How many Followers do you have? Who cares? By the stacks of books and blog posts, obviously someone thinks the number means something. You can even sign up to get paid for tweets based on how many followers you have. That will soon be proven worthless.
Social media needs to be about strategy and measurable results. It's difficult to track effectiveness of marketing campaigns, so maybe "Followers" is just a measurement to make us feel better about our efforts. Everyone seeks out numbers and rankings. I propose we use different number as measurements for true rank. But first, let's talk about how Twitter works and what Followers really are.
I LOVE Twitter as a business marketing tool. Unfortunately, only a very small fraction of businesses know how to use it effectively. Twitter is like a swarm of micro radio stations. Everyone broadcasts into thin air. You don't have to be a follower to tune into someone's station. You just read that person's "feed." Even if you have no Followers, you should broadcast; because, anyone may tune in at any time. And, anyone can see your last few tweets.
So, what is a "follower" then? It's similar to bookmarking a web page or liking a page on Facebook. People who follow you have opted in for your feed. It shows up on their page with all the tweets from all the other people they follow. Initially, the idea was probably to follow a few people you knew or admired. If you are following 10 or even 100 people, you'd visit Twitter and see all the tweets from those people.
Then the popularity contest started. How many Twitter followers you had became a status symbol. It changed to, "I'll follow you if you follow me," and the game changed. So did third party software. Tools to help you manage your Twitter account popped up. For $39, or maybe even free, you could install software to get you new followers. How? By using the game above: you follow, they follow back. If they don't, you dump them.
I bought this software around November of last year. I was building a panel of survey respondents and needed access to bloggers and moms on Twitter. I had been manually searching for my target market, adding a few a day, and successfully recruited the right people. I followed the same principal with the software and got even better results, partly due to the automated message feature which sends a DM (direct message) to each new follower. When I decided I didn't need a lot more survey takers, I turned it off, or typically just forgot to turn it on.
Since November, lots of other people have added this software. If you are a Twitter user, you know who they are. Their "following" to "followers" ratios are very tight. With so many people asking me how to increase their number of followers, I did an experiment: I found an account that was obviously using the software and had a similar target market. I set my software to follow all followers of that user. It worked so well, I had to turn email notifications off.
Now I have thousands of followers. But, what does that really mean? Absolutely nothing. If I go tweet an urgent message, a coupon code, or a request for comments, few of them will ever see it. They are all following thousands of people too. They aren't tuned into my station at the time I tweeted. I've tested it many different ways. Most recently, I tested it through someone else. Two influential experts in my client market (businesses looking for survey panels/feedback from moms) sent out tweets encouraging their followers to use my service and provided a link. One of these people has 50,000 followers (and uses software), and the other has 23,000 followers and does not. The result? Not a single click. My web traffic didn't budge despite the glowing endorsement.
Are there exceptions? Of course. If you are a news station or celebrity, the odds are that the general public is following you because they want to. I've also seen effective customer support through Twitter. This is strategy, not a simple desire for popularity. Hashtags and "mentions" are effective, but they have nothing to do with your number of Followers.
So, if you want followers, you can have them. I may even keep adding them just for kicks (I like to feel popular too). Just don't mistake followers from effective marketing. That said, you can use Twitter to get measurable results – it's one of my highest traffic sources, but not because of my follower count.