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Getting a handle on Twitter followers

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SmartPulse — our weekly reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social-media practices and issues.

I wrapped up last week’s poll analysis by saying I planned to ask the same question in a year’s time and make a comparison. Then I decided I didn’t want to wait that long — so I posed a question about Twitter followers that we first asked in June 2009.

I’ll admit right up front that I can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison between the two sets of results. First, the sample sizes are very different — 388 for 2010 and 280 in 2009.  Also, I couldn’t resist the temptation to tweak one of the answers a little, to give readers a better idea of what I meant by having “about equal” numbers of followers. That said, the numbers are really interesting.

Which number is higher on your Twitter account? (2010)

  • People following me — 34%
  • I don’t use Twitter — 27%
  • People I’m following — 25%
  • The two are about equal, with a difference of fewer than 10 people — 15%

Which number is higher on your Twitter account? (2009)

  • People following me — 29%
  • People I’m following — 27%
  • I don’t use Twitter —  27%
  • The two are about equal — 18%

When I decided to re-ask this question, I figured that 1) the percentage of users who aren’t on Twitter would be lower and 2) that a larger percentage would say they now had more followers than people they are following.

I’m shocked that the percentage of Twitter holdouts is so close to the same as last year — especially given the growth Twitter has experienced. Then again, given the makeup of our audience, maybe that figure is about where it ought to be.

Predicting that a greater share of readers would have a higher follower number was an easy call. As Twitter becomes ever more crowded with spammers and corporate accounts, more and more Twitter users will end up being followed by scores of people and groups they have no real interest in connecting with.

Of course, there is no right answer to this question — the  ideal follower ratio is going to be determined by your goals on Twitter. Are you looking to keep your customers informed? Listen to conversations about your brand? Engage fans in conversation? It’s important to keep your eyes on your goal, instead of stressing out about your follower total. Remember that it’s a conversation, not a popularity contest.

Does your follower ratio reflect your Twitter strategy? Anybody want to make the case that it’s always better to have more followers than people you’re following? Were you surprised by the results of this poll?  Check our our poll archive for more insights into how SmartBrief readers use social media.