rate cited by my detractors (well, by Danny Brown) may not be accurate after all.

    I’ve been tracking our “Good” numbers from inside the service for awhile now, and we’ve been notching higher and higher. Today’s rate, for example, was 82% (here’s a snapshot): http://bit.ly/12yjTyu

    This begs the question: which rate is accurate? The one you get when searching a Twitter Account from “inside” the service, or the one produced by the app from “outside” the service, on the homepage?

    Ultimately, for my purposes it’s primarily important that the trend move upwards, more than anything (although I’d prefer to learn the 82% rate was the accurate one).

    On another note, this service finally allowed me to check our Kred score– a metric I’ve heard of for a long time, but never bothered to check. Turns out LTCA’s “influence” ranks in the 99th percentile. This certainly sounds good, but does anyone actually USE Kred? Is it considered meaningful or reliable? What are people’s thoughts on it?

    Best regards,
    Stephen D. Forman, Senior VP
    LTCA, INC

  • temafrank

    Interesting perspective. As cynical as I am, I notice that I do make a note of twitter follower numbers when I decide to follow someone. Mind you, if the number are in the hundreds of thousands, I tend to assume most of them are fake. So maybe the goal is to aim at something a little lower.

  • http://www.ltc-associates.com/ LTCA INC

    In a surprising move of “Life Imitating Life”, today I’d like to share an article which appeared in the July 2013 edition of UCLA Magazine entitled, “Sourcing the Crowd”.

    Not only does it represent offline validation of my online “Seeding the Tipjar” theory, but it’s an incredibly interesting development:http://magazine.ucla.edu/depts/quicktakes/sourcing-the-crowd/

    Adam Swart’s company “Crowds on Demand” charges anywhere from $2,999 for a “celebrity fan experience” to $9,999+ to hire hundreds of actors to hold a rally in your honor. With gigs already booked around the country, do you see where this is going?

    Political rallies, up-and-coming entertainers, product launches, trade shows… it’s all about standing out from the noise.

    (Viva Doctrina Formana!)

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  • http://www.ltc-associates.com/ LTCA INC

    On November 24th, 2013, Jeff Elder peeled back the curtain on Twitter for the Wall Street Journal in a piece titled, “Inside a Twitter Robot Factory”. Rather than rehash the entire essay (which interested BlueKite readers can find here:on.wsj.com/1esaTRc), I only wish to provide an excerpt:

    “Rapper Tony Benson says hiring Mr. Vidmar to promote his account on Twitter is “the best decision I ever made.” Mr. Vidmar’s robots made the rapper, known as Philly Chase, a trending topic so often around Philadelphia that he attracted attention from local newspapers. Prominence on Twitter led to gigs, fans and ways to promote his videos, Mr. Benson says.”

    If that sounds familiar, it should.

    What’s more, anyone managing a social media account will be astonished to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for their client. This is what the WSJ found:

    “Mr. Vidmar’s robots have helped make his clients “trending topics” on Twitter, giving them special mention on Twitter users’ home pages. The trending topics appear just below the “promoted trend” that the company sells for as much as $200,000 A DAY. The trending topics aren’t marked as “sponsored,” so they appear more genuine.” [emphasis added]

    We will continue adding evidence to this forum as it accrues. Stay tuned!

  • http://www.ltc-associates.com/ LTCA INC

    Because this story is what we call “an evergreen”, let’s keep it fresh with the latest update:

    Today, the AP reported (and news channels have been repeating) the widespread uptick in offshore click farms: “For as little as a half cent each click, websites hawk everything from LinkedIn connections to make members appear more employable to Soundcloud plays to influence record label interest…Italian security researchers and bloggers Andrea Stroppa and Carla De Micheli estimated in 2013 that sales of fake Twitter followers have the potential to bring in $40 million to $360 million to date, and that fake Facebook activities bring in $200 million a year.”

    But what is gaining the most polarizing attention is the following revelation: “In 2013, the State Department, which has more than 400,000 likes and was recently most popular in Cairo, said it would stop buying Facebook fans after its inspector general criticized the agency for spending $630,000 to boost the numbers.”

    Incredible!