The follower to following ratio – is there a guideline?

Most people on twitter are on it to get more followers. They have specific numbers in mind and have clear plans to execute to get there. Different folks follow different strokes! But there is one question that people keep asking me time and again. Is there an ideal follower to following ratio? Let us look at that in this post

When checking someone out on Twitter, do you check out their follower to following ratio?  Do you make assumptions about someone who has only a few hundred followers?  And do you think someone is a Twitter scammer if the ratio is heavily skewed one way or another.

Or don’t you really care?

What is your TFF Ratio?

 

Your TFF Ratio (Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio) is the ratio of your followers to friends (or people who you follow). The higher the ratio, the more Twitter heat you pack.

  • A ratio of less than 1.0 indicates that you are seeking knowledge (and Twitter Friends), but not getting much Twitter Love in return. Check your pulse, you might be a bot.
  • A ratio of around 1.0 means you are respected among your peers. Many people think that a ratio of around 1.0 is the best – you’re listening and being listened to.
  • A ratio of 2.0 or above shows that you are a popular person and people want to hear what you have to say. You might be a thought leader in your community.
  • A TFF Ratio 10 or higher indicates that you’re either a Rock Star in your field or you are an elitist and you cannot be bothered by Twitter’s mindless chatter. You like to hear yourself talk. Luckily others like to hear you talk, too. You may be an ass.

I think the key thing is for people to be looking at why they want to follow or engage with someone in the first place. The perception given by the number of people following can be a massive lure.

Take @garyvee for instance. A huge twitter ‘idol’ with over 800,000 followers and he follows 12,400 of them back. His following is organic and has been driven by the success of video blogging, his work in the wine industry and now his media business. He attracts people on and offline and they want to be seen to be following him. Managing his 12k of people that he follows is crucial to allow him to stay engaged. Tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck help you organise lists, groups and sort the wheat from the chaff.

If you’re new to Twitter, life is easy. A notification comes in that someone is following you, and you probably follow them back. After all, you’re going to want some tweets in your stream. After a couple dozen of those, you may start using more discretion, looking over the person’s profile and their most recent tweets. But that gets old quickly as well, and inevitably you turn to using the secret ratio that nearly everyone knows (whether they realize it or not) to determine who is worth following back: “Followers” versus “following”.

If a person has more followers than they are following, they’re probably a good person to at least consider following. If they are following more than they have more followers, the opposite may be true. The greater the discrepancy between the two numbers, the more likely each of those is true — to a certain point, since celebrities like Oprah throw this system out of whack. But for regular, non-Hollywood celebrities, the system works remarkably well as a filter.

One reason why this works so well is that the email notifications you receive now every time you get a new follower put this information front and center. Next to their profile image, these emails list:

1 – number of followers the user has

2 – number of tweets they’ve made

3 – the number of people that user is following

If 1 is greater than 3 (let’s call it a “positive ratio”), it could be worth clicking through to that person’s profile. If 1 is much greater than 3, they most certainly are at least worth looking at. If 3 is greater than 1 (the “negative ratio”) by a large margin, the likelihood that they’re a spammer or marketer is pretty good (and as such, probably someone you don’t want to follow). If they’re ratio is close to even, they may be worth looking at on a case-by-case basis.

Obviously, there are always exceptions. On a user-by-user basis, people will have friends that have negative ratios, but they’ll obviously follow them regardless of the ratio. But on a large scale, when you’re getting multiple requests that you need to filter through, the system works pretty well.

That said, this post will undoubtedly piss a lot of people off.

The fact is that while most people do on some level realize this ratio is true, a lot of people don’t like talking about it. The reason is that it goes up against a fundamental belief of social networking: The idea that if you follow someone, whether you admit it or not, you want them to follow you back. But the reality is that on Twitter, thanks to its asymmetric social graph, that quite often doesn’t happen.

Since the beginning of Twitter, people have been complaining about hugely positive ratios: “He only follows 10 people,” and the like. The implication being made is that if a lot of people follow you, but you don’t follow a lot of people, you aren’t a “true” Twitter user. That talk has lessened a bit with some of the celebrities now on Twitter who can’t possibly be expected to follow millions of people, but plenty of users still bitch about followers/following inequalities.

But the fact of the matter is that a person can only follow so many people on Twitter before the idea of following starts to become meaningless. Because Twitter doesn’t have built-in relationship filters or the ability to search only those people you are following (both of which FriendFeed and some other services with Twitter-functionality offer), if you are following thousands of people, the likelihood that you’re going to get a meaningful experience from any single follower is pretty small.

So in conclusion, do your own thing, there is no formula!

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2 comments on “The follower to following ratio – is there a guideline?

  1. I just reached my ‘limit’ on Twitter yesterday — which came as a surprise to me. So I used Twitter Karma (http://dossy.org/twitter/karma/) which shows who’s following, who you follow. I started out with Tweepdash, using the criteria you mention, but as you say, it started taking way too much time. I shall be more selective as I go now, instead of just following back anyone who follows me. I was quite surprised, however, at who wasn’t following me back… Thanks for putting some perspective on it.

    • Kevin, the “limit” for each user is different and fixed by the system based on a few calculations over time. Always good to use our thought process to decide who to follow. I have 61,000+ followers but I follow only around half of them, I weed out the bots and the fake ones and choose who to follow 🙂

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