You may know Ben Folds from the ever impressive band Ben Folds Five (but if all you’ve heard is the song ‘Brick’ and you think you know what they’re about, go listen to this or this or this and come back when you’re done). And William Shatner? ‘Nuff said.

Well I’ve been a fan of BFF and Ben’s solo music since college (don’t ask when that was). In fact, I confess – I once listened to “The Last Polka” 30+ times in a row on cassette tape in my dorm room (yep, had to keep rewinding the tape). No that’s not a joke and no mind altering substances were involved.

The Myth Of Raw Follower Count

Back to the point. It sounds so good on the surface. Five hundred thousand followers. Damn! Right?! I was surprised however, to hear Ben say he didn’t feel his tweeting was helping significantly to sell albums. Check out the clip, which should begin at 28:30;

The exact quote from Ben in the interview;

“Because I tweet something it doesn’t mean many people saw, it just means people could see it if they checked it. Even though I’ve been tweeting my ass off lately, I’m still getting people sending me tweets that go ‘What?! How did I miss this new Ben Folds Five record?’. I don’t know, cause I said it over and over again but this is the way it works, so we’re figuring that out. It’s a good theory, like, wow dude’s got half a million Twitter followers, he should be able to sell some records. But we’re finding that turning that energy in the direction of getting the word out there is actually very difficult.”

500,000 followers on Twitter… doesn’t help spread the word about a new album? Or at least not to the degree you’d expect?

Well Ben I have the answer to this mystery – some data digging through FollowerWonk. I think we’ll all find the data a bit enlightening, and perhaps even surprising.

What is FollowerWonk you ask? Analytics for Twitter! Let’s look at why out of 500,000+ followers, more people aren’t seeing your tweets.

First, Run Ben’s Followers Report

Before we analyze, we have to run the report. So we’re just going to go to and run an “analyze followers” report. Enter “benfolds” – and then wait about 10-15 minutes for it to run (since he’s such a popular guy – that’s a fair amount of data).

ben folds followerwonk twitter followers report

BTW – you can click on all photo links for bigger view.

Anyhow, since he has 500,000+ followers – FollowerWonk will run a sample size of about 100,000.

So now that we’ve run the report, we can dive in and analyze his followers and see what’s up. There seem to be five plausible reasons why more people don’t see Ben’s tweets.

1) 52% Of Followers Haven’t Tweeted In Over 30 Days

So Ben is very correct in his intuition about Twitter. If half of his followers aren’t even on Twitter more than once a month, odds are very slim they’ll see something, especially if he just tweets it a few times.

2) 78% Of Followers Have Tweeted 499 Times Or Less

Second indicator of low activity of his followers. Most people I see that are pretty active on Twitter, have at least tweeted over 500 times. Five hundred or less tweets, to me, indicates someone who is on Twitter very infrequently, or used Twitter for a while and hasn’t been back in months or years.

3) Followers Time Zones Are The Opposite Of Ben’s

Far as I recall, Ben lives in Australia (note that if I am wrong about this, this is the least concerning of metrics, BTW). And although when touring, he’ll be on US time zones, check out the most active times of his followers. 12pm – 12am NYC time. This would mean Ben needs to do most of his tweeting from 2am to 2pm Australia time for the most people to see it in their time zone. The dip is huge, but maybe he’s up past 2am or tweeting before 2pm.

UPDATE: I stand corrected, that Ben now lives in Nashville. Thanks Matt for the comment below.

You can see further in this map (which is just a small sample size of about 5,000 followers) most followers are in the US. Tweets during the day in Australia won’t get in front of many of those people sleeping in the US.

4) ‘Follow Back’ In Profile Possibly Indicates Low Quality Accounts

This is a word cloud of two word phrases from Ben’s followers bios. You can see “follow back” is the number one most used phrase. In my experience, those that put this in their Twitter profile are not likely to be high quality users. They are sometimes accounts that are just looking to try to get a bunch of followers.

5) 25% Of Ben’s Followers Follow Too Many People

I dunno about you guys. But following only about 100 people makes it hard to keep up with my stream. I can’t imagine 300 or 500 or 1,000. But approximately 25% of Ben’s followers follow over 1,000 people. I’m sure they miss a tweet or two 🙂 Another likely reason why Ben’s tweets wouldn’t get noticed as much as you’d imagine.

500,000 Followers Is Not His ACTIVE Follower Count

Ben may have 500,000+ “followers”. But how many of those are actually active. How many people might actually see his tweets? When you add all five of the above factors together;

  • only 48% of followers on Twitter in last 30 days
  • only 22% of followers have tweeted more than 500 times
  • most followers are opposite Australia time zone (if that’s where he still lives and tweets from often)
  • bio word cloud indicate some low quality profiles
  • 25% of followers following too many people.

I’m sure there’s a more robust way to estimate possible impression percentages. This is a REALLY rough estimate. But…

  • Ben probably has more like 50,000-75,000 active followers
  • Roughly 25% of people are following too many people to see every tweet.
  • 75% or more are in US time zones…

Which means active follower count is more like….

  • If you tweet on US time zones, about 30,000-45,000 people have an OK chance of seeing your tweet
  • If you tweet on Australia time zones, about 10,000-15,000 people have an OK chance at seeing your tweet

Again. Totally not scientific with that estimate. I’m sure there’s a decent margin of error. But you get the rough idea. Raw follower count is a terrible way of estimating impressions or “klout”.  

And I hope Ben knows, I do NOT intend to make this sound critical or negative in any way 🙂  Cause none of this even questions the devotion of his fans, or the quality of his tweets. I’m assuming his fans love him, and they want to watch what he tweets.

This data goes to show – even with raving fans, and entertaining tweets – 500,000 followers is not 500,000 active followers. The two are very different.

Click Through Rate

Let’s look at one more metric – clicks. Ahhh… CLICKS! I’m glad Ben used a Bitly link on his very first tweet about the new album happening.

This tweet went out on Wednesday July 18th at 11:28am NYC time. That’s actually a great time for a tweet, Mr Ben! It got Re-Tweeted 226 times.

How did it do for clicks?

It got 7,177 clicks – the first 6,000 came from the day he tweeted it. That’s about a 1.4% click through rate. Assuming 500,000 people saw it. But that’s the catch. After the FollowerWonk data from above, I’d be willing to bet maybe 50,000 or less people actually saw that tweet.

But if you’re using active followers – you’d get a pretty healthy click through rate of about 14%. THAT is not bad at all. So for the amount of active followers, he’s moving clicks pretty well – and 14% makes a bit more sense. I don’t know what album sales are – so the final conversion metric is not handy, unfortunately.

The Best Imitation Of Yourself

So I have one tip for Ben. It’s a simple one, but for someone with even as many active followers, it could go a long way. You gotta do the Best Imitation Of Yourself and tweet more than once.

Using (hat tip to Anthony for that) I can see after your initial tweet about the new album – it was never tweeted again!

When there’s a really important tweet – or you’re promoting something and want clicks –  tweet it three times within 24 hours.

Space your tweets about 6-7 hours apart. Load them into Buffer if you have to. Or Hootsuite. They’re both free – they function differently but you can schedule your tweets. Three tweets spaced about 6-7 hours apart will hit each area of the globe, and you could quite possibly double the amount of clicks you’re getting.

A few extra tweets could turn 7,000 clicks into 14,000 clicks, easy.

Moving Beyond “Klout” and Raw Follower Count

SEO’s – if there’s one thing even this rough study shows us: raw follower count is a terrible metric. So worthless it’s misleading.

BUT – I think FollowerWonk and the world of Twitter and social media metrics is extremely exciting and promising. We’re starting to move beyond the unreliable “metrics” of Klout and the even less reliable idea that number of followers can prove influence. With tools like FollowerWonk and True Social Metrics I think we’re finally stepping into the second generation of analytics for social media.

It’s SO new right now. Think about the calculations we have to do if we just wanted to estimate how many people saw a tweet. It’s crazy. Tools like TweetReach and CrowdBooster (which I like and use) measure “reach” but all this is, is total followers. I’d love to see a day when somehow actual impressions – actual eyeballs on a tweet is a standard metric. I think we’d all be a little surprised at who really has the  “klout” on Twitter.


I’d be really curious to hear anyone’s comments below. Including yours, Ben, if you’re reading 🙂

About Dan Shure

Hi! I'm Dan Shure. I write all of the posts and host all of the podcast episodes you'll find on the Evolving SEO blog. Say hello on Twitter @dan_shure!


  • October 22, 2012 Reply


    Hi Dan,

    Thanks, great article. I’m a bit of a Ben Folds fan myself and are now following him on Twitter.

    I had heard of Followerwonk and SEOMoz have been telling us about it since they took it over. Haven’t tried it until now.

    I just ran a Follower report on our relatively new @MoreBusOnline account. Great metrics and I have used your guide to give them a quick scan. I’m going to spend some more time going through the other reports now.

    It’s amazing to think that someone with 500k followers can see such poor results from Twitter. We see a few clicks a day from our .5k followers and some of those have become leads on our website.


    • October 22, 2012 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Thanks Ken – yes, I think we’re only seeing the beginning of what could be done to analyze social media. I hope you find some stuff in those reports!

      And hopefully it didn’t come across too much that I thought Ben was doing poorly. I have yet to analyze another Twitter account of someone similar to his… so a comparison would certainly be interesting.

      Thanks! Great to hear some of those clicks turn into leads for you!

  • October 22, 2012 Reply

    Gaz Copeland

    Really smart article Dan and it’s got me thinking about analyis of Twitter followers in a different way for some cases. Some of the FW metrics I’ve rarely looked at before I’ll probably take more notice of now!

    The one thing I’d say around the first couple of points is that in my experience there is a very high number of people on Twitter who actually don’t Tweet all that much, they just listen to the conversations going on around them. Just because 50% aren’t tweeting, doesn’t mean they’re not “on Twitter”

    • October 22, 2012 Reply

      Dan Shure


      Yes, you make a very important point. A lot of people could likely just be ‘listening’ on Twitter. I shouldn’t assume just because they’re not tweeting, that they aren’t “on”. I’d be really curious to find a way to gauge this more, and what those numbers might be.

  • October 22, 2012 Reply


    Great article Dan! Perfect example to show some of the amazing opportunities of followerwonk!

  • October 22, 2012 Reply

    Anthony Pensabene

    Nice, dude. I like how you superimposed the instruction onto a timely and socially-popular topic.

    Thanks for the shout – I have to send the hat tip down the line to Chris Winfield who made me notice it.

    One thing I’ve always wondered but thought of recently is how tweets are served up. For instance, I follow over 300; you follow less than 100. So am I getting served more tweets (say in an hour’s time) to compensate for following more people?

    Also, say you retweet or click on Fishkin’s profile more than me. will Twitter serve you his tweets more often? I notice Twitter definitely serves up people I interact with both in general population and in DMs more often. [Actually, I’ve noticed some tweeted content mirroring syntax in my DMs.. (similar to tailored Gmail ads).] I would like to know more about how Twitter works in those capacities.

    • October 22, 2012 Reply

      Dan Shure

      As far as I know, there’s no biasing algorithm or anything with this – there’s several “levels” of tweeting (I should really find a chart or make one).

      – If I send a regular tweet, all my followers will see it.
      – If I tweet at someone with their handle at the beginning of my tweet only people that BOTH follow me and them will see it (thus why you see some conversation tweets and not others. also why people put a period a the beginning of tweets ie: .@content_muse – its so all of there followers can see it).
      – If I use the Re-Tweet button, only my follows, who do NOT follow that person will see it.
      – If I use an ‘RT’ retweet though, everyone who follows me will see it
      – If I mention someone with the @ they can only see it in their “interactions” and not their stream.

      From the person who is following perspective;
      – I follow Rand, so I will see everything he tweets in my stream
      – I however, will NOT see him “talking” to someone I do NOT follow, if he puts the @ at the very beginning.
      – I will see this conversation if he mentions me in it with the ‘@’
      – I will NOT see something he re-tweets by someone I already follow.
      – I WILL see something he retweets using the RT even if I follow them.

      There may be some more detailed variations, but within those “rules” you should see all tweets in your stream appropriately. I’d be curious to know if anything violates these rules!


  • October 22, 2012 Reply


    Last I knew Ben Folds lived in Nashville TN.

    • October 22, 2012 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Thanks! I stand corrected then 🙂

  • October 22, 2012 Reply

    Joel Mackey (@webaddict)

    Really great article Dan. I love Ben Folds and I’m sure he’ll end up taking a look at this as it seems to be getting some traction. What I really like is that you added a problem but added the solution, in regards to the single tweet & timezones but provided Buffer & Hootsuite. I used to use a lot for scheduling as it has a lot of features and TweetDeck does the same thing as the Hoot. I hope Ben takes some of your advice and rocks out his engagement even more.

    I also think Ben should RT more the old way instead of the Twitter RT as it gets more wings and has better results. More conversation w/ his fans would also boost his engagement as people could get their 2 minutes of fame and interest grows over time with that.

    Great analysis!

    • October 22, 2012 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Ohhh sweet I forgot about Social Oomph but I’ve heard good things. Thanks for adding that as a resource! By “old” way do you mean actually typing “RT”?

      • October 23, 2012 Reply


        Hi Dan,

        I like to regularly go through my twitter accounts with Manage Flitter, so I can clean out inactive users and those with a high ratio of following to followers.


        • October 23, 2012 Reply

          Dan Shure


          Thanks for pointing out that tool! I think there’s like Tweet Cleaner, might be the name of another one. Never tried it myself, do you like how that one works?

          • October 24, 2012


            Haven’t tried that one Dan, because Manage Flitter is quick & easy:)

  • October 22, 2012 Reply

    Wil Reynolds

    Damn son! This is a REALLY useful blog post, it gets everyone thinking a little bit bigger. I usually cross my fingers that they use and just add a + to the end of their tweets to see how far their tweets go, but a lot of people don’t use it. This was a great analysis.

    One thing I found I don’t agree with 100% is that a lot of people on twitter are total lurkers, so the fact they haven’t tweeted in a while is a factor to look at, but in a vaccuum could be problematic.

    Sharing this with the SEER team!!!

  • October 23, 2012 Reply


    Briliant, but i would also like to see a similar tool that can track facebook and g+…

  • October 23, 2012 Reply


    Just a note on #2: I’m seeing more and more people get on Twitter just to follow people, not to tweet themselves. Not sure how prevalent that is, but number of tweets doesn’t necessarily indicate level of engagement.

    • October 23, 2012 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Very true! Some others have mentioned that as well. Proof there should be some more research into this aspect.

  • November 25, 2012 Reply

    Bryant Jaquez

    This is so good. If I were Ben’s manager, I would hire you.

  • January 5, 2013 Reply

    Eric Van Buiskirk,

    If ever a topic made me super geeky, this is it. There is so much data on Twitter and so little talk about how to “data-mine.” Follower Wonk is THE tool for this and you’ve brought up fantastic tips

  • April 4, 2013 Reply

    Josh Sowalsky

    Right on. Fantastic post. It can be so refreshing when people ask the right questions about the efficacy of high follower counts. Great post.

Leave a Comment

Error: Please check your entries!