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Why and When Some Followers are Worth More Than Others

There has been much debate about the worth of a Facebook fan; equally compelling - but less publicly discussed - is the value of a Twitter follower. There has been research done on this issue as well, most recently from Sysomos.

The firm recently looked at the authority rankings of five celebrities, five social media heavyweights and five media organizations - and focused on the kind of Twitter users who follow these people. Each Twitter user is assigned an authority ranking between 0 to 10 - with 10 signifying someone with very high reach and influence - that is based on the number of followers, following, updates, retweets and other measures.

The results? While celebrities have a large number of followers, most of them are low authority users, Sysomos said. Social media heavyweights, by contrast, attract fewer followers - but these are very engaged users with high authority rankings. The highest ranked social media heavyweights were Chris Brogan, with 139,693 followers and an average follower authority of 4.0; Jason Falls, with 27,195 followers and an average follower authority of 4.8; Jeremiah Owyang: 64,775 followers and an AFA of 4.0; Steve Rubel, 42,351 followers  and AFA of 4.1; Scott Stratten, with 56,314 followers and an AFA of 4.6.

Different Followers, Different Roles

The story behind news media followers was different, depending on the type of content. Traditional media sources that deliver a variety of content such as Time.com and The New York Times appear to attract more people who are only using Twitter for information. Sources that specialize in social media - ReadWriteWeb and Mashable, for example, attract users that are more active on Twitter.

Because there are so many different types of followers it is important to understand the landscape when searching for key influencers within the social media realm, Sysomos concludes. Also, "different kinds of followers can play key roles within the different areas. Simply because a follower has a low Twitter authority, doesn't mean they aren't worth connecting with. The opposite holds true for followers with high authority levels; simply because they have a high Twitter authority, doesn't make them the right influencer for everything."

Meeyoung Cha from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany, also examined this issue and came to similar conclusions. Namely, according to the Harvard Business Review, Cha, who looked at data from all 52 million Twitter accounts determined that the number of followers a Tweeter has is largely meaningless. "Popular users who have a high indegree [number of followers] are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions," she said. The more interesting question is how should one measure influence, she continues. Unfortunately there is no one easy answer to that, she says. "One would have to take a combination of many metrics, including follower count, mentions, and re-tweets. However the hard part is figuring out the relative importance of the component metrics. This is the subject of our future research."

Businesses Reach Out

In the meanwhile, businesses could try to increase audience responsiveness in their fields. Cha says that there is research investigating the roles of different types of users such as mass media or small businesses or grassroots users. Not surprisingly, mass media played a significant role in spreading popular topics but for non-popular or niche topics, small businesses and opinion leaders were far more effective in engaging audience than mass media, she said.

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