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RSS Subscribers or Twitter Followers: Which Are Worth More?

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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.

42 Responses to “RSS Subscribers or Twitter Followers: Which Are Worth More?”

  1. Twitter followers may spread your post while RSS subscribers can’t. Let see this:
    1. You have 100 RSS subscribers, so only maximum 100 person can reach your post.
    2. You have 100 followers and each has 100 another followers, and if your post is awesome, all of them retweet it, your post may be reached 100 x 100 = 10000 times. And so on…

    I think both are important but I prefer Twitter.

  2. Interesting post as one who came here through twitter. I like to visit people who follow my tweets as I am at the begining of my twitter following. When twitter pages catch my eyes I follow the links to see whats at the other end. I believe that people are appreciative as I am myself when posts are read and engaged by return of reply. RSS or Twitter, I’ll keep both for the time being.

  3. From my experience as both an RSS feed subscriber and occasional Twitter reader, I don’t want to click links constantly when reading through tweats (twats? twitterations? This is one reason I hate twitter). When I am reading an RSS feed I am far more engaged and have the time to click on a link. I only read twitter crap on my phone so I am not likely to click a link unless it is something that really interests me. I suspect there are many like me out there that follow a similar pattern.

  4. this is an interesting question but i doubt we’d ever be able to compare rss subscribers and followers properly.

    –browsing/reading habits are one significant difference not mentioned in the article: we dip into twitter only so often, and generally miss anything that’s come long before (depending on a user’s frequency of tweeting).

    –twitter is mainly a posting/speaking tool. most users tweet more than they read. readers/rss are reading tools. it’s apples/oranges

    –it depends who your followers are and how you got them. if you have good followers, and you are @named by peers, which takes some time to earn, then your perceived value is higher and you’re more likely to get clicks. otherwise, following is a “cheap” kind of user action and cant be read as an indication of deep interest. furthermore, following serves the one who follows as it serves the one followed, by association, perceived social status, as a strategy for gaining visibility, and last but not least, because following often gets a follow back (it’s a gesture).

    –clicks on links depend on how often you post links. and rt’s on a linked tweet will attract more

    –the user’s rt’ing of others may make a difference — if he’s seen as stingy then that will be noticed; if he’s perceived as self-serving, that too many be noticed.

    –link quality, and are links to his own content or to others? karmic linking and rt’ing is a good way to get some back

    it’d be great to get data on this, but i think there may be too many variables to permit drawing general conclusions.


  5. This article assumes that no one has a focus for their Twitter account. If you focus on a niche or a specific topic then I entirely disagree with this article and believe Twitter followers are far more valuable then RSS feeds. When blogs first started there wasn’t much direction for them either but over time they became focused, and as we now know very influential media & business tools. This is the same evolution that Twitter will have in that it started talking about random thoughts but is moving towards more topic orientated information – it too will be valuable for business as a form of instant communication and feedback. We already know it’s very valuable as a form of mass media communication.

    Also you are correct in saying that Twitter doesn’t index tweets for future review but there are many platforms organizing and threading those tweets – BostonTweet and TweetBlogr are two examples.

  6. Feed subscribers count is much important if someone is willing to have good readership!
    I think if some site is having large number of rss subscribers then its more likely to have more number of twitter followers.

    In short for me rss subcribers mean a lot than twitter followers!

  7. RSS subscribers seems like more professional measure of web popularity, it’s been around for a while, but twitter has become mainstream, if I’m not mistaken, so you can start counting your twitter followers I guess. Depends on what your goal is, to make money or just for fun.

  8. I’ve linked my rss and twitter feeds to many social sites and have gotten good results from both. It depends on the subject how any particular site responds. For example I can have the rss and twitter feed for the same topic at face book and can get different responses from both feeds even though they are about the same subject.

  9. The company I co-founded, Office Divvy organically built a follower base of 18,000+, in a little over 4 months. We pay attention to the metrics for the clickthrough ratios of the links we tweet on twitter.

    So far, depending on time of the day, the day of the week, and/or other factors (such as if the tweet is easy to understand etc.) we get 30 to 120 clickthroughs for each tweet within the first 15 minutes of the tweet. Over 10% of the website traffic to our websites come from twitter.

    Based on the above facts/observations, here are a few thoughts:

    1) It’s unrealistic to expect your entire follower-base to see each and every one of your tweets.

    2) However, who sees your tweets is not limited to your followers. Don’t forget that a meaningful tweet can get around to a much wider base through re-tweets (RT), and as importantly tweets can be found through twitter keyword search by the entire world.

    3) The interaction, communication, conversation aspect of twitter are non-existent in RSS feeds (unless someone like me sees someting, and gets to leave a comment just like I’m doing…. but guess what? I came here based on a tweet from Om Malik, and not from an RSS feed)…

    Take me personally, I subscribe to at least a dozen RSS and another dozen keyword based news feeds. I have to be honest, I only spend a minute scanning them, and only 3 to 4 times a week.

    But when it comes to twitter I’ve spent at least 30 minutes on twitter every day consistently, and twitter now totally became my RSS feed through reading tweets from trusted other twitter users.

    Enjoyed the blog entry and reading all the comments, and I hope the above thoughts will be found useful…

    Best regards,

    Ky Ekinci
    Office Divvy
    on the web:
    on twitter: @OfficeDivvy (

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. John Moore

    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:

    John Moore

  17. 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:

    Additional data from TubeMogul that shows that twitter viewers are watching larger portion of videos shared on Twitter:

    • 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).

      • 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.