Thursday, 2 September 2010

Twitter - who's following who?

From a sample of approx. 550 followers
September 2010
This is a bit of research I did this evening to investigate the different types of followers of a typical police Twitter channel.  I looked at each follower and determined which of the nine categories they best fitted.  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.


  1. Would just like to add a comment about @replies vs. Direct Messages. We follow about 95% of our followers and so far we have had 33 direct messages in 4 months, none of which have required a reply. However, we have received many more @mentions of which at least 10 have required replies. Interestingly, many of those people have chosen to use Direct Message to say 'thank you' for the reply.

  2. Interesting breakdown David. It really illustrates the potetntial of Twitter for community policing. Totally agree with your take on the "to follow or not to follow" debate. I take it one step further and suggest that not following actually serves to isolate police forces (and other public bodies) from their core constituencies.

  3. Surely the whole purpose of Twitter is to build a relationship, and you can only do that by following people back. The analysis above is really good, and a follow back shouldn't be automatic, but where there are local people with interesting views, then build that relationship - after all you would speak back to people in the local shop/pub/street...wouldn't you?

    There may be some difference in this depending on the type of police account - top level 'corporate' accounts don't really build relationships, but those who Tweet as individuals or neighbourhood teams are all about relationships and shoudl follow back.

  4. Interesting article David.

    I think the problem with many police forces (and I include ours with this...) is that social media is used as a broadcasting tool rather than for two way communication - this can only restrict the number of local people willing to follow.