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Summary:

The prevailing Twitter wisdom is that we should avoid tweeting about ourselves too much, and post information in which others are interested. But about those “others,” those people who watch your tweets crank past, ticker-like, each day: How do you know what’s of interest to them?

The prevailing Twitter wisdom is that we should avoid tweeting about ourselves too much, and post information in which others are interested. But about those “others,” those 100-plus — or 1,000-plus — people who watch your tweets crank past, ticker-like, each day: How do you know what’s of interest to them?

Twitter may be regarded as an outlet for personal self-expression, but those wanting to build brands through social media know it’ll take more than just talk to establish a loyal follower listing. They want to create a profile of their Twitter users. They want to understand what makes their audience tick.

If you’re lucky enough to have an established brand, you might dispense with the analysis and simply transpose your existing communications approach, strategy and sphere of discussion to Twitter. But those of us wanting to move beyond the traditional approach and audience, and those still establishing brands, are hungry for audience information.

This week, I decided to profile my Twitter followers. Here’s how I did it.

What Do You Know?

First, I made a list of questions I wanted answers to; then I went hunting for the tools that would give me the data. Here are my results.

How Many Followers Do I Have?

Easy: your Twitter home page tells you this.

Where Are My Followers Located?

Ad.ly provides a geographic overlay that shows where your followers are located.

As well as this global view, ad.ly provides a U.S. breakdown.

What Gender Are My Followers?

Ad.ly also provides a gender split of your follower list.

I’m not sure how this information is collated — what does ad.ly make of followers who have gender non-specific names and profile images? — but this is the only service I’ve found so far that provides gender information.

What Kinds of Tweets Do My Followers Like and Dislike?

Services like retweetrank and TweetEffect attempt to assess the “popularity” of your tweets among your followers. The first looks at how often your tweets are retweeted; the second correlates follower gains or losses with individual tweets you’ve made, though this appears simply to be a time-based correlation. Twitter Analyzer provides similar functionality with its “popularity” and “reach” features.

Ad.ly also provides broad stats on “engagement,” which sounds like something we all need to know about. But look beneath the surface, and it turns out that “engagement” is just another word for “real people who aren’t following zillions of others”:

“Engaged followers are your followers that actually view and interact with your tweets. Disengaged followers are those that have a low probably of viewing your tweets because they have been recognized as a bot, have abandoned their Twitter account, have been suspended from Twitter, or simply are following way too many people and have a polluted stream.”

Perhaps this statistic isn’t that helpful after all — aside from helping you identify what proportion of your audience is human.

What Are My Followers Into?

This was the key question I had when I started searching for information on my followers, and Twittersheep provides some answers. It analyzes the bios of your followers and provides keywords in a tag cloud.

I found this pretty handy, even though it’s not a statistical analysis with actual figures. Twittersheep provides some pointers for identifying the fields that my followers hail from, or are interested in or associated with.

Other Follower Information

That appears to be it in terms of free analysis of your specific follower list. There’s a plethora of tools that analyze an aggregation of tweets to identify trends in terms of topic (like thummit and trendistic) and URL (specifically, twitturly), but these services aggregate tweets from across Twitter, not from your specific follower list.

Ad.ly also provides paid reports that appear to provide slightly more information, which could help you target specific follower audience members, among other things.

What Don’t You Know?

I wanted to know more about my followers as an audience, and by the end of my search, I knew their location, gender breakdown and key topics of interest.

Or did I? All analysis tools are limited, and these examples are no exception. Take TwitterSheep, for example. I was pretty excited about this tool until I reminded myself that many of my followers don’t have a bio, or have humorous, nonsensical bios. It’s also true that the things that interest us aren’t necessarily reflected in the way we’d describe ourselves in a brief social network bio.

Although these tools represented a step in the right direction, I wanted to know what interested my followers right now (rather than when they wrote their bios) — information that, it seems, we can only obtain by following our followers and reading their tweets.

In that case, follower-specific tools like microplaza, which aggregates popular links your followers are tweeting, might help you to get an overview of certain aspects of your followers’ interests.

What tools and tricks do you use to profile your Twitter followers?

Image by stock.xchng user vivekchugh.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Social Media in the Enterprise

  1. Thank you for sharing !

  2. Radian6’s tools are pretty rad, though expensive and not really for civilians;

    http://www.radian6.com/products/engagement/

    …the list of tools in this post are just OK, shines a light on the ever present cries for context and meaning, something so sorely lacking.

    1. Lauren Fernandez Todd Thursday, July 1, 2010

      Thanks for mentioning Radian6, Todd.

      Social media monitoring is definitely an investment, and they are all about what fits the company vision and their brand. Over time as tasks increase you want to spend more time acting than gathering; the tool must mesh with measurable objectives.

      Best,

      Lauren Fernandez
      Community Manager, Radian6
      @cubanalaf

  3. Shannon Boudjema Monday, June 28, 2010

    Found this from @ConversationAge

    This is brilliant! Truly. Thanks for sharing. (and for doing the thinking, digging, comparing, analysing, summarising and blogging)

    S ;)

  4. Sanjay Maharaj Monday, June 28, 2010

    Excellent piece, tons of useful information, thansk so sharing

  5. Leslie A Joy Monday, June 28, 2010

    Fascinating. I’ve often wondered why certain people follow me. While I guess I’ll never really know without individually asking each follower, this could definitely offer some interesting insights.

  6. Wow, thanks for the tips here. It’s just so hard to track your followers specially when they’re more than your ten fingers ( plus your ten toes ). I guess, it all comes to one thing: Be genuine. I really don’t like those who post spams and follow fridays. There’s no sense, sometimes, you think these people are not credible. Still, we need to be extra careful with what we tweet.

  7. Julie Navarro Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    Interesting but Tweeteffect doesn’t work like many others site :(

  8. Interesting. As you can say, I can determine some very basic information about my followers – many of whom I also follow. The two things I look at when I decide to follow someone new is their profile (do they mention topics I’m interested in), and their most recent tweets. If they’ve been tweeting on vaguely-related topics, and they don’t tweet every five seconds, and it’s not all links to something else — then I will probably follow back. Do any of the twitter analysis tools tell you about that? Clearly those are focused on the individual, rather than looking at the collective (all followers).

    I hope (assume) that if they are human and following me, there must be a reason related to what I’ve been tweeting or what is in my profile. Or they found me via my other online presence and want to follow in Twitter as well. All those reasons work for me – and they reinforce what I’ve been doing thus far.

    What I haven’t asked is “when do people stop following?” and “Why?”

    1. Those are great questions to ask, Jack — would certainly provide a lot of insight into your followers (or ex-followers, as it were).

  9. Great article, some usefull services mentioned. Thanks for sharing this

  10. links for 2010-06-29 « burningCat Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    [...] How Well Do You Know Your Twitter Followers? [...]

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