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February 15, 2009

Twitter Followers & Sheep Syndrome

One thing I have noticed about the Twitter community if the love for ranking systems. Whether it be the number of followers or number of retweets people want to rank themselves. I've done all of these myself as I'm a stat and an "online ego narcissist".

There are many examples and these are just a few:

- Top 50 Aussie Twitter Users
- Most interesting Aussie twitter users
- Twitter Rank
- TwitterHolic
- Twick Size
- Twitter Power 150
- Retweet List

Ranking people by their followers is interesting actually as it's quite easy to "game". Look at the #1 Australian Twitter user @Andrew303 and you think Wow 37,000 followers that is amazing from just 300 odd updates. But then consider he is also following 38,000 people and the stat doesn't seem as impressive.

I always suspected that if you follow a lot of people then you will in turn get a lot of followers. Sheep syndrome sets in and people either feel obliged to or blindly follow.

For me power twitter users are the ones who follow a small amount of people (they actually use it for other reasons than to broadcast a message) and yet still get followed by a large number of people.

So for me The Real Shaq is a power user just like Lance Armstrong. These both being celebrities (well sports stars) but you get the idea.

So to prove my theory I started following an additional 1,000 people up from my usual 74 and left it for a week. I randomly followed anyone I could find in lists of followers for other people. Doing this manually took longer than I expected and if you were to do it then find an automated system.

Below is a chart of what happened to my followers count vs my following count.


See the trend? If I had been more selective I could have gotten a higher following to follower count. it probably did help that I had 1,000 updates so the people who actually manually added me saw that I wasn't a bot or a scammer.

Something else happened when I started following 1000+ people. I started to hate using twitter. Having 1000+ people all talking at you became a huge mess of noise. As the two twitter apps I use only pull down 200 messages at a time if I didn't check every few hrs I would miss many @replies. (I realized these aren't like emails they are just normal posts which need to be searched) Also the people I followed and were interested in were drowned out.

I did also get a few non English speaking follows, some pyramid scheme bots, warez blogs and random fetish twitters but that was a small part of the problem.

I can only imagine what it must be like to follow 30,000+ people.

A week Later
A week later I unfollowed the 1,000 people I added (I kept a couple) and announced this in a tweet. I lost around 70 followers while I gained more than 350.

As I mentioned earlier people love to rank themselves on Twitter. I know I too love to check my stats on Twittercounter and occasionally browse the Twitter top lists. You can even drill down to times zone.

By being on this list you also gain the added bonus that other people will check this list and want to "follow" the top users. They are top users for a reason right?! This is like the front page of Digg. Once something gets on there the sheep swarm in and it goes even higher.

Eunmac theorized that Andrew303 rose to fame by the number of retweets he receives. And he does get quite a few but no way near the number needed to be pulling in 30,000 followers.

Increase Your Twitter Rank
So if you really want to move up the Twitter ranks the task is simple. Just start following a lot of people. If only everything else was so easy to game. It's like a movie studio buying an opening weekend. Sure it did $100m + but it costs just that much in marketing to get it there. However having the #1 movie is part of the promotion itself and this propels more people to see it.

I guess the moral to this story would be to not worry too much about follower counts and influence and spend more time doing something productive.

I've also posted Twitter is Shit at... which I think is still relevant. Even more so after following 1,000 people for a week.

Oh and I almost forgot to pimp my own Twitter profile, follow me @100ftzombie


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