Do Twitter Follower Counts Matter?

In the world of education and social media, it doesn’t really matter how many followers you have on Twitter.

Before you jump down my throat, hear me out. There are a couple big reasons this is true:

Hashtags level the playing field. Educators on Twitter, especially #edchatters, don’t pay attention to a particular user’s number of Twitter followers during #edchat (Tuesday afternoon and evenings). For example, if someone says something noteworthy and it has the hashtag #edchat attached to it, it will appear in all the streams of people monitoring the conversation. From TweetGrid to our live stream page, it’ll show up even if the user has 0 followers.

Research shows followers do not equal influence. There is a trusted paper from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany making the rounds right now that highlights the different types of Twitter users there are. The paper shows the number of followers you may have is a poor indicator of influence. The post-doc researcher, Meeyoung Cha, who performed the study focused on the two types of influence on Twitter: retweets and mentions.

From GigaOM: Cha’s study, for which Twitter administrators contributed data, looked at the relative influence of the 6 million active Twitter users it counted within 52 million active accounts circa August 2009. First of all, retweets are about content; 92 percent of them contained a URL. Influential content aggregators include technology-specific sites like Techmeme, but the study also indicated that sources like the New York Times have widespread influence, and are retweeted on a variety of topics. However, it’s possible for relatively unknown users to gain influence and rise from obscurity by focusing on a single topic.

The findings from this research project have been published in an research paper available here on the project’s homepage.

According to ReadWriteWeb, after examining the data, the researchers found that the most followed individuals spanned a wide variety of public figures and news sources and included accounts like CNN, New York Times, Barack Obama, Shaquille O’Neal, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and others. However, the most retweeted users tended to be content aggregation services like TwitterTips, TweetMeme, and, interestingly enough, they counted the tech blog Mashable as an aggregation service, too. Other heavily retweeted users included Guy Kawasaki, the humor site The Onion and The New York Times. Meanwhile, those users with the most “mentions” – not a direct retweet including the original content of someone else’s tweet, but just a casual mention of their name – were celebs.

These three measures of influence – followers, retweets and mentions – has surprisingly little overlap when looking at the top influentials. The top 20 lists from these three categories only had two users in common: Ashton Kutcher and Puff Daddy.

An Education Example

An example of a Twitter user who is having a big impact without thousands of followers @ColinTGraham, the man behind the quickly growing #MathChat hashtag. Building on the popularity of #EdChat, Colin is working with his 200+ followers to develop a new discussion forum for all things math-related in academia. You can read more about it here. The key to Colin’s success has been having a great idea and getting some key support from influencers like @web20classroom and @shellterrell.

What Is Your Influence?

How much influence do YOU have on Twitter? There are plenty of sites, like Twitalyzer, that examine more than just your Twitter follower count to determine how much influence you hold in the Twittersphere. Give some of those sites a try and you may be surprised at just how much (or little) influence you actually have!

What do you think? Does follower count matter? Let us know in the poll below, in the comments, or on Twitter by mentioning @edudemic!

[poll id="3"]

Types of Twitter Users

For good measure, here’s a refresher course in the simplified types of Twitter users that exist.

1 Comment

  1. Colin Graham

    July 6, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    OK, since I got a specific shout-out (thank you EduDemic!) I'd like to make some things clear:

    1. I am not associated with and do not know EduDemic personally… as far as I know, it's difficult to tell online. ;-)
    2. I always keep in mind "nanos gigantium humeris insidentes" – ask your Latin teacher, look it up in Wikipedia or elsewhere…
    3. I am a complete geek and happy to admit it. I have only been Tweeting since June 2010, but I think…
    4. Yes, I thought that last one would catch you out!!!
    5. I suppose I am the #mathchat driver for now, but the idea has been around before. The impetus came for me from a newbie Tweep like me who mentioned something about wishing there was an equivalent of #edchat for mathematics (OK math vs. maths… I am Scottish, so it's going to be maths but math is better for Twitter, it gives you an extra character!). He knows who he is (Ron!). Another chance encounter later that day, again via #edchat, mentioned the idea of getting a #mathchat going, and she has gone on to set up #elemchat (Tania!). I wanted to participate in #ukedchat too, but timing was not appropriate. Localized and subject-specific chats are taking off all over now, but I still think it is important to come back to centralized chats or centralized points of reference. #elemchat #ukedchat and #mathchat are all starting up around the same time and stealing/cross-posting ideas to and from each other and that's the way it should be…
    6. Following Mashable is a good idea (if only because of the Scottish connection…)

    Just be selective, make Twitter work as you want it too, and take part in Mathchat!!!!

    You + Me + #mathchat = Great Idea!