Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A picture says more than a thousand words

For many people the amount of followers an account has is an important measure of its success. Most people who use Twitter prefer more followers to less followers, and greet their new followers with excitement. The fact that the amount of followers is perceived as important by many people is demonstrated by all the services that claim to be able to help an account to get more followers. Getting lots of followers is not very difficult, if that is what you are after, but the problem is that the quality of these followers is not very high. In many case the followers of these accounts do not understand the language of the tweets, or are not actually trying to read those tweets at all. Because of all the tricks that are being used, the amount of followers becomes a much less reliable measure of success. Luckily there is a way to determine the quality of followers in case an acccount publishes pictures.

The assumption is that many people who read tweets with a link to a picture will be interested to click on the link. So the more followers an account has that read their tweets, the more clicks they will have on the links to the pictures in their tweets. We have checked about 5,000 pictures published on Twitpic in June and counted the amount of views. Subsequently we compared these views with the amount of followers of the account holder. We found that the average reach of a picture was 6.3%, where reach is defined as the total amount of views of a picture divided by the amount of followers. 2/3 of all investigated pictures have a reach that is plus or minus 3.2% of the average, so fall within a range of 3.1 - 9.5%. Based on these numbers one is tempted to conclude that this range can be called reasonably normal, where a reach outside this range would be abnormal.

Before we try to reach conclusions, we did an additional check under the assumption that accounts with a lower amount of followers will have a more engaged group of followers. We therefore calculated the average reach for various groups with an increasing amount of followers. The outcome of these calculations is shown in the table below:

The shape of the graph is very interesting, and indicates that the average reach declines up to an amount of followers of 2,000 after which it increases gradually again. The group with a maximum amount of followers has the highest average reach with a percentage of 8.3%. The group with an amount of followers between 1,500 and 2,000 has the lowest average reach of 4.5%.

Based on these calculations it is of course very tricky to draw hard conclusions about the quality of followers. Pictures may of may not have been very interesting to followers, the amount of clicks will be different based on the time when a tweet was placed, and obviously pictures will not be only viewed by the followers of an account. The consistency of the calculations is however very appealing, and we will try to draw some conclusions, within a wide margin of error, based on our findings:
  • The reach of 8.3% in the group of account with a maximum of 500 followers plus or minus about 3% gives the best indication of what can be normally expected.
  • When accounts grow in followers, it is likely that the level of engagement will decrease and it can be assumed that the lower range of 1.5% - 7.5% reach for accounts up to 2,000 reflects this.
  • In many cases it is "hard work" to reach 2,000 followers, and a low percentage is very likely partly caused by the use of "tricks" to reach those followers.
  • The increasing average reach for larger accounts may have something to do with the fact that these acccount can be interesting to many followers, because the accounts have either very interesting and influential tweets, or just because of the simple fact that the account holder is well known.
  • With larger accounts there is probably also a wider impact of retweets, although we did not investigate this. Because of more retweets the group of people who view the pictures of an account can be much wider than only the followers of an account.  
  • A reach percentage lower than 3% will in most cases indicate that there is low engagement of the followers of that account. We noticed that in many cases where reach was very low, there was also a very high ratio of following/followers, sometimes even higher than 1. This is an important indication that there is low mutual engagement.
  • A reach percentage higher than 9% is in many cases achieved because of retweets. So even in cases where engagement of own followers may be low, this is compensated by reaching followers of other accounts through retweets.
At Twopcharts we try to calculate the number of "true" followers of an account based on the views of their pictures. We are inclined to use a margin of about 3%-6% as the multiplier for views. If we see an account with 30,000 followers and an average number of views of pictures of only 150, we believe a more accurate number of engaged followers will be between 2,500 and 5,000 followers for that account.

With this little investigation we still have not answered the big question of how many people actually read a tweet. Based on the fact that pictures are very appealing to view, a multiplier of 2 may be a defendable assumption. This would mean that your tweets are probably read by a maximum of about 10%-15% of your followers....

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