There is an secret identification code in the Twittersphere. A code that tells those in the know what kind of Twitter user a person is, what their goals are with social media, and whether you or not a person is worth following. It works far better than a Klout score and is only slightly more complicated than looking at the number of followers a person has. In the hands of a trained expert, this simple formula works almost like Twitter magic.
Look at the follower ratio.
That’s all there is. Sounds simple, but just like chess, elegant simplicity leads to a multitude of complexities. Just looking at the number of followers to people followed only tells a portion of the story. The key is to look one step further and try to determine what goals a ratio is trying to accomplish.
In applying this formula to people I find on Twitter, I’ve noticed some archetypes that keep cropping up again and again. I thought I’d give a few examples of the types of people that have certain ratios, in hopes that it will better demonstrate my point.
(1 The Average Joe
This person uses Twitter to follow one or two celebrites, with the rest of his or her ratio taken up by real-life follow-backs. You’ll see a small number on both sides of the follow/following equation, usually around 35-98, with a slight favoring of followings over people being followed. The average Joe’s tweetstream is filled with personal updates about their jobs/classes, what movies they are going to see, and the occasional attempt at a humorous hashtag (although this fails nine times out of ten).
(2 The Drama Queen
The “Power Users” of the Twitter masses, these people take the day to day tweets of their social circle and do their utmost to make them trending topics. Retweets aren’t used to spread information, but as a way to add commentary to another person’s tweet (you know who you are, and it drives everyone else crazy). The drama queen’s ratio looks much like the average joe, but with the number on each side of the equation drastically inflated. Also similar to the average joe, drama queens love trying and failing at hashtag humor. Not content with just one Hashtage, DQs often use two or three different ones in the course of a tweet, with the last one usually being reserved for some “hilarious” sorority inside-joke. Good news is that this type of Twitter user almost always follows back. After all, more followers means more juicy gossip.
(3 The Clueless Business
If you own a business, I’m sure you’re now aware that you “must” be on social media. Literally everyone and their mother continuously says that social media is “the next big thing”, so it’s no wonder that Twitter is filled with a hoard of clueless businesses, eager to cash in on the fatted calf of social media. Savvy enough to google “how to get more followers”, the CBs quickly learn the “secret” of twitter marketing: follow people to get more followers. While this does work to some extent, it quickly leads to a grotesque ratio, sometimes reaching the 20:1 vicinity. The side effect of this naturally is that this renders the normal twitterstream unusable, so any attempt at plugging into the social discourse is discarded in favor of a constant barrage of self-promotion.
(4 The “I need to Get More Followers” Person
This is something everyone on Twitter is a little bit guilty of, myself included. We all love attention and, let’s face it, we all want just the slightest bit to be famous. Twitter is for most people the closest thing they will ever get to real celebrity, so it makes sense that many people get bitten by the follower bug. Truth is, you really don’t need followers; you need people who care about what you say who also happen to follow you. This subtle twist is lost on the INMF person, who employs all manner of shenanigans to boost their numbers. #TeamfollowBack, auto-follow software, and who knows what else to reach Twitter glory. Best way to identify a INFM is, once again, checking their ratio. It’s usually a 1:1 ratio, but the number on both sides is massive, far more tweets than a single person needs or can humanly read.
(5 The Marketing Guy
Very similar to the INMF, but with one subtle difference: all they tweet about is marketing. Whether it be why your blog’s SEO is terrible or how to boost your CTR on social media, these guys tweet about it, and they tweet about it relentlessly. These chaps feel the need to legitimize their marketing strategies with huge follower bases, and while I totally understand the desire, I still think the best path to Twitter marketing success is to provide valuable content that improves ROI. Getting your customers more money is hard though, so most just stick with building up a massive follower base of inactive, multicolored eggs.
Speaking of eggs, what Twitter archetype discussion could be complete without including the noble spambot? These accounts stick out like a sore thumb, not only for their poor grammar and overt keyword automation (just type in “iPad” and see how many come running), but because of their ratio. These accounts oftentimes only have a handful of followers, but are following hundreds of people. If these indicators aren’t enough, their profile picture usually is two blonde girls making out.
(7 Actual Famous People
The most straightforward category, AFPs have thousands, or even millions, of followers, despite the fact that they sometimes post nothing of value (never with you though, @Deadmau5). You can spot these people right away. Their ratios absurdly favor the follower side, if they even follow a single person at all. The blue check mark should make an obvious point all the more obvious, not to mention that you’ve probably heard of them before joining Twitter.
(8 The Power User
The reason why Twitter is a wonderful place. The power user is a noble creature, someone who long ago realized that creating and spreading value is the true purpose of Twitter, and has reaped the reward in followers. Power users come in all forms and tweet about all manner of things, but the one thing in common is their ratio. Both sides of the equation are massive (@Tweetsmarter follows 265,046, @Marketingwizdom follow 37,356) but their number of followers is much greater. Power Users usually follow people as rewards for sharing/discussing their content, and the very best even make an effort to respond to questions directed at them, even though they receive thousands of Tweets a day. If you’ve not yet found a power user in your field(s) of interest, stop reading this right now and find one. Twitter is a thousand times better when you make power users a part of your stream.
Mr. David Benson is a social media analyst and coffeephile. He currently lives in New York City and works as an analyst for Mashwork, a social media analytics company.