What use are Twitter followers?

Posted on October 8, 2018


I’m about to say something you wouldn’t normally expect someone in online marketing to say – not all social media metrics are worth paper they’re printed out on.

For example, I attended a networking event last week where one of the visitors was talking about their business, and how they offer advertising for other businesses. Nothing wrong with this – we sort of offer advertising at Engage Web. All forms of online marketing are advertising in a way.

No, what was slightly worrying was how he described his 20,000 Twitter followers as a selling point. When clients advertised with him, they would get mentions on his Twitter and he would retweet some of their tweets. This sort of offering has always failed to sit well with me.

For example, we used an advertiser many years ago who, as one of their advertising tools, used their social media. They talked about how they would ‘mention us’ on social media and would ‘use their Twitter to promote their clients’ but there was no actual metric involved. There was nothing tangible.

It was all just a bit too ‘fuzzy’ for my liking.

Sure enough, nothing ever really came of it, and I’ve been wary of this sort of rhetoric ever since. This person who spoke about his Twitter followers last week wasn’t the first I’ve seen mention the size of their Twitter following as a selling point. There is another person I have met recently at networking events who uses a larg(ish) Twitter following as a sales tool. With somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 followers, they sell the service of tweeting about their customers, such as offers, blogs and other links to their website. Each tweet is very sales focused, and claims to reach a huge following. Yet what is the engagement on these tweets? What genuine value to they hold for their clients?

That’s the real question. You see, Twitter has a huge problem with automated accounts and semi-automated accounts. I’ve created a few myself, just for testing purposes you understand. For this reason, accounts that claim to have huge follower numbers may just have huge automated account follower numbers. This means any tweets they put out are not really seen by real people, which makes them useless.

Beware of people who claim to have this huge following on Twitter, especially if they’re trying to sell you their services based on this fact. Check their Twitter profile and see just how many engagements each of their tweets receives. If it’s usually none, or just a couple, this should be a red flag.

Another test would be how their follower numbers compare to their following numbers. If they’re followed by 20,000 accounts, but they’re also following a similar number, you can assume they’ve engaged in bulk following tactics in order to win ‘follow backs’ from accounts that do that. It’s a fairly standard practice to artificially boost your Twitter follower numbers, but it’s not actually going to help you win any business or achieve any engagement – apart of course from the auto engagement you get from following bot accounts that have scripts set up to auto retweet the last tweet from a new follower.

It’s engagement, but you’re not going to get any business from it.

So in short, don’t take someone’s high follower numbers as a mark of their success on Twitter. Look at their engagement from their tweets instead. It’s a much better metric.

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 20 years’ experience in these fields.
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