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Chapter 24

Long gone are the days of Twitter’s pure and innocent ecosystem where updates, @ messages, and the act of following were uncomplicated and driven by goodwill.  Now the revolutionary micro blog is triggering a macro transformation in human interaction and represents nothing short of completely transforming how communities worldwide and the dynasties within each communicate and connect. The world is becoming a much smaller place and as a result, competition for attention will give way to an ongoing struggle to stay relevant and ideally, top of mind as everyone believes they are the epicenter of those conversations related to the keywords that define who they are, what they represent, and ultimately where they wish to transcend.

Popularity and Influence

Certain individuals follow and are followed by thousands, hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, over a million “friends” online.

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that human beings held a cognitive limit to the to the number of people with whom they can sustain viable social relationships. Dunbar believed that the limit is a direct function of relative of the neocortex size of the human brain capable of maintaining a stable network of about 148 contacts1. The approximation of 150 would become the “the Dunbar number.”2

Anthropologist H. Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth, a scientist who studied oceanography as well as social networks, conducted a series of field studies in the United States. They estimated the number of ties at 290 with a median of 231.3

As existing behavior in Social Networks already suggests, the majority of “friends” are actually assuming the role of follower and given the dubious honor of receiving riveting and enlightening updates from those voices they choose to endure.

In October 2009, the average Facebook user maintained a social graph of 1304.

Twitter’s lead engineer in its services team, while speaking at the QCON 2009 conference, observed that 126 people followed the average Twitter user at the time5.

These numbers certainly resemble those proposed by Dunbar and Bernard and Killworth. But I believe, these averages will actually expand over time.

Social networking isn’t powered by actually maintaining or socially grooming the relationships we’ve been conditioned to cultivate in the real world. Nor is it truly about hosting and engaging enlightening and interwoven conversations with everyone in our social graph. Social networking is cultivated through relations, relationships, and recognition at varying levels.

A Harvard study revealed that the majority of users on Twitter are actually reading and not tweeting. Based on activity and profile analysis, it concluded that 90% of all tweets were generated by the most active 10%6 — lending credence to the 90-9-1 rule we already explored. If we apply Roger’s DoI adoption logic to Twitter, for example, we may see the average number of following and followers trend upward.

Rapleaf, one of the largest people databases in the world, provides insight into hundreds of millions of consumers online. In September 2009, Rapleaf released data that studied how profiles changed between late March and mid June 2009.7 They analyzed 40,000 follower and following counts for the top 0.1%, top 1%, and top 10% most followed Twitter users as it related to the company’s project at hand.

Observations published in the study included the following highlights:

  • The average number of followers for the top 0.1% nearly quadrupled between March and June; for the top 1% and top 10%, this figure more than doubled
  • The median number of followers, which discounts the outliers captured in averages, grew by over 59% for all groups and increased the most for the top 0.1%
  • The average followers/following ratio increased the most for the top 0.1% and the least for the top 10%
  • The median followers/following ratio experienced the last amount of change and approaches a value of 1.0 as popularity increases

We are witnessing the development of a new breed of connections that define a new era of relationships.  The inflation of individual social graphs potentially flirts with fandom as many users are unknowingly seduced by the illusion of ongoing attention and recognition, which relatively resembles micro celebrity.

For many uninformed users of social networks, size does matter.  And as Twitter traverses from the left to the right of Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations adoption bell curve and picks up legions of new users in the process, the culture inevitably reflects the desire to extend its reach. If metrics continue to spotlight the size of our networks and the ratio of friends and followers, the precedent is ingrained in the processes, tools, and perceptions for measuring authority and influence.

However, as “followers,” we are in complete control and maintain the sole ability to define, adapt, and filter our experiences simply based on whom we follow.

Hashtags – A Proactive Approach

When considering your next move, keep in mind that these ploys will eventually out welcome the patience of those connected to the people who Tweet on your behalf.

For example, when Spymaster launched on Twitter, it quickly garnered the attention and interest of the Twitter community and soon flooded the timelines of all those who signed up for the game — as well as their followers. Playing the game required people to tweet each and every move in public. Initially, the interest and tweeting activity boosted Spymaster into the Trending Topic board, and consequently, spurred followers by the droves. However, followers of Spymaster players soon had their fill of these updates and started to publicly complain.

Twitter subsequently updated its platform for presenting @ replies in the public timeline. This move was not necessarily tied to how brands solicit Tweets from users, but instead focused on helping users get a more holistic view of updates and conversations they follow on Twitter. Previously, if someone you follow replied or sent an @ message to someone else that you don’t follow, that update would appear in your timeline — giving you a one-sided view of the dialogue. Now, these updates will only appear if you follow all of the parties involved. This improves the flow of conversations, minimizes noise, and potentially reduces the effectiveness of your campaign.

Offers and Specials

As Dell noted, “We’ve surpassed $2 million in revenue in terms of Dell Outlet sales, but we’re also seeing that it’s driving interest in new product as well. We’re seeing people come from @DellOutlet on Twitter into the site, and then ultimately decide to purchase a new system from elsewhere on If we factor those new system purchases that come from @DellOutlet, we’re actually eclipsed $3 million in overall sales.”

@delloutlet has been active on Twitter since June of 2007, however connection to Dell’s special pricing and the company’s vigilant focus on service and customer attention has helped attract over 500,000 followers in three months.

Current Dell involvement with Twitter focuses on listening, learning, and engaging in direct connections with customers. There are ~ 200 Dell employees using Twitter to interact with customers, including the product development team for Dell’s Mini line of fashionable and functional netbooks (@dell_mini).

In particular the Dell Mini team is leveraging Twitter to develop the next generation of netbooks. Other examples range from individuals in the CTO’s office to those who work on technology for education @edu4u and @paradigmshift, and of course the company’s largest business involving corporate data centers and servers (@dellservergeek, @brucerericatdell).

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