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Hi. I'm Rick. I write, advise, and invest.

Venture Partner, Quotidian Ventures / CEO, Secret Clubhouse.

Formerly Co-Founder Barbarian Group & Consultant Tumblr

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Archenemy Record Co. / The Longbox Society / Rock Tourist

My Music Making / about my investments

I mentioned in my earlier post, that Kim Kardashian is being paid $10,000 a tweet to promote sponsors on her Twitter account. But what are those sponsors paying for? Because, while she clearly has influence over a certain community, and her Twitter page says she has about 2.7 million followers, I think the reality is obvious: Nobody has a million followers on Twitter.

Does that mean Twitter’s follower counts are lying? No. Instead, Twitter accounts that have over half a million followers listed actually represent (at most) a few hundred thousand people who’ve chosen to become organic followers of someone, along with millions who are passively along for the ride. Some of them are inactive users, some are spammers, some just ignore the noise of the accounts that don’t interest them, like spam in an email inbox. But they can’t count as “followers” in any meaningful sense.

Nobody Has A Million Twitter Followers - Anil Dash (via extraface)

I’m not sure an advertiser would (oops. sorry. I mean “should”) care. Those hundred thousand are still a solid foundation - advertising is about finding and exploiting a catalyst - it works best when it’s compounded through other means.

In print, there’s a term called passalong readership - it’s a factor by which the readership of a magazine is multiplied to calculate the total readership, not just purchased readership. Different magazines have a different average number of readers who “borrow” it.

The relevance here is that advertisers take into account passalong readership in their media buys and scale and reach calculations. They also take into account paid circulation vs. actual circulation (freebies, etc).

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to draw parallels with high-follower twitter accounts: followers = paid circulation, number of people who are actually following = actual circulation, average number of retweets per post * actual followers = actual audience. (Astute advertising students will notice I’ve inverted the meanings of actual vs paid, but the point still stands).

In the old days of internet advertising, if we had a great idea, a great website, the GREATEST THING ON THE INTERNET, it was still absolute hell getting the first 40,000 visitors, on which we depended to achieve viral impact. So we resorted to multi-hundred thousand dollar display ad buys to get those “catalyst visits” (this terminology is mine, not industry).

I’ve actually been doing a ton of research with a few of my high-follower twitter friends, asking them to tweet out a “check this out’ link to their followers that has nothing but a “hello thanks for helping in this experiment!” message and nothing else. Then I looked at the percentage of retweets and number of visits, and done some (very very rough) calculations on the value of a follower on twitter for the followee as an advertising opportunity. My initial (again, very very rough) calculations indicate that the value proposition can be quite strong, provided: a) you have compelling content on your site to inspire your catalyst audience to bother passing it along, and b) you’re not looking for mass numbers from the initial visitors. The site still has to be good enough to propagate virally.

All that being said, the long and the short of it is that by my math, Kim Kardashian, who probably pulled the number out of her ass (avoiding mental image…) is actually fairly reasonably priced. And a damn site cheaper than paying $300k to Yahoo for a homepage takeover for one day.

That being said, back in the day, (like, say, 2004), if someone said “for $10k I can get your first 100,000 or so followers - after that, the rest is on you” we probably would have jumped at the chance.

All of this, to reiterate, is based on a strategy of CATALYST - getting enough initial people to see something so that viral spread can happen for free.

Edit/Note: Anil’s column is about the value of being on the suggested followers list. I’m focusing here just on followers, clickthroughs, and a RT ratio. In his scenario, someone who got on the suggested user list, got a bunch of new followers, but had no increase in clickthroughs or RTs would be analagous to a magazine printing a bunch of extra copies to falsely boost circulation. In the print industry, there are organizations to audit these numbers. it will probably happen eventually on twitter - people proudly displaying their RT and Click ratios. Like the way now we’re (finally) talking about repeat visitors, monthly visitors, etc., instead of just clicks and pageviews, which we inexplicably held onto for like a decade.

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