RSS Subscribers or Twitter Followers: Which Are Worth More?

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.

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