Twitter: Who's following who?
This is a bit of research I did to investigate the different types of followers of a typical police Twitter channel in the United Kingdom. I looked at each follower and determined which of the nine categories they best fit. The pie chart shows the most relevant category first (local public), moving round clockwise to the least relevant category (unknown). Unknown followers were those with no obvious information on location and usually had no tweets and/or very few followers of their own. These can be considered irrelevant as they are either spam or redundant accounts.
The findings show that 44% of the total followers were relevant local members of the public or local businesses with a further 11% of local partnerships, websites and media. In total 51% of the total followers are local with the remaining 49% made up of public and businesses located outside the local area – in fact, some from overseas. It must be noted that although a large percentage of the businesses were likely to have been touting for business, the out-of-area public followers could well be ex-locals, locals working overseas, and friends or family of people in the local area. A significant number of followers were other forces and police agencies both in the UK and overseas.
Based on these findings, it is safe to conclude that around 60%-70% of followers are local people, businesses, partnership organisations and media together with other people and businesses from outside the local area who have a significant interest in the Twitter channel they have followed. About 30%-40% of the remaining followers are not particularly interested in the Twitter channel or not interested at all.
To follow or not to follow?
There seems to be a keen debate about whether to follow your followers or not. Some sources suggest that followers should be followed to show commitment to 2-way communication and establish the opportunity for both parties to Direct Message each other if required. Twitter is all about a conversation after all and not a one-way channel. If a one-way communication channel is all that is required, the RSS feeds which services most police force twitter channels are more then adequate.
However, there are also arguments that following the followers of your Twitter channel will cause an administrative burden and invite a number of incoming messages which will require timely replies and further admin commitments. It must be noted that, regardless of who is followed, messages can always be directed @ us which still require a timely reply.
Some have suggested that not following relevant followers (i.e. the 60%-70% of those highlighted above), is similar to them acknowledging us in the street with a friendly ‘hello’ but being ignored by us in return.
Comments about this post are welcomed – especially opinions about the ‘to follow or not to follow’ debate.
David White is a media professional from Essex, UK and has worked for the police service for 24 years. He has worked as a photographer within the Scenes of Crime division and as a video camera operator, editor and 3D graphics animator for the Video Unit. Since 1998 he has worked on the Essex Police website as the Web Manager and is currently researching social media and efficiency saving opportunities for the UK police service with the National Police Web Managers Group. @beaker9 @npwmg @essexpoliceuk @epolicemuseum
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Thanks for the two comments so far on this topic. It is great to have two opposite opinions as this should drive more debate.
I have been keeping track of those who ‘unfollow’ and 90% are people who were not followed in the first place. These are often business sites from overseas and they look like they are following a practice Twitter describes as ‘following churn’. So far I have had only a handful of local people who have decided to unfollow after we have followed them and only one comment which suggests the person we followed was uncomfortable about it. When our twitter site becomes more established, I will be able to post an update to this post and deliver some facts about what the pubic feel about being ‘followed’ by the police on Twitter.
I hope the debate about this topic can continue. It should serve to shape existing policies one way or the other!
Did you conduct the data analysis manually or via tools?
I did this research manually.
I followed this research up with some analysis of who it is from these groups who actually unfollow. The details are in the NPWMG blog http://npwmg.blogspot.com/2010/09/twitter-un-followers.html
It suggests that the vast majority of those who unfollow are generally not from the local area at all and are often businesses from overseas. It looks to me like they are conducting a practice Twitter calls ‘following churn’ :-
“Following churn: Following and unfollowing the same people repeatedly, as well as following and unfollowing those who don’t follow back, are both violations of our terms of service.”
– From the Twitter business ‘best practice’ page.
I am currently looking at the stats for September and the same pattern is emerging. It looks like the vast majority of those who follow and are then subsequently followed by us don’t seem to mind!
In Utrecht (The Netherlands) we follow only our own colleagues on the corporate Twitter account (@politieutrecht). The reason for this is NOT that we don’t want twoway communication. The reason is that people feel akward when we do follow them. “Look out, the police is following you”. When people ask a genuine question with @ we reply to it. When a DM is needed, we follow that person only for the interaction at that moment. Then we unfollow.
This way it is clear what our policy is for following and nobody has to feel akward or left behind. We are a professional organisation, there to enforce the law and that doesn’t fit to my opinion with having friends on Twitter or Facebook. We can have the so very necessary conversation with civilians without the ‘friendship’.
I try not to seek out individuals (local) to follow unless they have initiated the contact. Early on, I had one local that gave such a response like Natalie describes and decided then to no longer initiate a follow of an individual. I take a different approach with local businesses and have had no negative feedback.
The aspect of professionalism is foremost in (or should be) in all our minds when participating in SM. US Law Enforcement has been seen as a closed group, information kept close and guarded. There are many times that this is very applicable and necessary. My personal take is that we need to be more open and participative. This is a cultural decision for each individual agency and then, to what degree. That is where good research and strategy comes in to the picture. Maybe then some of the “big brother” opinions may change.
That would have been quite the homework assignment! The percentages look comparable to ours, even with smaller overall follower numbers than many. Our biggest increase of late seems to be from individuals or others interested in SM platforms, strategy, and development. I would love to see a majority of “local” traffic, but our demographics being what they are, I don’t think we will ever have a huge local group. Industry and news related media is another story and reach to far outside just our service area.
To follow or not to follow…a year ago I would have said only locals…now, absent obvious spam, over zealous marketing, or simply unprofessionalism, I will follow most all that seek us out. I think the intent of SM is true sharing and communication. Not only is there an obvious increase in exposure for your “brand” and message, but there is also a greater opportunity for all of us to listen and learn from those outside our box…with lists and ever developing software, the tasks of monitoring, sorting, and such is not all that bad.
Thanks for the interesting post!