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Summary:

Companies and celebrities are boasting about the number of fans and followers they’ve racked up across various social-media sites, which beg…

imageCompanies and celebrities are boasting about the number of fans and followers they’ve racked up across various social-media sites, which begs the question: Does that kind of following have any financial value, or is it just one giant popularity contest?

In the case of Twitter, it’s most likely the latter. Don Dodge notes that celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears are closing in on the one-million follower mark. But since Twitter isn’t a proven direct-sales channel, and there’s no scalable way for Tweeters (not third-parties like Glam or Federated Media) to make money off of their Tweets, you can’t value their followers on volume alone.

YouTube is a different story. For teen online video phenom Lucas Cruikshank (who stars as Fred Figglehorn in a series of silly clips), cracking the one-million subscriber mark is worth “tens of thousands of dollars in monthly income,” per the LAT. Cruikshank has beat out major filmmakers, music artists and other internet celebs to the one-million subscriber milestone on YouTube — popularity that even earned him a guest appearance on Nickelodeon’s iCarly TV show in February.

Then there’s Facebook. The number of friends a given member can have is a bit of a mystery (which Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged in a blog post), but brands and public figures like Coke, Barack Obama and Rihanna have amassed well over a million fans or supporters. (The “fans” connection is most similar to being a Twitter follower or YouTube subscriber, since there’s no need to ask for permission, unlike a friend request). If a brand or celeb chose to embed an e-commerce app on his/her page (giving fans the option to purchase either real or virtual merchandise), then the more fans they have, the more potential revenue they could generate from micro-transactions. What’s unclear is how many people are actually doing that.

Photo Credit: Press Release PR

  1. This post raises great questions, ones that I perpetually ask myself. My company Lotame has a big following on Twitter (5,000 followers as of this post) and I struggle with this question. Our twitter presence has proven fruitful in two distinct areas, 1) I use our Twitter presence to elicit real time feedback on the state of the advertising economy, often times posting questions about ad budget or inventory placements. 2) We have also set up a few business development opportunities thru Twitter. One the side of the equation, we place many man hours in our Social Media presence…so it is extremely difficult to come to some sort of ROI metric on a consistent basis.

    Keep up the great work!

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  2. In 2008 Facebook grossed ~ $0.39 per registered user from virtual good sales (based on their own member numbers and leaked revenue figures). Wonder if that figure can scale down to 'fans' and group members…

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  3. There will probably never be a way to measure value of followers that produces a reliable dollar valuation. There are simply too many links in the value chain. But the idea raises interesting questions!

    For example, as twitter grows, does the value of number of followers increase or decrease? One could say the value increases with every follower. Or one could say the number of followers relative to overall population is what matters.

    Depends on whether we value the follower measured against overall twitter population — or overall market and audience (on or not on twitter) size.

    Another thing — many followers are following for their own sake, and to increase their own following. There would be no way to account for this: who's following strategically, who's following because they're a genuine fan.

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  4. I would argue that there is value attached, I would even say its negative. think of all the effort CNN spent to get to 800K + followers on twitter. Its CNN, the largest world wide news network, what did CNN gain? if anything the lost, at least if i am watching the news on CNN, I may catch a commercial.

    My 2 cents here http://is.gd/rwGl

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  5. The followers that one acquires are worth more than money. Knowledge and friendship is priceless. I have met some of the nicest and most interesting people using services like Twitter. I wish we would stop always trying to add a dollar value to everything. At the end of your life, money is worth nothing, and the people and relationships that you experienced, are what really matter.

    If you are sincere and add value to the people around you, money will find you.

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  6. I love post like Adrian's. A paradise, indeed… The promised land.
    Have you ever thought about where all this milk and honey come from? Your relationships might be priceless, but Twitter, the idea, the infrastructure it requires, the people who maintain it — for you! — all this costs something. I am not talking about profits, just the costs.

    Wake up Mr Eden!

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  7. This is where the true quality over quantity comes into effect.

    If you look at a lot of the celebrity accounts (on Twitter, at least) they employ ghost tweeters. This sees a lot of the accounts accept spam followers and robots, so the figures are worthless.

    Look at a user (even if they *only* have 5-10,000 followers) that has done it properly, manually checked each follower before following back, etc, then the value comes in.

    I've picked up 7 clients in the last 2 months on Twitter, and they approached me, purely from what I was saying, talking about, advising others, etc.

    This isn't boasting – it's just saying that social media (and Twitter, for this example) does pay off. Just be prepared to put in the work and the commitment, and most of all, converse.

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  8. IBM is doing some interesting research on the internal value of social media: http://tinyurl.com/deh96u

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  9. Seems like beyond asking users to pay for subscriptions, it would really be quite hard to get money out of people just using the technology to socialise and interact with friends (which was what the technology was intended to do in the first place). What would have been the developers' thoughts on how income is to be earned through such websites, if micro-transactions didn't actually feature in their plans?

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  10. I think the article misses the point about twitter, it is different to other social sites and is the most commercially viable platform bar none. Where else can you find customers who are interested in what you are selling so quickly (in real time even) and for free? Where else can you see who your competitors customers are?

    Scott, with 5000 followers you should be making very good money through that one channel alone.

    I don't think twitter was envisioned for this purpose of course but commerce makes the world go round as they say.

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  11. Twitter can indirectly lead to some revenue for any given company or freelancer that obtains great twitter followers as clients. But as was pointed out, Twitter itself doesn't garner any user revenue outright, and I think that's okay. I still think Twitter is a valuable tool for learning about what people are saying about your brand/company/product or what have you. I find that the real time feedback that Twitter allows to any user is extremely valuable information. It's not a purely effective survey tool because the bias lies in the fact that you one mostly likely has followers because they like what's being offered.

    So yeah, that's my 2 cents on the matter.

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