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