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Summary:

Mark Ormond can’t get his “followers” to do anything. After they increased to several hundred only days after creating a Twitter account, the Internet marketer was encouraged by the prospects. Now he wonders how much influence he really has over the fast-growing but unproven community. “They […]

twitterMark Ormond can’t get his “followers” to do anything. After they increased to several hundred only days after creating a Twitter account, the Internet marketer was encouraged by the prospects. Now he wonders how much influence he really has over the fast-growing but unproven community.

“They don’t click on anything I share,” he says of his followers, admitting that he sometimes propagates links to online ventures he’s involved with. “I get a way better response from RSS subscribers,” he adds, “regardless if I’m genuinely sharing something or commercially promoting it.” It’s a fair criticism. And one that hasn’t been fully explored. So just how loyal are Twitter followers? And which provides a more captivated audience: Twitter or RSS?

“Under a direct comparison, I would say that RSS subscribers are worth more than Twitter followers,” says Daniel Scocco, proprietor of Daily Blog Tips and purveyor of 8,000 Twitter followers. “A Twitter account with 1,000 followers has a much smaller reach than a web site or blog with 1,000 RSS subscribers.”

As it stands, Twitter followers are at a significant disadvantage over RSS subscribers, because the former are less engaged than the latter. This is due to a number of reasons:

1. Lack of context. Finding value in a character-restricted tweet is a lot harder to do than a dynamic and expandable RSS item. As a result, it’s a lot easier to tell a story and make a lasting impression via RSS than Twitter.

2. You don’t have to work for it. It takes more effort to subscribe to an RSS feed than to follow someone on Twitter (i.e., choosing your reader, selecting the right feed, and so on, compared with simply clicking on “follow”). Consequently, subscribers have a greater vested interest in what’s being broadcast than who they are following.

3. Spam. Ashton Kutcher may have been the first to record 1 million Twitter followers, but only the Fail Whale knows how many were legitimately interested in his affairs. Twitter is combating the problem, but there’s no such thing as spam subscribers.

4. Deficient continuity. Unlike RSS, unread tweets or status updates “drop off the stream” — that is they are not stored and labeled for a follower’s later use. An RSS reader, on the other hand, keeps everything tidy in reverse chronological order, so subscribers don’t miss a thing (unless they want to).

5. More noise. Twitter’s open API is great. But it comes at a price. Because third-party platforms are allowed to tweet on a user’s behalf, readers have to filter an increasing number of tweets they may have not originally signed up for. RSS, on the other hand, comes directly from the source.

6. Vanity. Being able see who’s following whom dilutes the value of Twitter, perhaps inadvertently. Instead of judging individual Twitter accounts by the utility of their postings, some readers follow and expect to be followed in a childish and unwritten law of reciprocity, resulting in even more noise.

This isn’t to say Twitter accounts can’t be highly influential, just that they require a lot more skill on the part of the author to engage his or her audience, says Scocco. “It really depends on the content of each tweet, and how the author interacts with his audience. People who are very active on Twitter and are always trying to add value through their tweets can still enjoy good click-through rates.”

That said, the active Twitter user said he thinks “having a web site or blog is far more important,” adding that he would trade multiple followers for one extra RSS subscriber in a heartbeat. “I would need to test first to find the optimal valuation, but I am guessing it would be between 5 and 10 Twitter followers for each RSS subscriber.”

Image courtesy of Twitter Tees by Threadless.

  1. Great post.
    Some of the data I have shows the opposite. while it is true that Twitter lacks some aspects of RSS, Twitter followers are more engaged in conversation, clicking on more links, and have more interest in content that other Twitter users are sharing.
    Two related posts:
    A project I did with a major TV channel in Israel shows higher level of engagement in Twitter than in any other medium:
    http://pravdam.com/2009/07/15/data-shows-twitter-tv-explosive-combination/

    Additional data from TubeMogul that shows that twitter viewers are watching larger portion of videos shared on Twitter:
    http://pravdam.com/2009/07/17/more-information-proves-twitter-is-heaven-for-media-companies/

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    1. Kfir,

      The data you’ve published is interesting in its own, but seems to compare apple to oranges from time to time (f.e. comparing CTR of links with banners). I think a much closer comparison would be with links shared through email, im, newsletters or within user groups.

      Now, the article is missing a very important aspect: defining what “worth” meant for this analysis. Is it user engagement, pure traffic, CTR, etc.?

      For example I do think that to compare user engagement, we can use other metrics, by asking a question and comparing the number of generated within Twitter and inside the comment system.

      Anyways, I’ve enjoyed reading the article and I hope more people will start publishing this sort of (f.e. I’d be interested to read a similar report for GigaOM vs TechCrunch vs Kevin Rose vs Robert Scoble vs Ashton Kutcher).

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      1. Alex,
        Thanks for your response. True, there is an engagement matrix that is missing. Channel 2 claims that Twitter generated much more responses to questions and offers than any other engagement channel. Even though they have more hits on their web site, they are getting much more reactions from Twitter.

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  2. I have no doubt that RSS subscribers are, hands down, more “valuable” financially than members of your twitter community in the vast majority of cases. However, one must be careful not to fall into the trap of looking at the short-term results, both sets of users are important for businesses, and individual bloggers, to pay attention to.

    - RSS subscribers have selected certain blogs or news sources to review. It is selective at the beginning, the user is choosing exactly the source they want and are engaged.
    - Twitter users are often passive, checking out passive, seeing who has valuable content, etc.. It is very democratic with people voting with every tweet rather they will stay or go.

    If you utilize Twitter the “right way”, though, and focus on relationship building, becoming a part of the overally community, you will discover value beyond what is possible with uni-directional RSS feeds. Invest this time, add value, and it will outstrip the value you receive with RSS after 9 – 12 months. See my thoughts on how you correctly build a twitter community here:

    http://www.efactor.com/p/blogs/id=491

    John Moore
    http://twitter.com/JohnFMoore

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  3. Absolutely true, Twitter subscribers aren’t that premium (unless you have really loyal and quality people on twitter)

    I have 350 RSS subscribers and 3000 twitter followers. of course the RSS are more valuable.

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  4. Very interesting. Point #4 (Deficient Continuity) is right on.

    What I find is that more people you follow, the less likely you can actually react to a single person’s tweet or even see their tweet (unless you make an effort). So in order to grab the attention of followers, people tweet 30, 40, 50 tweets a day, do futuretweets and all kinds of tricks. And this makes the tweet stream more dense and the problem even worse. So anybody who does a few tweets (< 5 ) stands no chance in getting the attention of their followers.

    If one wants to get a conservative measure of their followers who will actually click on their links, then it may be something like this: number of people who follow you but follow less than X other people. X may be 20, or 30. More than that would significantly require more effort from the followers in sifting through the tweet stream.

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  5. I’d say a lot depends on from where users are accessing their RSS or Twitter. I know I click through links much more from my laptop vs my mobile…using the mobile is more to “check in” and the computer to browse/read.

    That’s why I think Twitter will be much more of a news medium than content aggregator in the long run.

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  6. I agree. I find that RSS Feed subscribers are far more interactive, and participative in community than Twitter followers.

    In the beginning, I put a lot of effort to gather Twitter followers. I have since suspended great activity in this manner, in favor of a more attraction approach.

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  7. Is it one or the other? I have found many a good blog, and then RSS subscribed to it, via someone’s tweet.

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    1. I agree. At one point I was following news sites on twitter rather than through their RSS feed. I found that all the articles didn’t make it to their twitter though, and I’d rather sort through _all_ the news on my time rather than trying to catch the new tweet when it gets pushed to my phone or to a Growl notification.

      The issue I have with point #2 is that, at least for most users of twitter, there’s as much work in that as there is subscribing to an RSS feed. Many sites that tweet have different account, which is analogous to having multiple streams that a potential follower. Also, the average user will not use the actual twitter site, as this would be analogous to using the actual website or blog rather then subscribing to the RSS feed. The average person uses a twitter client just like s/he uses an RSS reader and uses a twitter account the same way they would use a RSS feed.

      The issue with #4, then, is that those people using a twitter client (the people that make up the core twitter public) don’t have any problem with tweets “falling off the stream”. In fact, the remedy offered of tweeting 40-50 times a day is what turns people off to the tweeters, it turns to spam. In my opinion, that many posts a day will be safely moved to an RSS following, to be done in my own time, rather than clogging my twitter timeline, and to be sure I can sort out and read all the posts I’m actually interested in. The more tweets/posts, the less likely that everyone will be interested in all of them, and as it passes from a few posts with a high rate of interest to a lot of posts with a low rate of interest, it goes from twitter feed to RSS feed following.

      And that is the crux of my point; Twitter and RSS are fighting for the same “market”, but work in very different ways. At least for me, I use Tweetie to follow people with low posts in which I am interested in nearly all the posts, and I use Google Reader to follow people with a high number of posts because it’s easier to handle those when I can take time to sit down and sort through all the posts and decide which I want to read. Neither is necessarily worse, just different.

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  8. Twitter “followers” are worthless but that doesn’t matter, as others have pointed out. People are exposed to tweets in a millions ways other than by following.

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  9. I read (or at least skim) every item in my RSS, every day. I can’t say the same for twitter. I’m fully aware that I’m missing some good stuff, but I don’t have the time to wade through all the noise to find it.

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    1. That’s what I’m saying, I at least skim the RSS feeds but I try not to follow “noisy” tweeters.

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