Great news! The College of Journalism’s Twitter account has just acquired its 10,000th follower.

It’s a nice round number but should we be patting ourselves on the back or wondering why we’re not in the same league as Richard Branson (2.4 million followers), Robert Peston (180,000) or the Countdown numbers expert Rachel Riley (40,000)?

I’d argue that we’re in a specialised area and have a good reach among our target audience. I’ve been tracking our follower numbers over a couple of years and they’ve gone up in an almost straight line. I’d have thought that the more followers you have, the faster you’d acquire new ones – making a nice upwardly accelerating curve. The reality perhaps is that the more followers you have in a specialised subject area, the fewer there are left who want to follow you – even if you have more people spreading the word.

So are our Twitter efforts worthwhile? The social network absorbs a huge number of many people’s working hours, but is it time well used?

In a previous post I made some calculations from the Twitter accounts of 10 journalists and 10 celebrities, arguing that, although follower numbers aren’t all that matters, it’s still worth looking at them if you’re a journalist wondering how much effort to devote to Twitter. With all the caveats, you’re probably wasting time if you’re tweeting non-stop to a few hundred followers. Conversely, if you add a decent number of followers with each tweet, you’re building a unique channel to your audience at very little cost in either time or money.

Here I’ll compare my results from the Twitter accounts of journalists and celebs with those of big companies and public bodies, to see how efficiently each group appears to be building those channels. In all cases the accounts I’ve picked are somewhat arbitrary but, I’d hope, among the top examples of their field.

From figures collected in March, it looks like, of these groups, journalists were the earliest adopters of Twitter, followed by celebs and then, in order, public bodies and big companies. While the average journalist in my sample had been on Twitter for more than three years, the average big company had been on for two years and three months.

To compare how well individual Twitter accounts acquire followers, in my last post, with tongue at least partially in cheek, I came up with a Twitter Potency Index (TPI) to quantify how responsive the Twitter audience is to a user’s activity.

It’s measured like this:

TPI = total followers/total tweets + total followers/age of account (in days).

The idea is that a high TPI is a sign of an account that’s growing its following efficiently. Inactivity is penalised because the second figure in the formula gets smaller the longer your Twitter account has existed. But in themselves more tweets lower your TPI – by reducing the first figure. So a high TPI shows you are getting ‘more bang for your buck’ from your Twitter efforts, by adding followers at a good rate without spending every waking hour tweeting.

In these terms, then, here are the TPI scores of my 10 public bodies. (With their figures and those of the companies that follow, the difference between the few high scores and the rest was so great that I’ve plotted them on a logarithmic scale):

And here’s the same calculation for the big companies:

There are big differences here. Downing Street adds 593 followers for every tweet; the Scottish Parliament just five. BP adds 300 per tweet; BAE Systems just four. Assuming that it takes as much time and effort to tweet from Downing Street or BP as it does from the Scottish Parliament or BAE, the efficiency of the person-power involved is dramatically different.

Taking the average TPI for my four categories, celebrities, perhaps predictably, are far ahead (so again I’ve used a logarithmic scale):

The surprise here is that the public bodies in my sample are more effective on Twitter than either the journalists or the companies. For instance, the average public body added 91 followers for every tweet - more than either the journalists or the big companies, which averaged 26. Similarly, the public bodies added more followers per day than either the journalists or the companies.

So how does the College of Journalism’s Twitter account fare?

Well, a day or two ago I calculated our TPI as 9.33, which puts us near the bottom of the above ranges, between BAE and British Gas and a little below the Scottish Parliament.

But of course they are bigger bodies than us and not in the same sector. So here’s how we rate against the Twitter accounts of the Cardiff School of Journalism, Department of Journalism, City University, The Poynter Institute (US) and Columbia School of Journalism (US):

Still a way to go to match those US institutions.

But of course, as the BBC, we’re not here just here to chase ratings or to show off our Twitter Potency.


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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Tony Hirst

    on 20 Sept 2012 14:00

    I generated a quick sketch map of people commonly followed by a sample of followers of your account (that is, folk followed by 50 or more of a random sample of 997 of your followers). You can see the map here with a very brief explanation of the technique used to generate it here:

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Charles Miller

    on 20 Sept 2012 10:09

    Patrick, my starting point, in the first post I wrote on this (linked to in the above), was that with the advent of other tools to assess Twitter influence, follower numbers were in danger of being ignored altogether. I’d argue they do still tell you something, but I agree they aren’t the be all and end all. Our Twitter account primarily tries to point people to relevant content rather than building follower numbers.

    It’s a bit like page views for a website: again, an easy number to focus on and not meaningless but you might get more insight from, say, average time spent on the site.

    And yes it’s true that different institutions may use their accounts for different purposes. So perhaps my final graph was questionable: I was just interested to see what my formula produced. On the other hand, I imagine that journalists (and indeed, big companies, celebs and public institutions) mainly want to talk to their audience rather than a more closed group, and so need to decide whether time on Twitter is effective compared to other possible media and activities.

    Sidney: congratulations on your 10,000 followers!

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Sidney Monroe

    on 19 Sept 2012 19:37

    My Twitter feed has around 10,000 followers too- without the multi billion pound budget of the BBC. Still it will never be able to do the only thing the BBC does well - shout about itself from the innermost regions of it's own backside.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Patrick

    on 19 Sept 2012 16:34

    Interesting insight into how you acquired more twitter followers, but can you tell us about why you pursue them so? Is having more followers an end in itself - what are you trying to achieve?

    There's a real danger is chasing big numbers in social media - people click follow on an account for lots of different reasons, and it's not always to read or engage with your stuff. According to @statuspeople ( ) three percent of your followers are fake and 15 percent are inactive. A huge amount of Twitter users log in once or twice and never again. Is it a robust media strategy to chase those people?

    You compare your stats to those of universities, but what is ratio of people who follow @cityjournalism who either work or study there - therefore fulfilling a tangible goal in communicating with staff and students?

    In short, reach does not = effectiveness.

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