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Your Twitter Followers Aren’t Real

September 18, 2008 | Comments Off on Your Twitter Followers Aren’t Real | data analysis, technology

Based on a random sampling analysis of twitter accounts I conducted, 6 out of 10 twitter followers aren’t actually following you.  That would imply that Barack Obama, who has the most twitter followers at 80K, really only has 30K “real” followers.

I decided to take a closer look at the top three twitter tech-heavyweight (figuratively speaking) bloggers based on Twitterholic’s top 100: Mahalo’s Jason Calacanis (#7, 34K followers), Scobleizer’s Robert Scoble (#8, 34K followers), and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington (#13 at 25K followers).  Even though Calacanis has a slight edge on Scoble, looking at their “real” followers was a completely different story.  Robert Scoble has significantly more “real” twitter followers (13.6K) than Arrington (8.6K) and Calacanis (7.5K).  On average, they were reaching 68% less twitter accounts than their follower counts indicated.  This isn’t a comment about them, they are fantastic.  It’s a comment about how twitter follower numbers are misleading.

Twitter users are pretty proud of their follower counts and they put it on their blogs next to their RSS reader counts.  I’m pretty proud of my twitter account and I only have 57 followers.  Twitterholic even puts up a leader-board of the top 100.  But, the not-surprising truth is that like RSS reader counts, not that many people are actually reading what you are tweeting.

As Twitter continues its impressive expansion and twitter accounts start to become businesses, it will be important to have a more accurate view of the reach of specific twitter accounts.

Several services are making progress on this front (Twitter Grader, Twitterholic) but there’s a lot more to do.

Note:  For the purposes of this sampling, I defined a “real follower” as someone who follows less than 300 twitter accounts and is active as measured by having a status update submitted in the last 3 days.  It’s definitely not a perfect definition but I hope it was good enough for the purposes of this demonstration.