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How Many Twitter Followers Does Your Lawyer Have?

On Twitter, one very misleading metric remains the overwhelming focus of users: How many followers do you have?

On the surface, this number would appear to be a reasonable way to quickly gauge whether a new Twitter user you have encountered is worth following: 5,000 other people find this person interesting enough to follow, you might say to yourself, so I will too.

Some people use the number of Twitter followers as evidence of their knowledge or guru-status in a particular area. Lawyer Adrian Dayton, for example, who joined Twitter in January 2009 and has written a new book entitled, "Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition" includes this blurb on his book's Amazon page:

Adrian Dayton is recognized as a leading expert in exploiting social media for business development within law firms.... Since creating his Twitter account: - He has gained over 30,000 followers - Is consistently ranked in the top 50 most popular Twitter accounts worldwide - Has ranked number 1 in the state of New York ahead of CNN, Fox News, and Anderson Cooper.

In recent months, however, it has become crystal clear that the number of followers a Twitter user has is not necessarily indicative of anything at all. There are now paid services and other well-known and effective free techniques that will artificially boost a Twitter user's number of followers from zero to tens of thousands in a matter of weeks, if not less time. Indeed, in June, I began to see "tweets" from people I follow on Twitter that read things like, "I've added 3,108 followers in 27 days using the [XYZ Service] Try it for free! 30 Days Free Ends June 24!" And sure enough, their number of followers had exploded over that period.

Other tactics inflate follower numbers just as easily. One widely used method is to identify spam accounts on Twitter (which will take you about 5 seconds, as they are everywhere) and then follow all of the spammer's followers. As discussed here, "the logic behind this is that if they will follow a spammer they will follow anyone, including you."

Dayton told me he did not use any kind of service to go from zero followers to over 30,000 in seven months, but added that he "has his ways." And in fairness to him, he seems to live on Twitter, produces a lot of interesting content that he shares on his blog, and probably has a large number of legitimately engaged followers.

The problem with blindly attaching any importance to a large follower number you see on Twitter is that there is simply no easy way to tell whether the person has done so "organically" or by one of the end-runs discussed above. As such, there is no way to know what to make of that person's 10,000 supposed "followers." What is clear, however, is that the overwhelming majority of the insta-followers people add to their accounts appear to be "bots," spam Twitter feeds, inactive accounts, or simply people that have absolutely no interest in them or what they are posting on Twitter. It is hard to think of any value such followers would have for lawyers using Twitter.

An additional metric that might shed some light on the significance of a Twitter user's "following" would be a count of "Interested Followers." This number could reflect the total number of followers who have ever responded in any way (i.e., via a "re-tweet" or an "@" message) to something the user has posted. To me, the number of "Interested Followers" someone has would be much more meaningful than their gross "Followers" number.

Legal Blog Watch guest blogger Bruce Carton is editor of Securities Docket, an online publication that tracks securities litigation and enforcement developments on a global basis.

Posted by Bruce Carton on August 28, 2009 at 12:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)


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