To 90,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days

Twitter's suggested users feature

Last month Twitter quietly launched a new feature that generated a list of suggested users to follow. Most likely as a result of this list, the followers to many Twitter accounts increased exponential over the course of the last month. @LiveEarth, my employer’s twitter account (which is maintained primarily by me), saw a rise in followers from the mid 2,000s to over 90,000 between January 16 and February 22, when, suddenly, the meteoric rise in followers came to a screeching halt.

I originally had trouble pinpointing the genesis of @LiveEarth’s sudden climb when it began in January — I was hoping for spikes in followers surrounding the events we were involved with, but it was bizarre that our followers were increasing by 500 a day after months of being more or less stagnant. I wasn’t too preoccupied with why, I was just happy that we’d finally gained traction — quick glances at the latest followers didn’t reveal anything all that fishy. At first.

from 2,000 to 90,000 Twitter followers in 30 days

@LiveEarth's followers 1/23 - 2/23 via twitterholic.com

Pretty soon we were picking up 1,000 followers a day, then 1,500, and by the end of last week @LiveEarth was averaging about 4-5,000 new followers every day. In early February, I became convinced that either the suggested users feature was helping to boost Live Earth’s follower count or something fishy was going on. I inquired on FriendFeed to see if others were experiencing the same steady rise in followers and received no concrete responses one way or the other.

netzoo on friendfeed live earth

The suggested user list came to a controversial head over the past week after Jason Calacanis questioned the sudden rise in followers to @wilw @ijustine and @techcrunch. Brooks Bayne wrote a post suspecting that the suspicious surge of followers may have been automated. “Someone is automating/scripting the creation of fake Twitter profiles and then following a select group of people.

In a comment on Brooks’s post, Twitter cofounder Ev Williams said this was likely the result of the suggested users list. But this list wasn’t generated by some algorithm that generated recommendations based on one’s profile and established follows. It was a static list incorporated as the “last page of the signup process,” according to Ev.

LiveCrunch listed about 50 accounts believed to be on the original “suggested list.” LiveCrunch suggested the list was comprised of influencers as defined by Twitter staff. But why can’t Twitter recommend or suggest users to follow? Should #followfriday be banned too? Are the numbers really that important?

Last weekend Robert Scoble went off on the concept of recommending “influentials” suggesting it was possible that users could pay-to-play — give Twitter money and gain recommended status. At first I thought Scoble was joking. It seemed ridiculous that Twitter would accept money from a select group of users and nobody would leak (or even suggest it) for more than a month. But people got increasingly pissed (Scoble made this comment on Friendfeed which has a similar-yet-different recommended friends function). Even the LA Times wondered why none of its 80 Twitter feeds were featured.

On Sunday I noticed that @LiveEarth’s follower count had hardly budged and concluded that the suggested users listed had been refreshed to feature a batch of recommended accounts.

This is what I had always expected would happen. I also expect the follower account to diminish drastically as soon as Twitter expunges many accounts in a maintenance sweep of fraudulent and/or spammy accounts.

Does Twitter’s “suggested users” feature diminish the value of inflated follower counts? Should a better system be put into place to help n00bs get started? Should we really be taking this so seriously in the first place?

Speaking for @netZoo, I’m happy with Twitter just the way it is.


25 thoughts on “To 90,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days

  1. Daniel Tunkelang

    Wow, Scoble really lost it, but I guess “status” is everything for some of these A-Listers. As a user, I do see a valid question in wondering how the suggestion mechanism is implemented–but not because follower counts have such a great value to be diminished. Follower counts are already a faux social currency: at their best, they reflect a user's celebrity or influence; at their worst, they reflect a user's determination to accumulate higher numbers for its own sake.

    I proposed an influence measure – http://thenoisychannel.com/2009/01/13/a-twitter… – that I thought might be a first step towards discouraging this silliness because it at least discourages users following other users solely in the hope of increasing their follower counts through reciprocity. The world can take it or leave it. But I do hope we can stop competing over meaningless numbers. If we have to be competitive, at least let it be over some meaningful measure of influence.

    Reply
  2. Joe Cardillo

    Seems like even Twitter, like it or not, is going through another stage of the social media cycle. The thing that I think most people really enjoy about Twitter is the feeling that it puts us all on an equal playing field, there's not supposed to be a “elite” class of Twitterers. When the experienced Twitterers claim some extra special status, that's when you see the maturation cycle of social media, so it's sort of moving towards a “I was into this band when they weren't even famous….” type of thing.

    To the credit of Twitter, they've worked pretty diligently to maintain an attitude of anyone can enjoy Twitter, there are not supposed to be special status Twitterers. I think two things will determine if they can keep things that way:

    1. Advertising and brand influence. When you bring these into the equation, like it or not numbers become important. Access to a large and influential audience via Twitter is on the verge of being quantified and assigned a value. I don't know if that's going to happen, but you can bet ad agencies and pr types are trying to figure it out.

    2. “Elite” users continuing to keep an honest and down to earth presence on Twitter. I'm a n00b but my perception is that this is what we all love about our favorite tweets. The unofficial motto is “Don't try to be interesting, just be who you are and let Twitter reflect that.” Experienced users set the tone for most of us who are new coming to the service, so if they're down to earth and are willing to share their experience without “I was there in the beginning before everyone else joined” than we'll continue to see informed new Twitterers who listen before they begin to take part in the social dialogue.

    Joe

    Reply
    1. Andy Sternberg

      Great points, Joe. I agree with your unofficial motto and as a long-time Twitter user, don't feel that by thinking it's inherently a good thing, one is necessarily defending Twitter. I'd love to see better use of what Twitter users “favorite,” weighted, of course, depending on how many followers one has and frequency of being favorited.

      Reply
    2. Daniel Tunkelang

      Reach and influence matter–and not just to people trying to sell products. Anyone trying to communicate would like to reach his or her target audience as effectively as possible. I don't see a problem with people wanting to measure how effectively they or others do so. Yes, some people are more influential than others, and Twitter, like any communication medium, can't help but reflect that, Conversely, it's valuable for users to be able to understand who is influential, to whom, and why. Respect isn't completely transitive, but it's certainly propagated socially.

      What bothers me about the follower count mania is that people aren't trying to maximize real influence, but rather to score points in a game they've confused with gaining real influence. It's a lot like cheating on a standardized test. It might get you into a prestigious school, but it won't make you smarter, and it probably won't make you more successful in the long run. Besides, as soon as everyone learns how to cheat, the only winners will be those who profited from the cottage industry of cheating tools while it lasted.

      In short, it doesn't bother me to see influencers and would-be jockey for position. It bothers me when they waste their efforts trying to get the high score in a stupid game–and when they spam the rest of the world while they're at it.

      Reply
  3. wolfsbayne

    what keeps getting glossed over is the scripting that *is* occurring. with “services” like tweetergetter ppl are creating scores of bot accounts. this has been documented already in the comments of my blog.

    why wouldn't the script include the “suggested users” feature as part of the bot account creation process? it seems like the easiest way for a scripted account to have some follows (for appearance sake, maybe).

    hell, even ev said nefarious things *were* occurring.

    Reply
    1. Andy Sternberg

      Brooks, this definitely seems to be the case. What really pointed to bot scripting was the exponential increase in followers to “suggested” account in recent weeks. These accounts were gaining 5-10% increase in followers day over day.

      And this is the problem — Twitter needs to figure out a way to run maintenance more regularly and perhaps more aggressively, which may require a revision in their terms.

      The onslaught of spam bots on twitter has always seemed inevitable. The greatest concern is what could happen when the bots release their venom. Can Twitter possibly get ahead of the Hacker curve?

      Reply
  4. carnagein

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    Reply
  5. carnagein

    Good tips but only long term, I prefer working on my business and I purchased 5000 twitter followers from http://www.socialkik.com and they delivered them sooner than promised, that made a huge positive impact on my online business ! I started receiving more customers and better conversion rate because of the big number of followers which enhanced my reputation ! I highly recommend them : http://www.socialkik.com

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Twitter Knows Me Well, Suggests ‘Who to Follow’ | Andy Sternberg's blog

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