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August 21, 2009

Twitter’s Box-In Phenomenon: We can only Follow 200 Prima Donnas

Filed under: Social Networking,twitter — EmailTray @ 13:55

By now, one would think that the Twitteratti and/or the most prescient Internet industry pundits would understand the simple mathematics behind Twitter’s 2000 follow limit.  Quite simply it is this:  Interesting up and coming Twitterers, who are most likely to retweet good content and who are organically growing a following north of 1000, will often find themselves following 2000 themselves and unable to follow anymore until their own following rises to about 1800. After that, one can only follow about 10% more than follow back, which means one can continue to follow only about 200 “Prima Donnas” who don’t think they have to follow back to retain their own readers. Hundreds of over-confident “super pundits” will then have to be unfollowed or else the up and coming Twitterer becomes “boxed in”.

What this means, logically, is that most people (and bots) who think they are important enough to garner a lopsided follower base compared to a miniscule amount of people they follow back – will ultimately lose many of their best readers as those best readers mature into popular Twitterers themselves.

It is common knowledge on Twitter that Britney Spears and Ashton Kutscher are among the first to get dumped by other Twitterers who are approaching the 2000 friend limit because their non-follow-back behavior boxes those people in. This may be OK for Britney and Ashton because these conventional pop stars are not consumer product companies (or high-end product companies) and/or are not hoping to maintain the more successful up and coming fellow Twitterers as followers. They are content to entertain the masses of casual Twitterers who will never have more than a few hundred followers themselves.

On the other hand, Twitterers like Pepsi and Guy Kawasaki “get it” that they have to follow back in order not to lose their best readers as the latter grow and try to avoid getting boxed in.  Pepsi and Guy Kawasaki clearly want to maintain their highest “quality” readers…who are often the ones who are busy retweeting interesting tweets like theirs.

Pepsi and Guy Kawasaki don’t want to be unfollowed as the people most likely to retweet their tweets get popular enough themselves for the retweets to be really valuable.

I know there are some popular Twitterer’s who only follow less than 100 people so they can “read the entire timeline” of their absolute favorite people. They follow other interesting Twitterers on another account or via some sort of feed. Good for them. But this comes at a price. Up and comers are probably going to have to do the same thing with them unless they somehow make the cut.

So what advice will I dare to give the ueber-elite Twitterati plus de confiance?

In a sentence: Unless you want 30,000 mostly spammers and slow movers following you, follow back.

More detailed advice would be this:

1) Follow back if the new follower has more than 500 followers themselves and is not obviously a spammer. An elitist may themselves have gotten 20,000 followers without having followed more than 300 themselves, but most interesting people will get 1 follower for every 2 people they follow until they reach the 2000 limit. After this, most interesting people will have to cut hundreds of people they follow and then give the new people they follow a certain limited time to follow back or face the decision “is this person important enough for me to let them be a Prima Donna”?

2) At least follow all non-spammers with 500+ followers who retweet (RT) you. This should be a no-brainer because RTs are valuable in their own right, they are especially valuable if the RTer has 500+ followers and, additionally, an RT mostly means the other person really is a reader of your content. Based on 1) above, a member of the Twitter intelligentsia would realize that the best retweets (RTs) they get are from exactly the type of people who may soon have to unfollow them in order not to get boxed in. Why would anyone want to lose their best retweeters?

There it is in a nutshell. I won’t advise busy movers and shakers to peruse a list of 100,000 followers to manually separate the quality people from the spammers. Just realize that any given RT will be coming from either a quality person or a spammer but likely not from a slacker. Follow the former, block the spammer and maybe ignore the slackers unless they’re smart enough to RT you themselves.

An RT is currency. Don’t burn it the way you’d burn a $20 bill.


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