Brand Association and Your Twitter Followers

One of the thing’s that Martin appears to have been thinking a lot about lately are metrics for rating ‘digital scholars’, i.e. those of us who don’t do any of the reputation bearing thing that traditional academics do, (though whether that’s because we’re not very good at those things is not for me to say;-)

So for example, in The Keynote Equivalent? he reviews the notions of reputation and impact factor, and in Connectors versus outputs he calls on some really dubious social media buzz metrics to raise the more far more valid issue of how we measure influence within, and value the contributions made to, a social network (peer community?) in order to recognise the extent of someone’s influence within that network from outside of it.

Using Twitter as a base case, one of the many interesting features of Twitter’s ‘open privacy’ model is that in most cases it’s possible for you to look at someone else’s followers to see who they are.

The value of that network to an individual is at least twofold – firstly, as a source of information, observations, news and feedback to you as the person at the centre of your own network; secondly as an amplifier of your own ego broadcast messages. (There are other benefits of course – like being able to see who is talking to whom about what.) You may also feel there is some benefit to just having a large number of followers, if only in the bragging stakes.

That is, the more followers the better, right? It’s bound to be good for my reputation, if nothing else, surely…?

Well….. maybe not…?

Consider these two questions:

who follows you? if I look at your followers what can I tell about you, from them?
what is your blocking policy? who you block is just as much a part of the way you manage your network as the people you actively follow.

As far as my own Twitter network goes, I am on a follow:followed ratio of about 1:4. That is, approximately four times as many people follow me as I follow back. For every 10 or so new followers I get, I block one or two.

I check my followers list maybe once every two or three days, which lets me keep up with the pruning on just one or two screens of followers using the Twitter web interface. If the name or avatar is suspect, I’ll check out the tweets to see if I want to block. (I really miss the ability to hover over a person’s name and get a tooltip containing their bio:-( If the name or avatar is familiar or intriguing, I’ll check the tweets to see if I’m going to follow back (maybe 1 in 20? Following back is not the main source for me of new people to follow – you’ll have to get to me another way;-).

The people I block? People who’s tweets are never replies, but who just tweet out advertising links all the time; Britney, whatever she happens to be sucking or loving at the time; product tweeters; and so on. If you’re following lots of people and only followed by a few? Not good – why should I follow you if no-one else does? If you’re following lots of people and are followed by lots of people? Also not good: either you’re a spammer being spammed back, or you’re an indiscriminate symmetric follower so why should I trust you, or you’ve so many followers I’m not going to get a look in. If I’m not sure about a new follower, it’s 50/50 that I’ll either block them or not, so there may well be the odd false positive amongst the people I’ve blocked (if so, sorry…) And why do I block them? Because they add no value to me… Like junk mail… And because by association, if you look at my followers and see they’re all Britney, you’ll know my amplification network is worthless. And by association… ;-)

The people I follow? People I’ve chatted to, have been introduced to through RTs, or via interesting/valuable multiaddressed tweets that include me; people who appear not to be part of any other network I follow (or who might add value in a sphere of influence or interest that I don’t feel I currently benefit from), and so on.

And the people I don’t follow but don’t block (i.e. the majority) – nothing personal, but I only have so many hours in the day, and can’t cope with too many new messages every update cycle in by twitter client!

So all this might sound a little bit arrogant, but it’s my space and it’s me that has to navigate it!

PS just by the by, it struck me during an exchange last week that networks can also act as PR channels. A tweet went out from @ruskin147 asking if anyone knew anyone “who can analyse how viral emails,campaigns etc, can knock a firm off course?” Now I should probably have recommended someone from the OU Business School, because I think there is someone there who knows this stuff; but they’re not part of any of my networks so I’d have to go and search for them and essentially recommend them cold. So instead I suggested @mediaczar (who blogs under the same ID) because he’s been sharing code and insight about his analysis of connectivity and the flow of ideas across social networks for the PR firm (I think?) he works for. (Some irony there, methinks?;-) And it turned out that the two of them hooked up and had a chat…

So why’s that good for me? Because it strengthened the network that I inhabit. It increased the likelihood of those people having an interesting conversation that I was likely to also be interested in. I get value not just from people telling me things, but also from people in my network telling each other things that I am likely to find interesting.

And as a spin-off, it maybe increases my reputation with those two people for having helped create that conversation between them?

In terms of externally recognised value though? How are you going to measure that, Martin?

See also: Time to Get Scared, People?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

15 thoughts on “Brand Association and Your Twitter Followers”

  1. Interesting to read your blocking policy. I’ve been pondering whether I’m wasting my time blocking “objectionable” followers on Twitter and should just let the Twitter automation take care of it (quite good in my experience, but a bit of a lag). Like you however, I can’t shake the notion that these “people” are somehow damaging me. But I also can’t shake the notion that I probably have better things to do with my time.

    1. I definitely take the line that it’s not worth my time to block people. And I’m sure I get a lot fewer than you and Tony!

      I find it much easier and quicker to just ignore them.

      Especially as it saves me having to take the time to make a potentially-difficult judgement call between “I’m probably not interested enough in reading what they have to say” (no follow) and “almost certainly spammers” (block).

      It’s interesting how one’s policy changes over time. When I was getting going on Twitter, I’d more or less follow anyone back who followed me, unless they were obvious spam. These days, as my stream is filling up, I’m getting pickier and more selective, and if it carries on like this I can imagine a time when I get even more selective.

  2. I have to agree with AJ Cann on this one – I’m quite sure there are better ways of spending my time than reading something referred to as a Tweet, and worrying about what happens on Twitter. It just seems to be the height of banality – you get no valuable insight into anything, nor do you really learn anything, from a series of faintly-related 160-character messages.

  3. Surely it doesn’t matter who follows you on Twitter? Assuming that none of you has protected your updates (in which case, you have carte blanche to refuse to vet all your followers) then a “follow” is the structural equivalent of an RSS feed subscription.

    The fact that I may follow Charles Arthur (Guardian Tech editor/@charlesarthur) on Twitter says little or nothing about Mr Arthur, but might reveal something about me (interests in journalism, tech journalism, and UK tech journalism – possibly with a slight liberal bias.)

    If Mr Arthur reciprocated my link (which he doesn’t) one might be able to make a few more useful guesses about the nature of our relationship. These “bivalent” relationships form the core of a lot of our research — under what circumstances do they form, for example?

    Now, having said all that, I do suspect that by looking at clique- and faction-forming behaviour (something I’ve been doing with networks of US Congress Twitter accounts) you might begin to say that “you can tell a man by the nature of his followers.”

    So — we might (for example) be able to make certain guesses about popular accounts like @schofe based on the age/gender/location of his followers – certainly when compared to accounts like @tonyhawk.

    We might even be able to do textual/content analysis on the tweets of their respective fan bases…

    But this is wild speculation. Oops

  4. I think my approach is similar to Tony’s: I do “curate” my follower list, because I see it as a (public) representation of my “social network”, and as such it “says” something about me, it forms part of the “identity” I project as “PeteJ”.

    My “blocking policy”, to the extent that I can articulate it, is also on similar lines to Tony’s, tempered with a somewhat vaguer notion of “Does this look like my sort of person?” :-)

    Yes, it takes a few minutes at the end of the day to do it, and I often wish Twitter was better at filtering some of the obvious miscreants before the got to me at all, but I guess I feel it is worth my spending that few minutes doing it.

    Over recent weeks, I seem to attract so many spammers/scammers/marketing gurus/arbitrary “collectors” that I probably block 80% of the people who follow me!

    In my following others, I’m fairly conservative, in large part because I’m comfortable with the network I have and I feel I’m approaching the limit of people I can reasonably give attention to. If I started a new job or project which took me into a new area of work, I’d probably prune some of my current followees and seek out new ones.

  5. @matt “Surely it doesn’t matter who follows you on Twitter?”

    I’m not so sure…

    One thing I suspect about spam comments on blogs is that they provide tracers that attracts more spam. I can easily see how you might might use a spam follower on twitter to identify people who don’t block, and thus use that follower to act as a pathfinder for other spam followers.

    Anyone who knows me know that I am swamped in clutter; but it’s useful clutter; I want to be able to go through my twitter followers and know that each of them is ‘legitimate’, a resource I could potentially call upon, and who might also be interested in my ramblings/things that interest me.

    If you had 20,000 spam followers and 1000 legitimate ones, it might not bother you, but I probably would never have followed you, in part becuase of the asymmetry (which would have sent up warning flags), then the fact that the majority of your followers were spambots and as such reducing your value to me as a potential amplifier of my tweets…

    This all sounds a bit mercenary on my part, doesn’t it?!;-) It’s not meant to be – if I could articulate it properly it’s about trying to prune links in the network that are just junk.

  6. You’re last example is kind of what I was getting at with the reciprocity economy stuff – you have built up reciprocity credit.
    As for measuring it – I dunno, it’s almost impossible to measure how important your stuff is to someone. But there are things we could do which would be part of an overall arsenal of evidence – which would include human stuff too, such as testimonials. For instance if you are seen to be ‘close’ ie communicating with, linked to, cited by, other people who are recognised as influential then that is a measure that you are valued and have impact too. Although there would be an element of the echo chamber in this.

  7. @martin (I’m guessing that comment was actually meant for another post?;-) One of the things I want to look at is RT networks as a way of identifying ‘confidence votes’ that friends ‘n’followers ezxpress wrt what a person is tweeting.

  8. I take a fairly pragmatic approach to followers. I tend to follow folk who look interesting (whether or not they follow me). I only block spammers who send me @mentions—otherwise, they’re just bloat to the follower list which isn’t worth the trouble of getting rid of.

    When I get a new follower, I’ll usually look at their recent tweets unless they’re obviously a spammer. Assuming not, whether I reciprocate depends primarily on what the stream content is (though occasionally the bio may sway me). I don’t place any real weight on people I follow versus those I don’t—I keep a relatively close eye on @mentions as it is. It’s really a matter of whether I want to read someone’s updates as they happen (it’s entirely possible, as has happened a few times, where I can have interesting conversations with people but neither of us follow the other).

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