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Twitter: The Quality Versus Quantity Debate

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Yesterday, I posted a piece called The Problem with Follow Friday, and the comments really got me thinking more about the numbers game on Twitter. There’s one camp that believe it is best to get as many followers as possible (quantity). There’s another camp more interested in a smaller number of followers that they personally connect to on a daily basis (quality). I think both sides of the debate have valid arguments, but my feet are firmly planted on the “quality” side.

Let’s think of Twitter as a mailing list of sorts, which it kind of is (or at least, can be if used that way).

If you were building a traditional mailing list, you could do it in one of two ways. First, you could buy email addresses or skim them from websites, compiling the largest list possible. Let’s say that you do this and end up with 100,000 email address.

The second way to go about building a mailing list is to ask people to sign up of their own free will. You can advertise that you have a mailing list, entice people to sign up through free gifts, or add people to your mailing list when they show interest by purchasing a product from you. Let’s say that you build your list this way and end up with 1,000 email address.

Obviously, 100,000 is better than 1,000, right? Well, maybe. When you actually send something to your mailing list, like the link to purchase a product, how many people will act or even open the email at all? On the 100,000-person mailing list, not many, since they never indicated they were interested in your product in the first place. On the 1,000-person mailing list, though, you’ll see a much strong reaction, because they are your target market for whatever you’re selling. They’ve indicated that not only are they willing to read your emails, but they have an interest in what you say. So, at the end of the day, you’ll make more money with the smaller, targeted mailing list.

Of course, there is a point where it equals out. If you have a quality mailing list of only five people, you’re probably going to make more money by emailing an huge list of 100,000 people, even if you don’t know whether or not they have an interest in your product. That’s why it’s called a numbers game, and that’s why there are two valid sides to this arguement.

When I first started using Twitter, I took the quantity approach. I followed large quantities of people in the hopes of them following me back, and I deleted users who didn’t follow within a few days. It worked – a lot of people followed me back, and I built my list of friends pretty quickly.

What I realized, though, is that few people were actually interested in what I had to say. No one replied to me. No one retweeted my links. No one was even really saying anything that interested me. They were just following me back because they wanted to boost their numbers too. That’s great, we’re both +1, but neither of us is actually gaining a reader or customer or even just a friend. It’s just a number, nothing more.

So I started thinking about Twitter differently. I followed people specific to my industry. I followed people who were saying interesting things. I focused less on building numbers and more on making a connection with the people I was following. And you know what? Today, I have more followers that I did in the past and rarely do I ask a question that goes unanswered or post a link that goes un-retweeted. I began to care about who I was following, and along the way, I lost a lot of readers who were just in it for the numbers when I unfollowed them. But so what? They weren’t actually connecting with me anyway. It’s not like I lost readers or customers.

A cool thing has happened. Not only has my new quantity approach led to me having a strong list of people I follow, but it has led to a strong list of people who follow me. Potential followers notice that I connect to people in Twitter, not just send out spam. They see that I’m following someone that interests them, so they follow me too because we have something in common. They say hello to me. They become readers. They buy stuff.

So, I’m in the quality camp. I follow people regardless of whether or not I think they’re going to follow me back just because I like them. I interact with people as much as time allows. I’m done playing the numbers game. What about you? Are you Team Edward Quantity or Team Jacob Quality?

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She hopes you’ll follow her @allison_boyer even though she just made a Twilight reference. She promises it will not happen again.

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


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  • Tom Peracchio

    Bravo! I’m an old fart going back to the days when networking meant doing a lot of direct mailing and going to trade shows, and I learned a long time ago that it is much easier to manage and sort through a small number of targeted contacts, than a large number of rather random contacts. Back in the day of direct sales and telemarketing, it was the fine art of turning suspects into prospects.

    There’s a similar debate on LinkedIn as far as the value of the LIONS, the members with 500+ contacts. Both with LinkedIn and Twitter, I have been happy to grow my lists slowly, and actually know and understand who I am connecting with.

    Glad to have found someone in the quality over quantity camp! Now that’s a bandwagon I can jump on 😉

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