5 reasons your company’s Twitter follower count is meaningless

I’ve been working on the pricing structure to formalize our social media management at Fruitbowl Media, and while researching the market place I was literally astounded at how some people sell/buy Twitter management.

For a start, getting me “1000 new followers a week!” is not only useless, it’s dangerous. And in case you’re already thinking “You get what you pay for, I don’t use those types of offshore agencies…” this wasn’t from those wonderfully designed, “Engrish” type websites either – these were respectable agencies based around London.

Getting annoyed by this research was enough to finally get the Fruitbowl Media blog setup, and here’s my inaugural blog post: 5 reasons your company’s Twitter follower count is meaningless

1. I can buy 20,000 followers for $40

If you don’t believe me, do a Google search and take your pick. I’m serious. And spotting these people is easy because everyone uses the same process/technique: the followback effect.

Let me explain: If you follow someone on Twitter, they will probably follow you back (they might even have software that does this automatically without even caring who you are).

Used properly, using the followback effect can actually be a semi-effective way to discover your Twitter community.

And properly means organically, gradually and by a real human. And by semi-effective I mean it isn’t the whole story to building a Twitter following, but it can be one of the strategies.

But these guys just stick you username/password into some automatic software, run a few searches on some generic keywords, and then hit the ‘Go’ button. Your account then starts following people, and if they don’t follow you back within X days, you unfollow them. Rinse, repeat.

If you want those kinds of followers, don’t get them from your £175 /hr agency, buy them from a guy in India for $40. He promises only the top very bestest targeted followers for you sir…

2. Amassing lots of followers with spammy techniques can get you banned

So what’s wrong with this “bulk wholesale Twitter followers” shindig and why is the follow-back effect so dangerous?

Simply put, it can get you banned from Twitter. It’s done automatically, by software that attempts to game/exploit Twitter. Even with plenty of random number generators making the timings seemingly random eventually you’ll be flagged as a spammer by Twitter users.

Get enough spam flags, and your suspended.

3. Your followers don’t even know you

Think about what happened to get those 20,000 (for example) followers. You just ran upto someone in the street and said “FOLLOW ME!” and then ran off again. If they started chasing you, great. If not, you’ll just keep shouting in more peoples faces.

Would you do that at a conference?

Or instead, would you begin a conversation, ask the person about themselves, their interests, their job role, see where you might be able to help them out, leverage connections, share a best practice report etc.

It’s the same principle as those business card collectors you get at tradeshows. No one calls those guys back. No one even knows who they are.

To your followers, your just noise in their timeline (if they even watch their timeline).

4. How much time can you commit each day to talking to your twitter followers?

So you built up 5,000 followers without using the guys I recommended in India. Cool. But you don’t have any in-house community manager, and your only paying your agency for 2 hours per month?

So how are you actually communicating with those followers?

If you just want an audience for your broadcasts, who may or may not see the links you shout about, great you got it. But if you’ve been to any marketing conference, read a recent marketing book or followed a marketing blog in the last 3 years, you’ve probably heard this buzzword already: engagement.

Engagement is a lovely word I hear dropped into any conversation by anyone who wants to prove they get Twitter and Facebook.

But seriously, it’s just talking. conversation. Discussion. It’s been around for a while you know.

When was the last time you had a conversation with 5,000 people in under 2 hours? I’ve been to 3 hour networking evenings and only managed to really talk to 20 people out of the 40 who were in the room.

If you don’t have the resources to do anything with your audience, you can’t afford to pay your agency for more hours, or you don’t have a community engagement rockstar, then your not getting the benefit from your 5,000 followers.

You might even annoy a few of them by not having enough time to respond to @mentions…

5. Twitter is a game

Twitter was a bit of a silent pioneer of gamification. They pushed everyone’s follower count as a status symbol pretty early. Just how everyone wanted to have the highest score at snake on their friends Nokia 3210, everyone on Twitter wants to have a higher follower count than their peers.

And just like that snake highscore, it’s about bragging rights. And everyone is playing the same game. Everyone is getting a high follower count for status, to look like they have more customers, more fans, more supporters.

But because we know all of the many dubious ways to gain a high follower count, we aren’t falling for it anymore. Neither are your customers. We know a follower count is as reliable as the UK Train Times.

Don’t waste money building 3,000 followers for the sake of saying you have 3,000 followers.

As the saying goes, “a good friend helps you move house, a best friend helps you move a body”.