Is Twitter Still a Numbers Game? Was it Ever?

abacus-calculatorOn July 2nd, Twitter banned all varieties of automated following, including follow-backs. Is this a gross inconvenience or just what the Twitterverse needs?

These past few months have been something of a shakedown for many Twitter users. The first rumble came in April 2013 when Twitter and Tweet Adder announced they had settled their year-long lawsuit. The result of that settlement was that the long-standing Tweet Adder 3.0 was discontinued and replaced with a significantly different 4.0 in late May. The key change in the new version is that it no longer enables its users to follow or unfollow people automatically. This change was necessary to make Tweet Adder compliant with Twitter Terms of Service. The only type of automated following that was still permitted was automated ‘follow backs’, i.e., following back people who had already followed you. This change created a ruckus with fans of Tweet Adder (see earlier article ‘Transparency Issues as Tweet Adder Settle Twitter Lawsuit’), but after two months had passed, things seemed to settle down in the Twitterverse.

But then, yesterday (July 4th), Twitter users were delivered another bombshell when the makers of Social Oomph–another popular Twitter App–sent out an email to their customers (I’m one of them) saying:

Please note that on July 2nd, 2013, Twitter changed their terms of service and outlawed automated following back of people who followed you first.

You can follow an ongoing discussion about the matter here:

Social Oomph went on to explain that, as of Monday July 8th, their software would no longer follow back new followers automatically, and that everyone would now be required to follow back manually so as to comply with Twitter’s new Terms of Service.

They punctuated the end of their email with the words:

‘We’re as dumb-founded by Twitter’s decision as you are.’

While I found their use of the word ‘outlawed’ somewhat amusing, it’s clear from their tone that Social Oomph were a bit miffed. And understandably so: they’ve offered this follow-back service for almost as long as Twitter has been around, and it’s a big part of the appeal of their paid service.

UPDATE 13 JULY 2013: Tweet Adder, who had just came out with their new 4.0 in April in order to abide by Twitter Terms of Service, also upgraded to reflect this new change a few days later. Now, new followers are held in a ‘to follow back’ queue, and they must be approved manually (CLICK HERE to read my Product Review of Tweet Adder 4.0).

Twitter’s Angle

In their discussion at the link above, Twitter developers were vague at first about the issue of auto follow-backs; but then, one of their platform operators posted this which removed any ambiguity (emphasis added):

We removed the clause permitting automated follow-back, as we would prefer that users manually review their new followers and then choose whether or not they would like to follow back individual accounts. We understand that some users feel pressured to follow back; however, if not all of the accounts which followed you contained content which interested you or were gaming the system for your attention, would you still want to follow them back if they weren’t actually interested in you or your content? Accounts which follow-back may quickly find their home-timeline useless due to too much noise if they didn’t carefully pick and choose who to follow.

We still welcome services which perform analyses on recent followers and highlight those that may interest you, but only if these services only allow you to follow back each account individually and manually.

I thought this was interesting, because ever since the new Tweet Adder had come out in April, I was also coming to the conclusion that there was ‘too much noise’ in some of the timelines I was seeing in my clients’ accounts. This started me wondering whether or not follower automation had been all that useful in the first place.

Did Automation REALLY Work?

I’ve used both Tweet Adder and Social Oomph for several years. I used to think automated following and unfollowing was the bees’ knees. I enjoyed finding good Twitter lists and queuing them up to follow. For follow-backs, I had an open-door policy of following everyone who followed me. I would just get rid of spammers or dead wood later. I thought it all worked brilliantly.

But as I’ve been ‘forced’ to change my habits as these software programmes (principally Tweet Adder) have been forced to change their functions, I’ve had the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

I manage about 20 different Twitter accounts in Tweet Adder. Some are my accounts but most belong to my clients or members of staff. Recently I’ve taken on a few clients who ‘appeared’ to have decent Twitter numbers of around 15,000 followers, and were regularly growing. All of them had been using auto follow-backs before they came to me, so they had roughly a 1:1 ratio between their followers and those they were following. I thought everything was going along swimmingly for these accounts, but THEN the new Tweet Adder software was introduced, I had a chance to see the bigger picture. The new Tweet Adder 4.0 has a selection of valuable filters that enabled me to see exactly who my clients were following. And what I saw wasn’t encouraging.

I learned they were following thousands of accounts (around half of their ‘friends’) that were of no value to them whatsoever. Why? Well, about 4,000 were all in languages my clients couldn’t understand. Another 2,000 or so had been inactive for over a year. Others were spammers trying to ‘sell followers fast’ and others were those annoying people who Tweet nothing but ‘TeamFollowBack’. It’s taken weeks to clean up this mess. Gradually I’m working on finding relevant connections for my clients instead of this random bumph.

This got me wondering how well my own accounts were doing. I had been very careful to clear out inactive accounts over the years, but what about all the ‘noise’ (as Twitter called it) in my stream? It came as no real surprise to find a lot of pointless connections in my accounts as well, and I’ve started clearing them out.

But, I’ve also started being more judicious about who I’m following in the first place. Before, I used to queue up lists and let them roll. I’ve become laser-focused in my approach to finding and vetting leads. I use Tweet Adder’s filters to get rid of inactive accounts, spammers and languages I do not understand before I even put them in my ‘to follow’ queue (you can read more about this in my earlier article ‘Where in the World Are You? Top 25 Dumbest Twitter Locations’).

And what has happened since I’ve been doing this is a HUGE increase in the number of ReTweets, and the traffic coming to my website from Twitter has gone up by over 50%. This is in just the past two months.

Now we are faced with the challenge of the most recent change in Twitter policy where we can no longer auto follow-back. This means we will have to vet our followers before following back. To start testing the waters with this, tonight I turned off my automation altogether and went through my ‘follow back’ list on Tweet Adder. To my surprise, of the 50 or so people in my queue, I rejected at least 20 of them for one reason or another. So, if I had automatically followed them as I used to do, how long would these inappropriate accounts have stayed in my Twitter stream, and made it harder to find those people with whom I wanted to connect?

So now, my question is, was automation actually working for me (or my clients)? I’d say ‘not nearly as well as I thought it was’. It is obvious that many people who may have followed me on the strength that I would follow back really had nothing in common with me. I’ve always been very careful about who to follow, but if others follow indiscriminately and we automatically follow back, well, it ends up making more work for us somewhere down the line.

So while Social Oomph say they are ‘dumb-founded’, I’m not so sure I am.

The Illusion of Numbers

Marketers have long operated on a false concept of acceptable conversion rates. Recently, I listened to a webinar where the presenter said that ‘typical’ conversion to ‘entry level’ products was about 3.5% of your total number of visitors. His answer to this low conversion rate was to have lots of mirror websites, all offering the same thing. His rationale was that if you have 10 websites, you’ll get 10 times the return (failing to mention you also have 10 times the work and operational expenses). I’ve heard other marketers quote figures that are even lower (around 2%). Given such low numbers it’s not hard to see why these kinds of marketers cast such a ‘wide net’. Unless they have a huge pool of prospects, they’ll have no business. It’s all about quantity. Quality isn’t an issue for them.

It’s easy to get carried away with Twitter when we see our numbers grow. But numbers are meaningless without understanding their context. If you have 100,000 Twitter followers who neither understand you nor are interested in what you have to say, you’re unlikely to make sales consistent with those (paltry) so-called ‘typical’ conversion rates. But if you have a mere 100 followers, all of whom get you, know you and are listening intently, you not only have an inspired audience, but an audience who will go out and spread the word about you.

And THAT is how real platforms grow.

Many a Tweep has treated Twitter as a numbers game. But I’m coming to the conclusion it’s not, and NEVER was. Twitter is a new paradigm communication medium. The old strategies and old statistical averages do not apply in this environment. Apparently, the developers at Twitter get this. And while it might be a pain in the backside to have to choose our followers manually from now on, I personally applaud them for challenging us to make the time to get to know something about each other.

I wonder how that will change the Twitterverse in the long term?

Lynn Serafinn
5th July 2013

Twitter: @LynnSerafinn @7GracesMarketng @SpiritAuthors

Postscript: I’ll be writing an update for my book Tweep-e-licious to reflect these changes. If you buy it now, be sure to register to download your free Twitter Resource Pack (details inside the book/Kindle). That way, you can get started building your platform with Twitter now, and I can send you the update (probably in early September) so you can understand all the new Twitter policies and get the best from the new Tweet Adder 4.0 if you choose to buy it.

Transparency: In this article, I have used my Tweet Adder affiliate link. I do make a small commission if you purchase the software via that link. I only promote products I personally use and find valuable.

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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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6 Responses to Is Twitter Still a Numbers Game? Was it Ever?

  1. Great observations. I’ve been a happy SocialOomph user for years, but stopped the auto-follow about 2 years ago. There was just too much junk coming in! I find that a few minutes every day reviewing who has followed me is well worth it because I can connect directly.

  2. Callie says:

    … numbers can also be great fun! I was so excited to see that the 7 Graces Global Garden Group on Facebook was at 666 members yesterday evening … it attracted much attention.
    Thanks for a really informative article, Lynn – I did wonder what the update was on automation so really appreciate the updates.

  3. chris says:

    I’m surprised that all of these companies have lasted as long as they have. I guess it will only be a matter of time before twitter tightens their rules again and stops you from mass following or even scheduling mass tweets.

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