36-26-36: Why numbers in social media are misleading

If you're a female, you know what the numbers in the title of this post mean. They're supposed to be a woman's "ideal" measurements. If you're a guy, I bet some of you might tweak those numbers a bit. Measurements that are attractive to some, might be unappealing to others. Numbers are frequently open to interpretation.

In the world of social media, it's all about numbers. Twitter followers, Facebook fan and/or friend counts, blog subscribers, Klout score, Empire Avenue stock quotes, LinkedIn connections, and the list goes on. People judge your success in social media by the numbers associated with the popular platforms. Is this wrong? Well, not entirely. But, it can certainly be misleading. The thing that numbers can't measure is character.

Let's take a look at the images below:





These are all people whose follower number used to closely match their following number. For the Twitter novices out there, that means they followed just as many people who followed them. Now, as you can plainly see, each one only follows a handful of people and, alas, they are so freakin' popular that each one has tens of thousands of people waiting with baited breath for their next tweet! Ha. Not likely.

These people have manipulated the system; following people to acquire their follow back. Then, ultimately, dumping everyone to make themselves look important. They used the people who they connected with and then discarded them when they got the good numbers they wanted. Do these people have impressive follower counts? Absolutely! Are they scumbags? Yep. Grade A pond scum.

So, yes, numbers are one of many ways to gauge someone's success in social media. However, do not let the numbers cloud your vision. It's what's behind those numbers that matter. As is the case with the pretty girl with the 36-26-36 figure, there's a person in there that adds context to those numbers. Maybe she's an angelic, do-gooder like Mother Theresa inside and maybe she's a shallow, sex tape making, debutant like Paris Hilton. Same goes with social media. Numbers can change. Character is forever.

* TIP: To find out if you've been used by someone like the people in the images above, I recommend following @unfollowr on Twitter or using Tweepi.com. Both are free tools to find out who has unfollowed you.

45 comments:

  1. you provocative minx you
    nice bait and switch
    the other thing about those huge numbers most are WORTHLESS
    http://mashable.com/2010/03/10/twitter-follow-stats/
    http://mackcollier.com/number-of-twitter-followers-is-the-most-overrated-metric-in-social-media-2/

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  2. Agreed. I have fun with Twitter because I enjoy connecting with real people with whom I share similar interests: books, the writing journey, humorous anecdotes from daily living. I use Twitter for the exchange of information and the personal interaction. That's what makes it fun. Thankfully there are loads of like-minded individuals out there who are not just about the numbers. Thanks for this post. 

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  3. very interesting... I knew about it already but nice to see someone blog about it. I use friendorfollow.com and immediately unfollow someone who does that.

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  4. Cheri AllbrittonJune 23, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    I still get confused about the numbers thing. First of all, what does it say about someone who would follow a person who has that large of a following but they don't care enough to follow back. Even celebrities, at least some of them, follow back...for instance @yokoono? Second of all, do these followers follow on the off chance the person is going is going to see their tweets (out of the million they are probably receiving from people they don't follow)? And last, but not least I have a confession. I stopped following someone who has a gad of followers and actually does follow them back but filters them out of their targeted Twits which are other Twits with a gad of followers. I also unsubscribed from this blog and blocked the whole FB and Linkedin thing because frankly, I really didn't care that he never responded to anything I said or commented about ( I have my RedHeads after all), but he ONLY responds or chats with the targeted Twits.

    Haven't lost you yet have I? Here's the thing, his mother probably taught him better manners but he's choosing not to honor her hard work. Who needs that kind of treatment? If you wouldn't take it face to face, then don't worry about it in print either!

    I love when you turn on the Firey!

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  5. I too dislike those tweeters with these kind of numbers who start following me on Twitter, and then unfollow me after I've followed them back. I always feel dirty after this happens.  I unfollow them if their tweets aren't what I would read anyway. But if I do like their tweets, I may still follow them. :) And, Twitter numbers can be very misleading. Although my following and follower numbers are close and someone could conclude that I follow back all those who follow me, I don't. And, I don't expect everyone I follow to follow me back either. Great post, Amber.

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  6. I don't mind these unbalanced numbers when the person does it from the beginning, they only follow a few, it is their account and they have the right to do so. However it is really irritating when they start following & then dump everyone as you mentioned in the article. 
    I have been seeing a lot of this in the past months, which prompted me to sign up (free) with NutshellMail (http://nutshellmail.com). They send me an email everyday showing, who unfollowed, who followed, DMs, tweets, the lists (of course you can control what is in the email and how many) it has been really helpful. sometimes I see people follow you, and right after you follow back they drop you. Thanks to nutshell mail I can return the favor immediately. :)) 

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  7. Speaking of pretty girls, I have these really hot chicks following me. I wonder why they don't have any tweets but I'm guessing they don't need to when they look like that, huh?

    Because I have been fairly active in the blogosphere I typically pick up 3-4 new followers a day. I do try to check them out; see their tweet activity; check out their site and if it all looks legit I will probably follow back. Based on your example above however, I probably wouldn't follow any of them back just because there is no balance. 

    I'm not commercial so the numbers don't mean a lot to me right now. At some point if I evolve into a platform where I talk more about what I do in my day job and start being more strategic in who I align with, then maybe I will pay more attention to stuff like that.

    I don't have a huge amount of rules, but you better be real and I better see you have at least engaged with some of your community. Otherwise, we don't need to waste each other's time (especially mine).

    Hope your day has been well.

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  8. Excellent post Amber! It's always good to do a little Twitter cleaning. I'm a big fan of quality not quantity.

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  9. You said it, Todd. They are worthless and the people running those accounts are social media scumbags. In my humble opinion, anyway ;-)

    Thanks for chiming in. I'll check out the links.

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  10. Yeppers! I constantly marvel at all the cool people out there who I've met through social media. People we'd never have been able to meet just years ago before all this stuff was around.

    Glad to know you're one of the social media sweeties out there who gets it, Angelina!

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  11. Oh, yes, I highly recommend unfollowing cheaters like this. Why reward them for their bad behavior?

    The people in these examples are people I connected with long ago when they were first growing their numbers. Imagine, my surprise when I saw they were mass dumping their followers and I realized they had only been using people along the way. Disgusting!

    The only program I dislike is the one (and I can't remember the name) that sends a tweet saying something like "I was unfollowed today by  @insertnamehere." Those are in bad taste. Sure, we all get unfollowed. It happens. But, it's these scumbags who work the system who are the ones who need to be squashed.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion, Dave!

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  12. Hey Karen, thanks for your comment!

    The thing with these people is they didn't unfollow people immediately after acquiring their follow back. They grew their numbers for more than a year. I was connected with these people, so I know.

    Then, after working for a year to get to a high number, THEN they started dumping people. The thing is, most of these suckers won't even realize they've been used unless they visit the scumbag's Twitter profile or try to DM the person. Or, of course, if you use one or both of the tools I recommended below. It's the worst kind of manipulation. They formed relationships with their followers and then said, "It was nice crawling over you to the top of the food chain. You've served your purpose, but it's more important that I look cool so I'm gonna unfollow you so I look like a hot shot with a high follower count. Sucker!".

    Scumbags.

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  13. Yes! Yes! Yes! You've made a very important distinction, Hoda. Thank you!

    If someone doesn't follow back people from the very beginning and has those unbalanced numbers, that's fine. They acquired their followers legitimately. It's the people who work the system and use others that I have a grievance with. Thank you so much for pointing out the difference.

    As for nutshellmail, I haven't checked them out. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look into it.

    Thanks for stopping by, Hoda!

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  14. Hi Cheri, yeah, lots of people use filters to only see the people they want to see. It allows them to reciprocate in followbacks, but not be bombarded with too many tweets in their stream. I do have lists, but I always look at my complete tweet stream, too. That's how you meet cool new people!

    As for the guy you mentioned, there are always going to be those kind of people out there. Those who work the system, brown nose with the "important" people, and ignore those they deem to be unworthy. However, the thing they have forgotten is that even the "big guys" started out as nobodys.

    If you ignore the regular people, you might be missing out on forming a relationship with the next Seth Godin or Chris Brogan! And, of course, you definitely miss out on meeting lots of great people along the way, too!

    Thanks for the comment, Cheri, and appreciating it when I turn on the fire! ;-)

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  15. Ha ha. Don't even get me started on those porn accounts. Yep, lots of "pretty girls" out there who want to follow us, huh????

    Yes, your criteria is mine, too. Be real and engage. How hard is that. Geez.

    Thanks for stopping by, Bill!

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  16. In the case of the "users" up above, I unfollowed them once I realized what they were doing. However, I had been connected to all of them for more than a year! Lulling people into a relationship and then unfollowing everyone after so much time is worse than those folks who unfollow immediately. Scummy.

    Yep, I'm with you. Quality over quantity. If I worked the system, I could easily increase my follower count by 200% with little effort. However, I take great pride in that my Twitter network is solid, comprised of good quality people such as yourself! ;-)

    Thanks for the comment, Donna!

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  17. I see what you mean. That's even worse. The first question I ask myself when someone starts following me on Twitter, who has hundreds or thousands of followers but is following a few, is why would they want to follow me, especially when their interests are different than mine. I sense they're trolling so don't follow them back.

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  18. Yeah, I've seen that too. It's been my experience that it's frequently someone like my examples above who do that. They've mass unfollowed, took some hits to their count once people figured out what they were doing, and then started to build up their numbers again.

    The sick part is I've had the jerk that did this to me, follow me again later. Like I didn't realize what he was doing. Yeah, sure, I'm gonna let you use me again. Not likely.

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  19. Thanks for the tip, Amber! Very diplomatic of you not to mention any names :)

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  20. Those darn journalistic standards on mine. D'oh!

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  21. Amber is good, I've been following her a long time. :)

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  22. "Absolutely! Are they scumbags? Yep. Grade A pond scum" - Well said Amber, You are so right

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  23. Oh you're right on with this one. I hate, hate, hate that. If you're too good to follow me? I don't really want to talk to you!

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  24. Thanks, Lisa! A girl can make her point without using profanity, can't she? ;-)

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  25. You said it, Amber!

    Oh, trust me. I unfollowed all these people when I saw what they were doing. You think you're too good for me, but I'm gonna hang on your every word now that you've used and discarded me? No way, Jose!

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  26. I am going to search out folks doing that too in my followers list.  It's so 1999--like broadcasting.

    Cynthia Trevino

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  27. It's an easy thing not to notice, so lots of folks are just completely unaware of the snake in their Twitter stream.

    Unless you go to that person's page and see the numbers, try to DM them (which you can't do anymore), or happen to be alerted to the unfollow from a service like the ones I mentioned, you're likely to be oblivious.

    That's why these jerks are able to maintain their high follower counts after they've dumped everyone. It's because most everyone just doesn't know they've been unfollowed. ;-(

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  28. I hear you on this Amber.  Its like the door to door salesperson on steroids. I receive 10-15 new followers a day but only 2-3 a week a legit, it does become quite labour intensive to weed through some of them.  But I guess like anything on the internet we all have to be quite savvy to determine what is a good information resource or not.  Weighing things up I have made some fantastic friends and connections through Twitter which makes up for those scams who, for me, are still in a minority.

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  29. I echo what you're saying, Steven. The good from these platforms still outweighs the bad. I guess that's what makes me more irritated, though. Lots of great folks on Twitter contributing to the greater good and they deserve better than being used by these shysters. Ugh. What can you? Well, I say unfollow these scumbags for sure!

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Steven. It's all about quality over quantity, isn't it?

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  30. Thanks, Amber. I could go on for quite a while about this. I use Nutshell which tells me every two hours who the #followthendrop artists are. They are one of the more egregious examples of people who are #antisocialmedia.

    I learned a long time ago to not follow anyone in a bathing suit. Ha!

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  31. Also manageflitter is a better program to use to identify those who aren't following back than the ones mentioned in my opinion, so try it if you haven;t seen it yet. I like the inactives feature. If you have inadvertently followed a spambot that hasn't posted yet you'll see it immediately.

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  32. Yeah, these people make the follow/unfollow creeps look like good guys. Establishing relationships with folks and then unfollowing them a year later once they've hit a high number. The first instance is just scummy. But you're all strangers at that point. THIS instance, however, is like betraying a friend.

    Oh well. At least I know their true colors now. And they're no one I choose to waste any more time or effort on.

    As for the bathing suit, yeah, that is an EXCELLENT rule of thumb!

    Thanks for chiming in and adding to the discussion!

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  33. Thanks for the recommendation! I'll check out managefilter.

    Tweepi also has all kinds of filters like that, too. I used to use refollow.com to check for stuff like that, but they went under. Thanks again for the suggestion. Always good to discover new tools ;-)

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  34. I have fired clients for doing this. It is not cool and it is a douchey thing to do! thanks for writing this post! I love that you always say what others think!
    Thanks for being you!

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  35. It's so funny...as a result of this post I actually went through and did some house keeping @PawPurrry  which I have not done in some time.  I simply UNfollowed those folks who haven't tweeted in more than a year.who could believe there could be so many....really weird.

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  36. Yeah, it's a big time no no in my book. Thanks for being YOU, JN!

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  37. I can't remember the stats, but the number of poeple who open a Twitter account, tweet a few times, and then abandon it are huge. Not everyone sticks with it long enough to really get it. Such a shame, too! ;-(

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  38. Twitter's a funny old thing isn't it?  I've been watching with interest the people who have chosen to follow me.  Now I could believe it's due to my scintillating 140 character prose - however I'm a realist at heart and perhaps that's not the reason.  Maybe, just maybe, they're waiting for me to click on that 'Follow' button.  I'm especially interested in those Twips that have multiple thousands of followers & yet not one Tweet!  What is going on there??  I'm happy to stick with my manageable numbers & slowly add people who I think are interesting.  Hopefully over time, others will follow me for the same reason!

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  39. Oh, yeah. Unfortunately, there are too many people who work the system. These long-term followers, though, I think are the worst of the worst. They're essentially friends who use you!

    I'm with you, though. A quality network is more valuable than a larger one comprised of folks who don't care about you.

    And, don't cut yourself short, Judy. Your 140 character prose ARE scintillating! ;-)

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  40. Great post Amber! You are right about those who work the system. My favorite line in your articles is, "Numbers can change. Character is forever." But I must point out (as I'm sure you and your other readers know many) at least ONE exception. copyblogger  has over 100k followers and follows (maybe) 240 people. While I follow him and he doesn't yet follow me, I'm fairly certain he is THE BOSS and isn't working the system. 

    Additionally, the spammers and 'team followback' people out there tricked me when I was a newbie on Twitter back in February 2011. I innocently followed everyone back who followed me only to see one day that I was following FAR more people than were following me.

    I quickly remedied the situation by unfollowing those who didn't follow me back (with the exception of copyblogger  and a few select others). Now my numbers are in a better balance. Those people followed me only to get my followback and promptly unfollowed me. So, I know what you say is true. Beauty (and character) truly is on the inside just like mom and dad used to tell us.  
    Thanks for a great post!
    Samantha

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  41. Hey Samantha, thanks for chiming in. I think copyblogger has always been one of those who only followed a select few. There are those guys out there, for sure, who can get good numbers just because of their quality reputation. They don't ever need to work the system to skew the numbers.

    Those team followback people give me the willies! Once I sent a tweet kind of making fun of the hashtag and I got BOMBARDED with tweets from those people sending generic tweets to connect. It was all very cultish. Scary...

    Sounds like your mom and dad raised you right, Samantha! ;-) Thanks for adding to the discussion and sharing your experiences!

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  42. Very good post!  Thank you!

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