Quid Pro Quo: for Twitter, the Way to Go?

Although I would not be considered a Luddite, I am a fairly tentative user of social media – the opposite of an early adopter, really. When it comes to Twitter in particular, I have lagged about a decade behind the rest of the world in having only recently (i.e., within the last two months) created a Twitter account and added myself to the mix of the platform’s 1.3 billion registered users [1]. Moreover, I have to admit to having never tweeted, and to not having logged into Twitter in at least one month. Needless to say, until conducting research about how social media impacts businesses and branding, it completely eluded me that anything noteworthy could be inferred by statistics regarding the number of followers a Twitter user held, or the number of other users they were following. It certainly never occurred to me to compare or contrast the “Followers” and “Following” numbers readily offered by Twitter to assess the potential value of an account holder’s contribution. Since I am not in the process of actively growing a business or a brand, and therefore not overly driven to promote anything in particular, I joined Twitter with a focus on self-servingly culling information from others – not on encouraging anyone beyond my existing acquaintances to follow me back.

As users of social media and generators of its content, however, we all should care quite a bit about who is following and listening to us. Blog posts such as, “What do you mean I can lose followers?”, and “500 Followers”, written by fellow Algonquin students JUST ONE VOICE and MEGFUGER (respectively), helped to enlighten me further as to why I should be preoccupied with attracting and securing a strong follower base on social media. The fact remains that the only way for social media – a digital platform – to display or enable social characteristics is if individuals actually use it to connect and interact with one another; otherwise the medium becomes just another one-way communication channel for pushing or pulling information. On Twitter, for example, interaction begins with relationships between those we choose to follow and, of course, those who choose to follow us. The key difference between our offline and online relationships is that the latter can be readily tracked, quantified and interpreted by outsiders to reveal something about the quality of the relationships in which we are involved and our contribution to them. Nowhere is this more true, apparently, than on Twitter.

While trying to better understand why or how I might strategically approach securing followers on Twitter (as opposed to strictly following others), I randomly entered the terms “Twitter”, “following” and “followers” into Google Search to discover that an incredible amount of literature exists on the topic of the “Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio” – or “TFF Ratio” – as coined by one source [2]. Simply put, the TFF Ratio constitutes the rate at which a user is followed versus how often they “return the favour” by following someone else. As Carol Stephen points out in “Twitter By The Numbers”, this number can be used to help individuals track their progress on Twitter [3]. So highly regarded is this measurement for what it suggests about the value in following someone on Twitter that calculators even exist online at sites such as http://tffratio.com/Default.aspx to assist users in crunching the numbers!

As far back as August 2009 – just three years after Twitter was created [4] – a TechCrunch article referring to “Twitter’s Golden Ratio” [emphasis added] [5] summarized the insight that can be gained from the TFF Ratio; and the conclusions drawn by author MG Siegler at that time have since been echoed by at least four other sources I consulted on the topic. In general, perceptions of legitimacy are attached to a “positive” TFF Ratio (i.e., yielding a calculation of 1.0 or above) stemming from a user being followed by more individuals than they are following. A highly positive ratio runs the risk of being interpreted as a lack of reciprocity on the part of the user in terms of courtesy and interest in following other listeners [6]. Yet for the most part, a user with a positive TFF Ratio typically proves to be a more reliable and credible tweeter than those who demonstrate the reverse. A “negative” TFF Ratio (i.e., yielding a calculation below 1.0) involving a large follower-following discrepancy is often indicative of a spammer or promoter whose primary motivation is to follow others, with little to offer in being followed themselves. For the average Twitter user, an extremely negative TFF Ratio could also suggest an unsavvy user who has little regard for the overall quality of his or her Twitter feed or the meaningfulness of his or her Twitter connections [7]. In other words, a negative ratio can easily place a user’s brand under scrutiny, and lead to skepticism as to what that user contributes to the Twitter experience.

Although the Twitter “ecosystem”, as Siegler calls it, “has more negative ratio users than the other way around” [8], the author maintains along with Carol Stephen and Neal Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, that all Twitter users should strive for the “ideal” TFF Ratio of one follower to one following. A one-to-one ratio “displays a Twitter Brand that says ‘We are in this together so let’s get to know each other’” [9]. Schaffer further specifies that, “…it has to be in a range near 1.0 (0.75 to 1.25?) if you want to grow your Twitter Followers” [10]. Straying away from this range could inadvertently lead to a misrepresentation of the value of a tweeter’s brand.

Equipped with my newfound awareness of the ideal TFF Ratio, and the potential meaning behind measurements that deviate from the targeted 1:1 follower-following rate, I decided to use this information to see what it might tell me about a local business for which I am considering becoming a client. I have been researching the Ottawa tattoo industry quite a bit lately, primarily because I am in the market for some new body art. A local tattoo business that has attracted my attention is Railbender Studio Ottawa. The business has an extensive social media presence from which to gather information about its operations and services: in addition to Twitter, it is on Facebook, Instagram and Vimeo, and appears to be making a concerted effort to engage with consumers and other businesses. I was curious to see how the general feedback Railbender Studio has received from social media users compares or contrasts with what its TFF Ratio suggests about its value as a brand.

As of the date of publication of this post, Railbender Studio (@rbenderstudio) has 1,022 followers, and is following 1,404 other Twitter users [11]. This leaves the business with a TFF Ratio of 0.73 – a ratio that would be considered negative, though only falling 0.02 outside of the ideal range suggested by Schaffer. Despite the fact that this suggests that there is room for improvement for the Railbender Studio brand, the business boasts a five-star rating through Facebook reviews, and its Instagram follower-to-following ratio actually measures at 1.8 – beyond what would be considered ideal for Twitter [12]! A quick review otherwise suggests that Railbender Studio is appropriately engaged with other users on Twitter (i.e., following legitimate businesses and professionals), while having contributed 1,147 tweets to promote its products and other initiatives as a tattoo studio, art gallery and local business all in one.

Although the Railbender Studio example represents only one case study, it does leave me to wonder if experts are relying too heavily on the TFF Ratio for cues about an individual user’s or brand’s worth? Also, it begs the question, “Should we prioritize quantity over quality when it comes to our social media relationships?”

 

REFERENCES:

[1] Smith, Craig (26 February 2016). “By The Numbers: 170+ Amazing Twitter Statistics”. Digital Stats/Gadgets. Retrieved from: http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/march-2013-by-the-numbers-a-few-amazing-twitter-stats/

[2] From http://tffratio.com/Default.aspx.

[3] Stephen, Carol (14 May 2013). “Twitter By The Numbers”. Your Social Media Works. Retrieved from: http://yoursocialmediaworks.com/twitter-by-the-numbers

[4] Carlson, Nicholas (13 April 2011). “The Real History of Twitter”. Business Insider. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-twitter-was-founded-2011-4

[5] Siegler, MG. (26 August 2009). “Twitter’s Golden Ratio (That No One Likes To Talk About)”. TechCrunch. Retrieved from: http://techcrunch.com/2009/08/26/twitters-golden-ratio-that-no-one-likes-to-talk-about/

[6] Schaffer, Neal (26 August 2015). “Twitter Followers vs Following: What is the Ideal Ratio?”. Maximize Social Business. Retrieved from: http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/twitter-followers-following-quality-or-quantity-807/

[7] Stephen, Carol (14 May 2013). “Twitter By The Numbers”. Your Social Media Works. Retrieved from: http://yoursocialmediaworks.com/twitter-by-the-numbers

[8] Siegler, MG. (26 August 2009). “Twitter’s Golden Ratio (That No One Likes To Talk About)”. TechCrunch. Retrieved from: http://techcrunch.com/2009/08/26/twitters-golden-ratio-that-no-one-likes-to-talk-about/

[9] Schaffer, Neal (26 August 2015). “Twitter Followers vs Following: What is the Ideal Ratio?”. Maximize Social Business. Retrieved from: http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/twitter-followers-following-quality-or-quantity-807/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Statistics as of 6 March 2016.

[12] Based on these statistics as of 6 March 2016: 1,391 followers; following 769 users.

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