There is a great article today on Techcrunch about Twitter’s “golden ratio”. The theory is that if you look at someone’s follower count vs. the number of people they follow you come up with a ratio that helps you decide whether or not a person is worth following. I love getting the email from Twitter telling me I have a new follower. Like most people I know, I automatically eyeball those follower and following counts to get a rough idea of what kind of person this might be. This is a good starting point but the problem is that just like follower count, it is easily gamed.
Remember back (about 20 years ago in Twitter time) when Ashton and CNN where racing to be the first to 1 million followers and Techcrunch was right there with them hyping the importance of a having a huge follower count? To their credit Techcrunch later did question whether Twitter should even publish follower count, but that message was lost on the millions of people trying to figure out how to be successful on Twitter. Take a second and do a search for “Twitter Followers” and mixed in with some relevant blog posts you’ll find links to dozens of services that will basically sell you followers. While for the most part I would call these tools garbage, the people who create them are smart when it comes to knowing how to make a buck. My guess is we are now going to see services that are willing to sell you a follow from each of their thousands of fake/spam accounts so you can have whatever “golden ratio” you need to be awesome at Twitter.
While I haven’t seen a service like that yet (please let us know if it’s out there), here at Klout we analyze Twitter data all day and we are constantly amazed by all the ways people attempt to manipulate their Twitter stats. One of the most common is the follow and dump. The goal here is to follow someone so they follow back specifically so they can be unfollowed to pad a person’s follower/following ratio. This isn’t just unfollowing someone who you realize isn’t as interesting (or is straight up annoying) but rather a systematic process with users doing it hundreds of times. We find that usually the people trying to do this will target corporate twitter accounts. These accounts will often always follow a person back and generally the people managing them don’t have time or don’t care to figure out what’s going on with all of their followers.
Techcrunch’s “golden ratio” for Twitter is helpful and has always been a part of the calculation of a person’s Klout Score (you can find the follower/following ratio on the stats page). We believe there is a lot more you need to look at to judge the quality of a person you might be considering following or a business you might be looking to engage with. At Klout we use nearly 30 different variables to generate a person’s Klout Score with careful attention given to the various ways people like to use Twitter, while having checks and balances to ensure the score is not easily gamed. Understanding the topics a person likes to tweet about is also critical when analyzing a Twitter account so we perform semantic analysis on the tweets and links shared by each account.
The only real “golden ratio” on Twitter is the amount of interesting content you are exposed to versus noise. Follower/Following ratio (and the Klout Score itself) are just some of the tools at your disposal for improving your number.