The number of followers you have on Twitter has always been a dubious and highly-debatable measure of success. Your level of engagement (mentions, retweets, clicks) is a much better indication of true influence.
Moreover, when you consider that at any one time the actual number of people paying attention to you on Twitter is frighteningly small, then one thing becomes crystal clear: you always need to be on your A game.
I’ll expand. As well as writing about Twitter, I also set-up, manage and consult on Twitter (and Facebook, CPC and email) campaigns for a number of different brands. One of the lessons I like to stress upon my clients is the concept of active users. Not in the general, Twitter-won’t-tell-us sense – that data won’t be coming any time soon – but how that everyone on Twitter, all of us, has a very limited number of our followers reading our tweets at any one time.
And in these consultations, I’ve always reduced this down to a single number: 1 per cent.
Yep. In my opinion, the average Twitter profile can expect, at any given moment, that about 1 per cent of their followers is paying them any attention whatsoever.
How did I come to this conclusion? Well, it’s entirely anecdotal, but don’t hold that against me. Here’s the math:
- I would estimate that at any given time of the day when you are using Twitter, no more than 10 per cent of your followers are also using Twitter, and
- I would also estimate that at any given time of the day when you are using Twitter, no more than 10 per cent of that 10 per cent of your followers also using Twitter are proactively looking out for your tweets
10 per cent of 10 per cent is 1 per cent. So, if you have 1,000 followers, science my gut tells me that, at most, 10 of them are reading that tweet you just published.
Sounds extreme? Not really. The harsh reality is that most of the time the vast majority of people are not looking in your direction. You’re not even on their radar. Why? Well, maybe because they are:
- Reading someone else’s tweets
- Reading their own mentions and direct messages
- Absent from their computer
- In a different part of the world
- Looking at another screen
- Temporarily blinded by the sudden re-appearance of the sun
- Trapped under something heavy
- Asleep/dead (you never really know until they move)
- Not even using Twitter
And that’s just off the top my head. The point is they could be doing anything. Anything that isn’t, in any way, shape or form, involved with reading your freshly-published tweet. And for many people, certainly those following gazillions of users, Twitter moves so fast that your tweet has scrolled off the page before they even had a chance to pay attention.
Okay, so this isn’t going to stand up in court. But hunches are hunches – i.e., you can’t let them go – and I’ve been thinking about this 1 per cent number quite a bit in the past week or two. Specifically, if only 1 per cent of people are actually reading your tweets, how many of them should you expect to action something you’ve asked or want them to do? For example, clicking on a link, issuing a retweet or just a simple reply.
Yesterday, I decided to test it out.
Let me explain the madness and break that tweet down. Capital letters at the start imply SHOUTING, so people naturally pay more attention (pro tip). I followed with politeness (note use of the word ‘kindly’) and asked any of my followers who read the message to reply back to me (with, literally, anything) because I was writing a post about presence on Twitter. So, I was all straight up and stuff, and didn’t ask them to click on any links, retweet something or share a hashtag, just in case they got suspicious.
(We don’t want a repeat of that unpleasantness.)
I also set a time limit of 30 minutes for responses. Why? Because I figured that’s probably the maximum amount of time before my tweet dropped off the screen of all of my followers. No Johnny-come-latelys, thank you very much.
Now, here’s the thing: when I sent that tweet I had 5,455 followers. I also believe, sincerely, that I have a pretty decent level of engagement with my Twitter network – I get a consistently solid number of replies, retweets, clicks and sarcasm.
To get the results I was expecting, and had hypothesised, I should have received about 55 replies. Sure enough, as soon as I sent the tweet the responses started to flood in. I watched the clock eagerly. The 30 minutes passed in a flash, and I excitedly added up my replies.
Want to take a guess at how many I got?
Twenty-five. Actually, 27 if you count the Johnny-come-latelys, but that’s really against the rules.
Twenty-five as a percentage of 5,455 is 0.46 per cent. (That’s right – I’m rounding up. You can give me that.) Which means that less than half of one per cent of my Twitter network did something that I asked them to do. Politely, I might add, and without risk or fear of malice or mockery.
As I said, I consider myself pretty engaged on Twitter. I would hope that my followers would agree. In fact, I would go as far to say that my engagement level is, or at least feels, above-average. High, even. Up there with the best of ‘em. I like to think that people are taking heed, at least 1 per cent of the time.
Now, you might scoff, given these humbling results, but let’s consider this from another angle. Mashable, with 2,280,844 followers, is one of the most popular feeds on Twitter. Mashable has a socially savvy audience and shares lots of very relevant links. Because they use (a customised) bit.ly to shorten those URLs we can actually check the number of clicks that they get. To be exceeding the 0.5% benchmark each of these links would need to be picking up 2,280,844 x 0.005 clicks, which equates to 11,404, per link, on average.
So what sort of numbers does Mashable get? It varies, of course, but in the last page of links the highest number of clicks that I can find is 3,388 for this story about MySpace being for sale. That’s a very relevant subject. This story about Lady Gaga has received just 780 clicks. This piece about behavioural targeting on the web? 2,380 clicks. News on the Playstation network being down after it was hacked? 2,635.
(Note: these numbers were all accurate at the time, and are taken from the clicks on the bit.ly link that Mashable actually shared, not all visits to the unshortened link or use of any other shorteners, including bit.ly, to said link therein.)
These are all on-topic articles. And this isn’t a criticism of Mashable in any way, shape or form. These are decent numbers – and that’s the point. But in terms of actionable engagement, Mashable’s response rate, at least in terms of clicks, is really low. Even if we’re generous and assume an average number of clicks of 2,500 per link, against 2,280,844 followers that’s just 0.11 per cent.
Yep, direct calls to action would almost certainly work better. And there are extreme highs and lows in all of these things. But it’s all about consistency, all about averages, and all about results.
Bottom line? At any given moment almost nobody is paying attention to you on Twitter. So whatever you’re doing, and whoever you are, if you want even a little bit of engagement then you have to make those tweets count. Every. Single. Time.