One Million Followers On Twitter? Big Deal. (Perhaps A Very Big Deal Indeed.)

Since I last wrote about the Twitter top 100 users (by popularity) there have been a few changes in the top ten.

Stephen Fry, who was looking a possible favourite for the overall number one spot just a month ago, has slipped from third to ninth. I’m not sure if there’s been any genuine backlash or whether other more world-famous celebrities have been more readily-followed by newcomers to the network, but he’s definitely lost momentum.

The Twitter top 100 (March 14, 2009)

Barack Obama held the number one position quite comfortably this time last month but he’s now been overtaken by the CNN breaking news account (@cnnbrk), although I wouldn’t expect this to continue indefinitely for a couple of reasons. One, that @cnnbrk isn’t actually that good at breaking news, and two, it doesn’t have the global appeal and eagerness to follow you back that Obama’s team does (Mr President doesn’t actually tweet himself). At the time of writing @cnnbrk is following just one other user, some guy called James Cox. Why is this so? (I’ve asked Mr Cox, but have yet to receive a reply.)

A few other celebrities have moved up the leaderboard in the last fortnight, notably @aplusk and @jimmyfallon, and the @twitter account has, possibly rightly-so, entered the top three, but what I want to focus on within this article is the great leaps most of the main Twitter users have seen in their total follow counts.

As said, @cnnbrk currently leads the field with some 481K followers. The account has added about eighty thousand new followers in the last week alone, a gain of about 20%. Compare this with @stephenfry, who has ‘only’ recruited about 30,000 followers in the same period, and has actually flat-lined the last few days, as has Barack Obama. The @twitter account is the only one that has seen gains comparable to @cnnbrk.

At around 500K, CNN is halfway to that magical total of being the first account on Twitter to have one million followers. I’m not sure if CNN will actually be the earliest one to do this, or whether it’s more likely that Barack Obama will see some new momentum and regain the number one spot, but I want to talk a little about what it will mean, if anything, when somebody goes one million strong.

Twitter, despite the massive growth of late, remains fairly relative. The minimum follow count to break the top 100 has roughly tripled in the last couple of months, from about 20-25K to some 76K at the time of writing, but these gains have been reflected throughout the entire top 100. As more users come to the service this number will continue to rise exponentially. In about a fortnight I’d imagine 100K will be the cut-off. In a year, it could very easily be a million.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s think about what it will mean when the first user makes that first million. There will definitely be a lot of publicity and fanfare, both for the account in question and Twitter itself. A million followers is a win for both parties, but perhaps more so for Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, Twitter’s founding members. I suspect it’ll be celebrated even further if Obama is the first one to break that milestone, as it’ll be a little iconic.

But for the account itself, what treasures will it bring? I think it depends entirely on exactly who it is. For the Obama or CNN accounts, it won’t make much of a difference at all. These will always grow as Twitter does and because they’re not selling any kind of product or particularly interested in moving eyes to the prize – they’re both essentially brands – nothing much will change.

What if @aplusk or @britneyspears gets there first? Again, while there will inevitably be much popping of corks and proclamations of being the most popular person on the planet, in terms of how these accounts use and interact with Twitter I don’t really see any major developments.

So, who really would benefit from having a million followers? Clearly, an individual or organisation with something to promote. This could be a blogger (@mashable currently holds the top spot amongst all bloggers on Twitter, with 233K followers; rival @techcrunch is nearby at 218K), band or artiste (@coldplay has 244K, @mchammer has 212K, which makes me suspect a comeback is inevitable later this year) or even an internet icon like @kevinrose (280K) and Evan Williams himself (264K, and rising).

All of these Twitterers share a common goal, and that’s essentially to make a sale. Jesse Newhart blogged earlier this week about what he termed the Mashable effect, where a simple link recommendation from @mashable on Twitter resulted in a serious boost in the number of visitors to his website. This, of course, translates into more clicks on advertisements. The ‘Mashable effect’, therefore, means dollars, and likely a lot more of them.

Of course, @mashable regularly tweets links back to their own articles, too, as does @techcrunch and pretty much everybody else who has something to promote on Twitter. And why not? That’s a big part of what has made the service a success. It’s an easy and convenient way to move traffic to your site. Go about it the right way, and it doesn’t even seem like self-promotion or advertising. (Or, worse, spamming. Although some prominent commentators have suggested of late that the concept of spamming on Twitter is an oxymoron.)

A million followers means a lot of click-throughs. When I tweet links to my own blog, I get a click-through rate of around 10% of my followers. Now, for me, while that’s a very welcome amount, it’s not an awful lot. For @mashable, assuming this ratio holds true (and I’d suspect it increases for the highly-regarded accounts), that’s at least 23,000 visitors. That’s a lot of traffic, particularly when you consider that’s just from Twitter and just for that one article. Throw in the thousands of re-tweets that will occur later that same day and over the rest of the week, and you’re probably easily looking at 50K+.

That, of course, is a lot of eyes on the prize. Advertisers must love Twitter.

Reach a million followers, that’s 100K direct hits for @mashable, and probably 2-3 times that over the next 5-7 days. For one article. The site updates multiple times a day and probably hits Twitter with 2-4 submissions every 24 hours. was estimated to earn around $166K per month back in 2007. We can only guess what they’re up to now, and where they’ll be at a million plus follows.

While not perhaps at the same levels (although was pegged at around $200K/month during the same period) all of the promotional accounts on Twitter will (and are) seeing similar relative benefits to their web traffic and advertising revenue directly due to the vast increases in their follow count.

This can’t go on forever – there’s only so much money to go around, certainly in the current economic climate – but while it might seem slightly obvious to suggest that the people best placed to benefit from Twitter are those with something to sell, I don’t think we’ve realised just how big this could all get.

And what’s the biggest irony in all of this? themselves. While @mashable and @techcrunch must be raking it in, Twitter is still finding it difficult to monetize their product, with some suggesting it’ll always be a social portal (as opposed to a commercial one).

Which is a bit like Ticketmaster and their clients allowing the Rolling Stones and Madonna to not only play at all their venues for free, but keep all the ticket and merchandise sales, too. For Twitter, despite how questionable Facebook’s offer was, maybe turning down that $500 million wasn’t the smartest play, after all.