According to Twopcharts (which is admittedly a bit wonky; and is now defunct), Twitter now apparently boasts over 2.1 billion accounts created, with some 300 new accounts coming every second. If that 2.1B number is anywhere near accurate, it certainly includes an enormous number of spammers and fakes (that Twitter attempts to close down as soon as they are created). More pertinently, meanwhile, there are now over 550 million users*, of which over 200 million are deemed “active” (meaning they use Twitter at least once a month)**. Among the 550 million users there are presumably also many who are considered inactive, but are intently — but passively — using Twitter as a listening device. In any event, whichever number you use, for anyone embarking on the Twitter journey, there are a whole lot of different people and accounts to follow on Twitter.
Reading a Twitter profile
Given the abundance of choices and rapidity of decay, it can be complicated figuring out who to follow on Twitter. In this post, I wanted to help provide a topline analysis of an account and then to classify the types of Twitter users and profiles out there. However (a) nothing replaces your own eye for the content being provided by the Twitterer and (b) it all depends on your objective for joining Twitter. Your level of interest in an individual will depend soundly on your own interests and objectives. N.B. Twitter provides suggestions in the column that are worth looking at (and you can sign up for an email of suggestions, too).
Topline analysis of a Twitter account
When looking at who to follow on Twitter, here are the following five things to examine:
- The bio should contain a photo (of a real person), with a clear description of the person, including the first and last name. Is the user clear and authentic in his/her expression? A link is a bonus.
- The follower – followee ratio. Generally the higher the ratio (of followers to following), the more likely the person is of interest. Also, you can check to what extent they are listed by others (and by whom).
- The quality of Tweets. What does “good” look like? Depends on your POV, but good quality tweets must at the very least be intelligible, even when read out of context. Good tweeters usually include a correct hyperlink (URL) and no more than 2 hashtags (#). One thing to consider, especially, is the quality and quantity of the original content and ‘broadcast’ tweets, promoting his/her own content. If these broadcast tweets exceed 1 out of every 10, then that could be considered tweeting over the speed limit.
- The type of tweets and whether he/she is part of the social fabric of Twitter. Specifically, one should evaluate to what extent he/she is conversational with other users, generous with RTs, mentions and favorites, etc.
- The number of tweets – some accounts can be overly productive and pollute your stream (see the case inserted left). On the other hand, dormant tweeters are not contributing or providing engagement. Tweet cadence can be reviewed according to when the account was started – Check how long on Twitter?
Who to follow and why?
The way I wanted to evaluate the Twitter profiles was to focus on the individual accounts. There are, of course, a large number of corporate or branded accounts. These can take the form of corporate communications, customer service, commercial offers, HR, etc. They may or may not be manned by specific individuals; however, I have chosen not to include these types of corporate accounts. I consider that one’s desire to follow a brand or institution is a personal choice. In the below analysis, I am also excluding the troll, spam or porn profiles (such as the account you see to the right, replete with poor English).
Seven archetypes of Twitter accounts
For each of the 7 individual Twitter archetypes, I have provided a description, an image, a rating out of 5 stars and a key insight.
The Social Star
- Description: The quintessential Twitter user, the Social Star is a person who has created a serious following on Twitter, probably in line with his/her offline activity. The Social Star is active on Twitter, despite having a successful career — or perhaps the success has come in part because of his/her Twitter activity? The Social Star has a big following thanks to providing a consistently strong content, and yet follows others and interacts with others, rather democratically. There are a number of great examples. I will cite a few here, as they stand as standards for me: Dorie Clark, Ann Handley, Mitch Joel, Brian Solis, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jeremy Waite — And, you might consider following each of them if you are not already doing so! Or just send a tweet to them here!
- Interest to follow: ***** of 5
- Key insight: If content is king, you’ll want to think context in order to gain some traction with such heavy users (if such is your goal). You will want to look carefully at the people they follow. [Click to Tweet]
- Description: The Butterfly has a very active Twitter account. By some accounts, Twitter could be his/her primary channel. The Butterfly interacts with all types of users, throughout the day. The Butterfly is socially engaged and active, and likely delivers or redistributes good content. They tend to have a high number of followees, but will likely have an significantly higher number of followers. The Butterfly is an exemplary Twitter user. There just aren’t that many of them!
- Interest to follow: ****
- Key insight: A Butterfly that also provides strong content is a pearl.
The Distant Star
- Description: The Distant Star may be something of a celebrity (at least is well known in a domain); but, he/she is probably not much of a social animal. The Distant Star is likely more comfortable offline and his/her active community could very well be there as well (or on another channel). The Distant Star likely has influence, but depending on his/her level of interaction with other users, has a tendency to be more of a recluse, prefering his/her privacy.
- Interest to follow: ***
- Key insight: Check to see if they create lists rather than straight out following people. If you can become a valued followee for such a person, you know you are selected with great care.
The Private Eye
- Description: According to Beevolve, approximately 12% of Twitter accounts are “protected,” meaning the user needs to approve you as a follower (in order to see their tweets). These types of accounts are 2/3 owned by female users. On average, they are more active than the typical user in terms of number of updates. Note: just because they are private, does not mean they can’t amass interested followers, as witnessed by @WIDIKIDIW with over 400,000 followers. A 2012 blog post from Twopblog post, analyzing the latest 100 million Twitter accounts, suggested that the number of protected accounts was on the decline. However, the Twop site usually considers all types of accounts, including the fakes which may skew the analysis.
- Interest to follow: **
- Key insight: Depends entirely on the subject or nature of the person. You need to look for clues in the bio.
- Description: Has a lot of followers, but is typically also following a large, if not larger, number. The Cycler has a dedicated (often very automated) strategy of following people and will only keep on following if the user follows back. This profile tends to cycle through the Twitter community, trying to pick up a maximum number of followers. It’s a numbers game.
- Interest to follow: **
- Key insight: When the Cycler has accumulated a large number of followers and followees, the challenge is to get through the clutter. My advice is, if you are interested in a particular Cycler profile, to engage with him/her by sending a mention or DM, and see if he/she replies. At some point the Cycler may drop the ball and mass unfollow or just tire of the process.
- Description: About a quarter of all Twitter accounts never emit a single update/tweet. This does not necessarily mean that the account is inactive. Among the inactive accounts, there are those who have just reserved the best username (aka handle). Otherwise, the Listener can be someone discrete, even in a position of power, but who is not prepared to participate, at least not heavily and not yet. They may tweet on occasion, as if testing the waters. Often times, the Listener prefers to start in the protected mode.
- Interest to follow: *
- Key insight: The Listener can have influence in other channels. To follow a Listener who might be following you is to be able to send a Direct Message. The more the Listener has filled in his/her bio, the more potential that user has of “going live.”
The Egghead, aka neophyte
- Description: Very likely a newbie to Twitter, the Egghead profile is incomplete, the number of tweets will be negligible and the number of followers is decidedly anemic (or at least much lower than the number they are following).
- Interest to follow: *
- Key insight: Unless they are a direct acquaintance, this account doesn’t bear much relevance… yet.
In the end of the day, there are many types of users. I’d be happy to hear how else you might categorize the Twitteratti/Tweetos. The main intention in this post was to give a cartography of the main buckets of users to follow or to avoid. The question for you remains: what type of Twitter presence might you want to craft for yourself? And, for those of you thinking about how to grow your Twitter following, I wrote this post here: 5 ways to grow your Twitter following. Your comments and thoughts are welcome.