Twitter follower numbers

John Key
John Key – Less debt, more jobs…more ghost followers?

Chris Keall’s recent article in The National Business Review had John Key @johnkeypm as ‘top of the twits’ with over 50,000 subscribers. With Newt Gingrich and Kevin Rudd amongst others being accused of buying Twitter followers I thought it would be interesting to investigate some of John Key’s followers.

In the comments for the NBR article MikePSmith suggested most of the followers were spambots with CK replying “overall it looks like most are living breathing New Zealanders”. I cast my eye over the followers and decided exactly the opposite: most of the following accounts looked extremely fishy.

The @johnkeypm account is a managed account – that is the man himself does not update it personally. Much like the man it is decidedly bland and delivers the party line more like an RSS feed.

To make the account look as popular as possible accounts that regular users block and report for spam are kept as active followers. If the account isn’t actually being used in the traditional manner those annoying spam accounts aren’t interfering with everyday use.

So with the help of Twitter API I analysed the followers of the @johnkeypm account. The results confirmed almost exactly what my eyes had already told me: most of the accounts were spambots, zombies, or worse.

John Key (thumbnail) Zombie Horde
Click to enlarge Join the horde? courtesy Björn Söderqvist

With a very loose definition of an actual Twitter user as opposed to a spambot zombie (10 followers, 10 tweets, tweeted this year, have bothered to change the display picture from the default) the follower count falls to less than half at 22,000 accounts.
If you care to further refine the criteria to what most of us would consider regular active users the numbers just fall away. Limiting to accounts based in New Zealand (not fair to expats or those who choose not to disclose) then the numbers dwindle even further.

John Key probably remains New Zealand politician with the largest Twitter follower count but with a much smaller margin than the numbers suggest – if one is at all concerned about quality or real accounts.

UPDATE 15/06/2012
Other accounts will be analysed for comparison

Clare Curran @clarecurranmp
No avatar pic 8% (197 accounts)
No tweets 5% (115 accounts)
No followers 1% (15 accounts)
Inactives 17% (387 accounts) Corrected 17/06/2012
‘Real’ followers 77% (1764 accounts)

UPDATE 17/06/2012
A follow up post explaining how the numbers were determined will follow shortly

14 thoughts on “Twitter follower numbers”

  1. Nice one. 🙂

    Would be interesting to analyse a range of accounts and see how many followers are actually legitimate for most twitter users.

    Got any source code I can grab and have a play with? 🙂

  2. I’ll post a SQL or .CSV dump of the raw data for verification if anyone wants it later – and I’ll also tidy up my code and blog the source over the weekend for the DIY enthusiasts to replicate my investigations if they wish. It would be interesting to contrast with a range of accounts I agree. Just not mine, I only hold on to my spam followers to boost my own ego 🙂

  3. Jethro was correct that comparing @johnkeypm to other politicians Twitter accounts would add context and value. @clarecurranmp expressed interest in her own stats which I have appended to the original post.

  4. Further analysis of an accounts ‘last tweet date’ provided by Twitter shows that the ‘inactives’ could be inconsistent. I will investigate and update over the weekend to show my calculations.

  5. Some analysis of top flight UK football clubs shows some interesting results Using similar methodology to my original research

    Interesting criteria:

    * The account has a following : followers ratio of 50:1 or more. This means the profile is following 50 accounts while only being followed by one

    * More than 30% of all tweets use spam phrases, such as “diet,” “make money,” and “work from home”

    * The same tweets are repeated more than three times, even when posted to different accounts

    * More than 90% of the account’s tweets are retweets

    * More than 90% of the account’s tweets are links

    * The account has never tweeted

    * The account is more than two months old and still has a default profile image

    * The user completed neither bio nor location and, at the same time, is following more than 100 accounts

  6. Pingback: John Key’s “ghost” followers « Red Alert

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