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Twitter Numbers: What’s YOUR Ratio?

By August 20, 2012July 8th, 2014Social Marketing
Twitter Numbers: What's YOUR Ratio?

Being an intensely upfront person means that I am always more concerned with a customer’s satisfaction than I am with a business’s bottom line.

How does this relate to Twitter? Simple.

I don’t want people to follow me merely because I’m following them. I want their “follow-ship” to be sincere. I want people to follow me because they are actually interested in what I have to say.

You’re Following Me On Twitter!

I used to get all excited when someone followed me on Twitter — particularly someone HUGE, like a celebrity or a full-on famous blogger. I’d jump up and down and shout for my husband to come see what wonderfulness was happening to me.

*and there was much throwing of glitter*

But then came the crash.

On viewing the HUGE person’s Twitter page, I’d see the ridiculously large number of people they were already following, and I would crash. There is no possible way someone can really keep up with more than a couple-hundred followers. It just isn’t humanly, or alien-ly, possible. So I would get all sad and jaded, and then I would consider hating that person for committing fraud on my fragile heart.

Up & Down The Twitter Ride

See, I’m still somewhat of a Twitter newb.

When I first started following people on Twitter, I swore I would only follow those with whom I was sincerely interested in exchanging dialogue, or those whose words inspired me or incited laughter. And I decided my arbitrary number would be 200. If I hit that number of ultra-cool people – so my thinking went – then, ipso facto, I would have to UN-FOLLOW someone else to make room for the new Twits.

Seemed a good plan to me.

As my number of followers increased, and finally surpassed the number of people *I* was following, I saw a wonderful thing happen: My numbers were proportionally beautiful and completely legit. The ratio of my follow-ERS to my follow-ING was such that I appeared to be a very legitimate Twit. I found this pleasing.

But some oddballs cropped up. Eventually I saw a couple Twitter-ers who weren’t following ANYONE (*cough* Seth Godin *cough*). Yet, he still has like a zillion followers. Since he and his ilk are of celebrity or big-blogger status, this isn’t surprising. They likely already had a following on their blogs before they moved over to Twitter, and their fans followed them.

Still, this annoyed me.

I wanted to be able to follow zero people, too. Because it struck me that all those followers of the celeb were completely legit. None of that follow-back nonsense.

Everyone following these guys were truly fans. That seemed way-cool. So I started massively un-following everyone.

OOPS. Bad math ensued.

I couldn’t bring myself to un-follow my actual friends — those with whom I actually spoke on a daily basis, or those with whom I am friends here at home in the Dayton area. Shoot. Time for yet a third strategy, since the first two (“Only follow SOME”, followed by “Don’t follow ANY”) weren’t working for me.

That’s where Lists came in.

So I started following people again. “Screw it. I’m a follower. If I like you, you’ll end up on a List. I’m following you. I’m doing it. I’m following willy-nilly.”

I followed everyone like a whore-hiring sexaholic who couldn’t get enough. Because I’m a follower, baby.

No, I’m not.

I panicked. I felt like willy-nilly following was out of control, irresponsible, and lie-ish. So I un-followed everyone again, going back to my original plan to remain under 200. Doesn’t seem to matter which way I go, because the number of people following me continues to slowly increase. I just want the ratio to remain legit.

You know those auto-response messages that say something along the lines of, “Thank you for following me”? I have received multiple copies from the same people, because their recorded message didn’t realize I was oscillating. It was like walking up to a faulty ATM that kept spitting out twenties, only instead of money, which would be useful, I received generic greetings, with which I could do a whole lot of NOT MUCH.

Bigger Twitter Users Offer Advice

The back and forth is driving me crazy.

I can’t decide which way I’m going here. My new Twitter friend Ralph Rivera told me I’m being too uptight about numbers. He is probably right, if I am this emotionally overwrought over whether or not to follow people.

My husband has a girlfriend named Shama Hyder Kabani.

Okay, she is not really his girlfriend. But he likes her book (The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue) VERY much, and refers to it quite often. She is both pretty and smart, so I find her somewhat intimidating, and was a bit irked when my husband started beginning every social media conversation with, “Shama says…” For a while, I wanted to punch Shama in the nose. Then I took a look at her book.

Here are a few examples of what Shama has to say on the topic of Twitter:

DO: “Follow people you admire, even if they don’t follow you back.”

“Unlike Facebook, following does not have to be mutual. You can follow anyone you want, but they don’t have to follow you back.”

DON’T: “Mass-follow people. (Really LOOK at who you want to follow. This is your chance to create your own human search engine.)”

“It’s still better to focus on a smaller pool of people with whom you have connected rather than thousands with whom you haven’t. You want to manage quality carefully as you increase quantity.”

Interestingly, Shama urges, “Feel free to follow me. I will follow back.”

This suggestion seems to go against her own advice. However, note that Shama’s reason for giving her readers a follow-back is different from others. She is specifically a social media expert pushing an open-door policy; she isn’t trying to buttress her numbers for an inflated sense of celebrity. Shama follows back in order to build relationships, whereas most people follow back in order to appear more massive than they actually are.

And this is where I keep going back and forth. I want to interact with the people I follow. I don’t see how I can really do that if I’m following several hundred people!

Never mind the fact that I’m also supposed to be engaging my followers, too. Thus far I have been able to do an okay job keeping up. But I worry. How will I manage when the list becomes too large, as it inevitably will?

This is what Ralph, who writes excellent and informative material has to say about the subject:

“If you gain Twitter followers slowly, at a pace of a few each day or each week, it’s not so difficult to interact one-on-one by responding to each person. But what happens when that number mushrooms and you’re adding dozens or hundreds each day and week? Keeping up with your new followers and engaging them individually becomes more than difficult; it becomes nearly impossible. Time is an asset that you only have so much of and as your list grows at an increasing rate, you may not have enough time to engage new followers.”

I know, right? That’s what I’m saying!

That’s where the afore-mentioned auto-responses come in, which Ralph discusses in more depth in his article entitled “Does Twitter Engagement Fail When It’s Automated?” You should give it a read because it’s chock full of advice!

Dave Taylor, whom Shama quotes in her book, says this: “Now there are so many (spammy) tools to garner followers (none of whom are actually paying any attention to you) that it’s common to see newbies who have thousands of followers and no clue how Twitter works.”

OMG. I don’t want to be this guy. Girl. Whatever. I don’t want this to be who I am: someone you can tell at first glance is just a silly ninny. And I’m afraid that merely by worrying so much over this topic (it really does stress me out!), I am EXACTLY the person Dave describes. Someone shoot me.

What Twitter Has Taught Me Thus Far

So maybe I am that annoying person, just adding to the noise and making a public nuisance of myself. I guess as long as I own it, I can be okay with that. I’m still learning. And I haven’t come up with the perfect solution.

  1. If I come to your Twitter page, and you have a billion-trillion followers, but you are following a similar number of people, or even more than that, your number of followers means nothing, and you might as well be following nobody. I’m not impressed. I liken it to this analogy: If I give you a dollar for a pack of gum, we have made an even exchange of goods; our interaction was mutually positive, and we are both the better for it. This is equivalent to a decent conversation in which we are following each other because we are interested in continuing that conversation. But if we merely trade dollars, all we’ve done is wind up back where we were before we bumped into each other. Why bother having faked that interaction? We don’t ever plan to talk again, and the only thing we’ve managed to accomplish is faking our numbers. To what end? No one is fooled! It’s like a Twitter Ponzi scheme!
  2. If I come to your Twitter page, and you have over a billion-trillion followers, and you aren’t following anyone, your number of followers means a lot. Your ratio looks legit to me. But you also look like an elitist snob who doesn’t interact with anyone and you are trying too hard to show off how many fans you have. I am impressed, but equally repulsed. Depending upon your material, I might stop following you. I might decide I’m not interested in contributing to your arrogant aristocracy. Unless you are like a news source or celeb or something, in which case, I wouldn’t really expect you to interact with the likes of little ol’ me anyway. But I don’t typically follow that sort, so it’s somewhat of a moot point. Jerk.
  3. If I come to your Twitter page, and you have over a billion-trillion followers, and you are following WAY fewer than that number, your number of followers means much more. Your ratio looks legit to me. I am impressed. For the record this is the group to which I would like to belong.

I like what Amy Rose Brown, who often writes at Shama’s website, has to say about Twitter interactions in her article 4 Reasons Why Your Twitter Marketing Isn’t Working:

“Start replying to people who are talking to you. This is the cornerstone of social media: having conversations.”

I am limited by my ability to carry on conversations with only so many people.

Therefore, I’m going back to where I started. I will continue to be extremely selective about which users I follow, though my number will slowly keep growing. Currently it’s well over 300. I feel like that’s too many people with which to keep up, but I will strive to do my best. I guess in the end, that’s all any of us can do. And I have begun playing around with Lists, but even those can get out of control. Too many is still too many.

That Twitter — it is a slippery beast.

Join the discussion 41 Comments

  • Hi Andi,

    Great post. Your writing style sounds so much like Carol, I thought that was her for half of the post 🙂 But that’s certainly a compliment.

    I like your expression of “creating your own human search engine”, really makes sense. I am not the queen of Twitter for sure, and I have so little followers right now that, yes, I do follow more than they follow me.

    Like you, however, I can’t stand those who have a trillion followers and follow zero. Who do you think you are? 🙂

    Like you, again, I think that having a reasonable amount of following, but having more followers is best. Not there yet 🙁

    Thanks for this great post!

    • Andi-Roo says:

      Wow, Sylviane – high praise, indeed! Thanks for your kind words. I admire Carol’s writing & bow to her superior skills!

      I’d love to take credit for the “human search engine” phrase, but that is all Shama. Her book is amazing, & if you aren’t already following her on Twitter, I highly recommend jumping aboard now. Even if my hubz does have a crush on her. *kidding*

      Glad I’m not alone in the confusion that is Twitter. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no one “RIGHT” answer, & the best any of us can do is try to keep it real. Of course, that’s true of life in general, isn’t it?

  • Fadderly says:

    awww…follower numbers…

    i don’t follow anyone who’s got a huge following and doesn’t follow anyone in return. it just reeks of…i don’t know. something.

    i don’t follow celebrities, either. so.

    i actively seek out new followers, by following new people. I also weed through my follow list regularly. If someone’s inactive for over 30 days, i usually let them go (sorry).

    i’m not a twitter professional. i just play one on tv.

    • Andi-Roo says:

      heehee, Fadderly, you summed up my feelings exactly:

      “it just reeks of…i don’t know. something.” That’s precisely why I dropped that train of thought.
      I like your criteria for dropping people you follow. Do you utilize a specific tool to help you suss out who’s been inactive? I hate the idea of getting too automated, but I guess with large numbers that kind of comes with the territory… What do you think?

  • Colleen Conger says:

    I think you and I need to form our own Twitter newbie self-help group 😀

    I just signed up on Twitter in April of this year. I went through all of the stages you mentioned and the ensuing roller coaster of “Oh my God, Chris Guillebeau just followed me” only to see that he follows everyone that follows him. Yes, I was a little disheartened, but then I thought, “I’m going to conduct my own case study.” If these big name bloggers that write about the significance of engaging their audience are true to their word, I’m going to see if I can get a conversation started or if I’m going to get the proverbial brush off.”

    Low and behold, it actually worked for several big name bloggers like Pat Flynn, Sonia Simone, Chris Garrett, Jon Morrow, Jonathan Mead (and more.)

    Do they follow me back? A couple do and when I looked at their followers vs. following numbers, I see that it’s a genuine follow, not an auto-follow and that makes me happy inside.

    Yeah, I’ve only got 173 followers (and I’m sure a lot of the are spammers), but I’m giddy with glee that I’ve starting conversations and relationships with people I would never had been able to do before.

    • Andi-Roo says:

      You learned that a lot more quickly than I, Colleen! Good for you — I think that’s what Twitter is ultimately all about. I don’t know any other way I’d be able to dialogue directly with individuals who seem so far out of my league. Twitter kind of brings us all down to the same level playing field. Wish I’d realized that earlier in the game. Regardless, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who had to mess around with the numbers before I figured out what I was doing!

    • Colleen, I went through the same star struck thing. I remember the first time someone “important” followed me and I was like HOLY CRAP!! And then I went through all my recent tweets to see what amazing brilliant thing could’ve inspired them to do that. After a while you figure out it’s not about numbers but about people who pay attention. The people I unfollow are the ones who I engage who completely ignore me. Believe me, nobody on the planet is saying anything THAT brilliant that I need to follow them on Twitter even though they can’t bother to respond back. pft.

  • Oh, I just follow people I meet or who talk to me a lot online, and a few I just want to follow. I definitely don’t get caught up in the rat race!

    • Andi-Roo says:

      Probably the smarter way to go, Geoff! I think I must be neurotic to worry over it so much. Here’s to a more laid-back approach… *cheers*

  • Adrienne says:

    I was like you Carol, I followed massive amounts of people and then when reality set in I realized how stupid that was. heck, I was just doing what the big boys taught me but soon learned I can’t build relationships like that.

    So I unfollowed everyone and started over again. I now have over 6,000 following me but I’m only following a little over 1,000. I won’t follow anyone unless they ask me to.

    I still do the auto DM message but mine isn’t like everyone else’s and it still works for those it actually reaches. To be honest with you, I’d never be able to keep up with all that if I had to do it myself.

    I’m just happy to hear that I passed the test of the numbers game here. Yey!!!

    Great post, thanks Carol.


    • Andi-Roo says:

      heehee, glad you liked my post! Carol graciously allowed me to share this article on her blog today, so I thank you profusely for the compliment.

      And yes, you passed with flying colors! Truly, anyone who interacts with others on Twitter passes the test, is what I’ve learned from my experiments. Don’t know why it took me so long to grasp the “social” part of “social media”. Duh.

      I haven’t resorted to the auto-DM as of yet, but I’m certainly not opposed to it. I received an interesting one last month which encouraged me to “treat this greeting as a first date”, & went on to ask my favorite song. I thought that was kind of fun. Should things slip beyond my control, I’ll definitely head that route, keeping the invitation for info in mind so as to inspire further conversation.

    • I know I’ve found an awesome guest blogger when someone thinks it’s me, lol! I got a kick out of this – especially the glitter 🙂 We’ve all been there and the numbers go up and the numbers go down and we love it and we hate it and it’s great and it sucks and we want to pull our hair out. I think everyone can relate and of course everyone has an opinion on the matter, which makes the conversation more fun.

  • eCommerce says:

    Twitter is for engagement with anybody while as compare to facebook, people normal use twitter for business and other professional type of sharing, you can follow anybody but you should also be followed by someone and which is only possible if you have a regular updates, conversation and sharing to you twitter account. So let’s with the following me first, @ydeveloper

    • Andi-Roo says:

      I agree, Twitter is def. for engagement. I happen to love Twitter *WAY* more than FB, but I also realize it’s just personal preference. It might have to do with the fact that I run in different social circles on each separate service. I tend to talk to people a lot more on Twitter than on FB, though, as I find the conversation to be more satisfying & reciprocal. Does anyone else find this to be true?

  • Hi Andi, I too thought this was Carol writing this post because of the excellent writing skills! I never used anything automated on Twitter. It is one of the social platforms that I do need to pay more attention to. I usually visit Twitter once a day and see what my friends are doing. I reply, or retweet as necessary. I don’t like too many followers on any social platform.
    It is like spring cleaning to take the riff-raff off and it becomes a job to do. I like my social platforms to be just that…Social!!!
    Quality is better than quantity for me! Thanks for the post I enjoyed it!

    • Andi-Roo says:

      Thank you for the compliment, Donna! I am flattered to the max.

      I love how you refer to folks you don’t want to follow as “riff-raff”… sometimes that is just too true!

      I came to Twitter reluctantly, dragging my feet as my hubz forced it upon me. And he was only so forceful because I blog, & from what we’ve read it’s the natural step to take if you’re trying to “grow”. What’s funny about this is, now that I’m there, I love the conversations & jokes & quotes & articles I find, & I now prefer this platform to FB any day! So I play with the numbers to keep them manageable (a sand trap of epic proportions) while still enjoying that “quality” you referred to. I guess you could say, I’m trying to have my cake & still eat it too, while my husband is baking yet another batch to shove down my throat. LMAO!

  • It always comes back to value. Does following that +1 person add to my stream or distract? Will I ever talk to this person?

    I figure that fans follow even if you don’t interact. If they do better! I encourage people who read my blog to talk to me if they start to follow. It lets me identify who likes my writing.

    I stopped looking at number, when I stopped paying attention to Klout. Value matters more than numbers.

    • Numbers are definitely not the “point”. There are definitely people who follow who don’t necessarily interact. Some people just like to listen and get updates. But on the whole it’s nice to know that if someone is following you, they’re willing to talk to you.

    • Andi-Roo says:

      You are so right, Susan, that quality trumps quantity every time! And I agree with Carol Lynn, too, that interaction is great. I guess my hangup was more about me — what should I do? — and the answer I found is that there truly is no blanket statement. Each person will find that quality or interaction in a different way than I might. There are some entities I follow that provide zero personal communication and zero follow-backs, both of which are very important to many Twitter users. I have no problem, however, following someone (or some”thing”) that provides good material. I think you’re right to forget the numbers. That’s what I’m trying to do now, too.

  • Excellent post. I love the Sexoholic punchline..LMAO! In regards to twitter, in the beginning I hated it with a passion, but NOW, I am on it more than anything else. The following drama doesn’t bother me anymore because I follow those that I have a deep interest in. I always check out other websites to see if they mesh with what I want to learn about or do they promote topics I want to avoid like the plague. To each his own, but I do mass cleaning every once in a while when I think to myself, “why am I following this person?”

    • I go through moments of not caring and moments of wanting to unfollow almost everyone 🙂 In the meantime I try to act like a sane person, lol. Once in a while I do unfollow anyone who isn’t following me mostly because I know there will never be a conversation so who cares?

    • Andi-Roo says:

      Do you ever find yourself following someone because you like their blog… only later you find out they aren’t so much the brilliant Tweeter? I always feel somewhat guilty unfollowing in that case, but my need to keep things to a minimum overrides that. I’m also trying to make better use of my lists by adding someone to the appropriate list immediately upon following. That way, if I ask myself later, “Why on earth am I following this person?” … the list that person is on may provide a clue. And I’m so dumb over it, because really — it’s not like I can’t RE-follow later on if I find I shouldn’t have let them go!

  • Hi Andi,

    thanks for sharing your insights…first of all, I love Shama’s book too. Just packed with great social media advice. Some time ago, she let people that she unfollowed everyone on Twitter…but I don’t know if she really did it.

    This seems that even reputated experts can have a hard time with Twitter because it, well, is kind of anarchic.

    By creating lists, I can easily keep up with a many followers. But at the end of the day, I don’t really know what the best strategy is and I doubt that anyone does.

    Take care and have a great weekend ahead.


    • Twitter is a chaotic pendulum, you can never predict what will happen 🙂

      I have lists too, and I try to talk to people but there are only so many people you can really engage with on any given day. I don’t think there’s a “right way” just whatever way works for you.

      • Lol, this analogy is great…someone else said that it is a serendipity machine…this fits too, right ?


      • Andi-Roo says:

        One thing I love about Twitter is that it’s like an answering machine — the message stays there & I can respond at my own leisure. So Someone might have talked “at” me 2 hours ago…or 2 days ago! But getting back to them is easy & it seems always appreciated even if I don’t get to it right away. That is just so cool to me!

    • Andi-Roo says:

      I wish I had known about lists when I first got on Twitter — would have made my life so much easier! Now I’m trying to go through those I follow & sort them so I don’t have to wonder later on why I’m following someone in the first place. And I am trying now to be in the habit of labeling someone into a list immediately upon following, but sometimes I forget… or I goof & stick ’em in the wrong list, lolz! Interesting that “experts” don’t have the answers either — kind of makes me feel a little better about the whole thing, haha!

  • Love this advice. I had just mentioned this same thing not long ago…the whole purpose of social networking is to be social. That means actually talking with your followers, answering questions, and being involved in the discussion. You can still be a professional business chatting with others. In fact, people are so fed up with the “big corporations”, small businesses that interact with their customers are rising in popularity. Keep THAT in mind when Tweeting!

    • Totally agree. Even when big companies are “social” it’s mostly to direct you to their customer service phone number which is not entirely the point, is it?

      • Andi-Roo says:

        That happened to us with keurig — wanted to ask them a question & bless their little hearts they responded right away — with a phone number. You are so right… not what I was looking for there, heh!

  • Andi,

    I always have such an issue with twitter. I try very hard to follow people back that follow me but I generally will give them a few days of following me before I follow them back (unless it is someone I know that fits my niche and I have looked at before and wished they followed me…it does happen)!!

    I do actively look for other parents to include in my following. I do this for two reasons…. 1) I want to make sure I connect with parents and know who they are or they are out there. 2) I do keep lists (although I am getting ready to revamp a few) and I want to make sure I add parents into various categories that can help myself or someone else now or at a future date).

    I have been using the program socialbro to check for other parents and follower/unfollow ratios. It even lets me unfollow people through the program so it has been a benefit. My following has grown a lot but it is not an alarming rate of growth for the most part (a little over 1700 followers) At least once a month I will unfollow people that aren’t following me and have no true value to what I am working to accomplish.

    My believe is you need to built your numbers somewhat but you don’t want to built them so fast that you overlook people or valuable information that you might need. Talk to people and make comments (value commenting) is what you need to be focusing on as much as possible! Thank you so much for sharing you valuable insight on twitter!


    • Andi-Roo says:

      Hey Aaron! So nice to see you over here! You might be able to answer something for me — do you think it’s easier to manage Twitter as someone who write in a niche blog? I wondered because I am all over the board so my choice of Twitter-pals is somewhat random as a reflection of that. So I guess what I’m, asking is, Do you keep your “professional” contacts on a separate list from your “personal” contacts? And then also — does anyone appear on more than one list? I know, I’m making it more difficult than it has to be, but I’m still trying to learn the best way to manage my lists & I know you do so well with keeping up with everyone over on Twitter.

      Have not used Socialbro — we’ve been partial to iunfollow but I’ll have to check that out now & see if it might work better for us.

      One more question just popped into my head — how do you feel about buying followers? Give me the skeeves, but I know someone in particular who does that. I think it’s pointless. You?

      • Andi,

        One of the great features of list is you can make them private if you want too. I have actually reserved a couple of my list for private to keep professional lists that I stay in contact with constantly or blogs. Now some people would argue that its not a good strategy to ever keep a list private but I tend to disagree with that.

        I have kept my professional list private because there are a few things about future blog ideas I want to keep private until I need them or use them. I will give you an example of a private list on mine….I do the feature “Life Fast Forward” that has become rather popular. Whenever I am looking for people to guest this is where they go…it allows me easy access to what they are up to and no one else will no of my future guests until the release date.

        I actually am working on updating my lists somewhat currently and it is time consuming but worth it. Twitter has a huge possibility for bloggers if they learn to manage it correctly.

        I do keep people in more than one list for a few things because they are representative to me in two lists and I want to follow them in either category. I believe it is VERY important to place your good followers in lists for various reasons. One of the main reasons is because people checking you our will give you more credit based on the number of lists you have been added too. Many people don’t realize that but being listed is a good indication on your worth and your ability to have others follow you and find value in what you offer.

        As far as socialbro goes I like it because it is free (they do have a paid version that I have considered) and it allows me to look at my followers, their peer index scores, what they are tweeting about based on hashtags, find other people from their lists that I might want to follow. The program has more filters than you can possibly imagine and a great online instruction manual to get you started.

        I have never purchased followers and it’s not something I would consider doing. I think if you really want to increase ur numbers u can actually do the same thing without ever buying one name. I am not overly fond of #ff and the such but I have many friends and great peeps that use that weekly. As a courtesy to them I will forward them and occasionally make one of my own but I only add people that I know are great contacts.

        Hopefully that help some and I think I answered all of your questions. I might have to write a post on the effectiveness of listing people and reasons to use them now…


  • disqus_2y773ucXV7 says:

    Great way to put all that Twitter information into words!
    I found a tool online, called Ratio:HQ, that allows you to easily track and manage your Twitter Ratio: