Anil Dash Attempts to Burst the Twitter Bubble

You'd think being named as one of Twitter's few hundred suggested users would lead to mind-blowing Web site traffic, a TV gig, maybe a soft drink contract? But it turns out that being one of Twitter's Chosen Ones—a perplexing blend of celebrities, news organizations and retailers—doesn't carry much clout. In fact, revealed tech guru Anil Dash in a recent post, once you reach a certain number of followers, most of those people you think are "following" you probably aren't paying attention at all.

twitterDash, who we last saw accept a gig as head of the technology and government think tank Expert Labs, watched his follower count climb to almost 300,000 in a few months after being added to the list. Yet he quickly noticed a simple, hard-edged truth: Being on the list made no difference in his number of retweets, @replies or clicks on his links. So he checked out the accounts of a few others on The List: Creative Commons, the Today Show and Starbucks. Across the board, no discernable increase in follower response.

Is Twitter inflating its follower counts? No, says Dash:

Instead, Twitter accounts that have over half a million followers listed actually represent (at most) a few hundred thousand people who've chosen to become organic followers of someone, along with millions who are passively along for the ride. Some of them are inactive users, some are spammers, some just ignore the noise of the accounts that don't interest them, like spam in an email inbox. But they can't count as "followers" in any meaningful sense.

So about that highly publicized race to 1,000,000 followers between CNN and Ashton Kutcher (who is now edging past 4.2 million)? How about the fact that famously unfamous Kim Kardashian is infamously selling sponsored Tweets to her 2.7 million followers for $10,000 a pop? Doesn't matter, he says. The highest number of active, "organic" Twitter followers that Dash has been able to prove are reading (and clicking) is about 250,000, tops. Update: In an edit to the post, Dash says he's determined teen pop star Justin Bieber has an organic 800,000.

Of course, there's no real way to prove Dash's theory, or even which Twitter followers are active. But just because some followers don't click or retweet something doesn't necessarily mean they're not reading—maybe they're just shy.

What do you think? Should CNN demand a recount?

[Dashes: Nobody Has A Million Twitter Followers]

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  • dotlizard

    Well, here's a theory: if your follower count increased dramatically as a direct result of getting on Twitter's recommended list, you've got a whole bunch of people who aren't necessarily interested in the sorts of things you tweet about. I would imagine it would be a completely different experience with 300,000 followers who had sought you out specifically because they were already interested in what you might say. There is just a huge difference in the level of engagement between people who were already listening to you, and people who didn't know who to listen to, so they picked from a list.

  • Phyllis Miller

    Somewhere in Twitter's official info it says that Twitter believes 2,000 is the maximum number that one person can effectively interact with.

    If you grow your Twitter following organically over the long period you can interact with more people. But if you simply use one of those applications that gets you thousands of instant Twitter followers, you certainly are not forming organic relationships.

    And it's a good idea NOT to automatically follow back. Instead, check out the bio of each person who follows you before deciding to follow back.

    (This is why an effective Twitter profile is so important -- see for the links to 4 posts on how to have an effective Twitter profile.)

    Phyllis Zimbler Miller

  • Janette Toral

    I think the response you will get in Twitter is in conjunction as to how interactive you are with the people you follow and to those who take time to interact with you. This has to be done consistently in order for a relationship to be established.

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Do most tweeters really think all those followers are paying attention??? REALLY?

  • Morten Saxnæs

    @Chris Reich: Marketing is about creating value for your users, through the channels the prefer. If that is Twitter og LinkedIn, you better be there. I agree that it is difficult to get a message out in 140 characters, but it's a great way to start a conversation and connect users with each other and you.

    I don't care about my number of followers. If that was my goal, I could find tools that could boost my numbers. I look at how many times my followers have clicked on my links in Twitter and how many people engage with me. This shows that I have created value, which to me is the goal of social media.

  • John Vasko

    Leave it up to Anil to make this determination. He's such a smart guy and I'm really glad and impressed he's made the move to Expert Labs. Interesting revelation.

  • Chris Reich

    I too have a Twitter account. My problem is having something worthy of saying in 140 characters. If I want to present a new concept, I Blog it. Occasionally, I'll have a news flash I can put out in a few characters but is that really of value?

    My thought is that Twitter 'got noticed' after a bunch of market hype on social networking being critical to business. So people raced to Facebook and MySpace and Linkedin only to discover they are more of a time suck than a business asset.

    Then Twitter gets in the mix. We'd better stay current, here comes the next big thing. Start twittering out nonsense or your business is sure to fall behind in the great 'conversation'.

    People signed on with Twitter because they thought they had to, not because they wanted to. If you had a fan base, they will follow you on Twitter. But I do not think Twitter is the place to build a fan base.

    This is somewhat like Squidoo. Seth Godin offered free pages where people or organizations could create "lenses" and billed it as one of highest traffic sites on the web. It is. A million people looking at their own page every day means a million hits. Does that benefit me? I respect Godin and have read all his books. Squidoo is clever to be sure. But Squidoo benefits Seth and charities he supports. The lens makers are only there to build his numbers.

    Bottom line? Marketing IS about being accessible. You want customers to have easy access to you. And you want access to them---by permission or invitation. For Aston Kutcher, Twitter may be as close as 'we' can get to him. For your business and mine, it's probably the telephone.

    Chris Reich

  • Theo Bell

    I find it hard to believe that "Being on the list made no difference in his number of retweets, @replies or clicks on his links." Statistically that seems impossible. Right?

  • Andrew Holliday

    Twitter is becoming marketing noise and clutter. Anil Dash's exploration into the value of followers is a prime example of how the platform is starting to deteriorate. It is inevitable that something new and exciting will come along and consume Twitter users (like what Facebook did to MySpace). Once rabid self promoters get a hold of something it is bound to crush the cool factor. The trend spotting early adopters will start to search for the next hot thing because it will no longer be cool or hip to have a Twitter account. This doesn't even touch on the fact that Twitter was built without a real business plan. They constructed a traffic source not a revenue model. I hit on all of these subject in a post last month about why Twitter is Doomed. And yes, I have a Twitter account, but my use is a prime example of why it's doomed.

  • Alissa Walker

    Thanks for your response, Heather! How has it transformed your work and brought it to a new level, if not with traffic?

  • Heather Mansfield

    I am on the list:

    You don't get as much traffic as you think you would with 300,000+ followers, but it has dramatically transformed my work.... brought it to a whole different level... and for that I am thankful to Twitter... and so are nonprofits.