A New Metric for Measuring Twitter ROI

August 24th, 2009 by Bob Bly

I have created a crude metric for measuring whether Twitter is getting you results or just wasting your time.

I call this metric the Followed-to-Follow (FF) Ratio.

It is the ratio of how many people follow you on Twitter vs. how many people you follow.

Your FF Ratio should be at least 10:1, meaning you are followed by at least 10X more people than you follow yourself.

Ideally your FF ratio should be 100:1 or higher. A high FF Ratio means whenever you tweet, a significant number of Twitter users get your tweets, so your message is getting across.

On the other hand, an FF Ratio of 1:10 means for every person following you, you are following ten others.

That?s bad because it means you spend too much time getting and reading tweets, which may be fun but doesn?t get your message across or put money in your pocket.

An FF Ratio of 1:100 or lower means you have a serious social networking addiction and are probably paying too much attention to Twitter.

In addition, spending too much time on Twitter could be hazardous to your professional health: an article on CareerBuilder.com (8/24/09) notes: ?Social media is becoming the latest way for people to get job offers rescinded, reprimanded at work, and even fired.?

What do you think of my FF Ratio? Is it a sensible metric? Or is the FF Ratio way off the mark?

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 24th, 2009 at 10:54 am and is filed under Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

53 responses about “A New Metric for Measuring Twitter ROI”

  1. Kevin Hillstrom said:

    Makes sense, here’s research from my followers:

    http://minethatdata.com/blog/2009/05/twitter-kpis-including-twitter-quality.html

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  4. Frank Wilkinson said:

    Bob,

    I agree with you. While Twitter is interesting, it can absorb a lot of time during the day. The question is how do you get more followers?

    Frak

  5. Rupert said:

    Ex Ohio congressman Bob Ney launched a new talk radio show Monday, just eight months after finishing his sentence in a public corruption scandal. The program debuted today on WVLY-AM 1370, which is broadcast to eastern Ohio and West Virginia.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Rupert: What does your comment have to do with the subject of this post?

  7. Joel Heffner said:

    Sorry, Bob. I don’t think that your ratio really matters. The real “measure” to me is how many people click on a link that you provide. For my @TipsForWriters the ratio is 68:1…pretty good by your standards. However, I find that the number of people who actually click is only about 1% to 3% of my followers. On Twitter, the goal of most is to get the highest number of followers possible. The number of people you follow doesn’t matter. Some follow many in hopes of getting reciprocal followers. It works for many that way. They aren’t interested in getting info from followers, just establishing a large base.

    Joel

  8. Bob Bly said:

    Joel: We will have to agree to disagree. I do not think you are correct. The goal is not to get the highest number of followers possible. The goal is to maximize ROTI — return on time invested. A large FF ratio is indicative of more followers in proportion to time spent following. Yes, a percentage of the people one follows are there just to get them to follow you. But for the average user, a large number of people you follow is indicative of increased time spent opening and reading tweets, which is a time-wasting activity.

  9. Joel Heffner said:

    Bob: People who are serious in using Twitter for business don’t spend that much time reading comments of others. They want to get their message out to the widest possible audience. People like David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) don’t sit around reading messages from thousands of followers.

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Joel: I beg to differ: I talk to many of my subscribers who want to use Twitter and Facebook as a marketing tool. They virtually ALL tell me, “I spend too much time on this stuff and I am not sure what I am getting out of it.” This is so serious that years ago a psychologist wrote a BOOK about Internet diction and spending too much time glued to the PC talking. Back then it was forums and chat rooms; today is is social networking sites; but the principle is the same.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    I meant “Internet addiction”….

  12. David Meerman Scott said:

    Bob

    Yes, social media takes time. But trying to dream up metrics like this are silly. I have 25,000 followers on Twitter. I follow back everyone who follows me who demonstrate that they are human. So my ratio sucks because I follow 22,000 people.

    The key is HOW you use Twitter. I have some people who I pay close attention to. I only casually scan the full stream once or twice a day. I miss probably 98% of tweets send to me.

    But I look al ALL tweets that mention me @dmscott. And I look at all my DMs.

    I frequently look at the twitter feeds of people whose blogs I like.

    I probably spend half an hour on Twitter a day. I spend about one hour a week on Facebook. I spend probably 3 hours a week on my blog. (I post about 3 times a week and get between 30 and 100 comments a week).

    Yes, I agree that it is return on time invested. But I don’t think your metric is helpful.

    David

  13. Bob Bly said:

    David: When you can show me a calculable relationship between number of comments and ROI that is other than anecdotal, then I will get excited. Until then, I content it’s much ado about little.

  14. Bob Bly said:

    “Contend” not content. I have to stop doing this late at night. But my typos actually demonstrate an important point noted by John Freeman in his Wall Street Journal article — namely, that speed in communication (as in most things) is detrimental to quality. Massive blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking generated an overload of content pollution: quick thoughts written rapidly and carelessly. I have always felt blogs and social media are inherently lower quality content when I listen to a pro like you deliver a keynote or read your book; and Freeman agrees. Read his piece here:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052970203550604574358643117407778.html#

  15. Dawn said:

    I think the metric you suggest (which has already been in use by several sites that measure Twitter usefulness) is only one piece of the effectiveness measure.

    I don’t agree with the total number of followers necessarily being the goal, either. I’m going to go with an old addage that rings true for me: quality over quantity. The more quality people in your network, the more you benefit. Twitter can’t be all give, there’s gotta be some take. If you use it simply as a broadcast medium, you’re missing the point. Twitter is an opportunity to get your audience involved and talking directly to you. I love the story of the little coffee shop that asked its customers what it could do to serve them better. A customer said he wanted to be able to order in advance so his breakfast was ready to go when he got to the drive-through. The owner of the coffee shop said no problem and a new service was created. And customers started paying attention–really paying, with money.

    I’ve found that the more I interact, the more follow recommendations I receive, the more followers I get. And these followers are more likely to be operating in my area of business and expertise.

    Let’s face it, spam bots and MLM schemers following you is not an effective measurement of your Twitter results.

    I don’t look at my F:F ratio or overall followers alone, I measure how many people click on the links I provide and/or reply to something I’ve posted. I’ve been able to determine what kind of tweets interest my followers the most by using services like tr.im and bit.ly to keep stats. And I drive Twitter users to my blog and collect stats there as well.

    Another simple way to measure your Twitter effectiveness is with time. How much time do you spend reading tweets vs. posting them? Like any business tool, you have to make a plan for Twitter. Engage and interact, but slap a time limit on it.

  16. Kamil said:

    Twitter is fun and that’s all. No FF needed. Do think there is a lot of similar to me.

  17. David Meerman Scott said:

    Bob,

    I like having discussions with you because we have such different opinions. Yet it seems that we can appreciate and respect the other opinions. Of course neither of us are “right” but we can learn from at least considering each others’ ideas.

    Here’s another thought. You come at web marketing from a direct mail perspective. That’s why you have a big honking signup form that hits people in the face the moment they log on to your site. That’s a holdover from a dm business reply card. Obviously, you think that is the best way to go. However, I would NEVER do that.

    I come from a publishing background. I believe that lots of free quality content (blog post, Twitter updates, videos, ebooks, etc.) with NO registration required is the best way to go. You clearly don’t like that as you’ve said in this post and in others. Because you beleive in measurement based on collecting email, it is tough for you to measure in any other way.

    I’ve published an ebook that addresses this. No, you don;t have to give me an email address to get it. It is totally free. And yes, this ebook has sold thousands of copies of my print books and generated about a dozen paid gigs for me. That’s how I measure…

    Lose Control of your Marketing! Why marketing ROI measures lead to failure
    http://www.davidmeermanscott.com/documents/Marketing_ROI.pdf

    Cheers,

    David

  18. Bob Bly said:

    I always enjoy listening to you to, David. And you are one of the few social networking gurus I personally LIKE — you are in addition to being smart a nice guy.

    We can each point to the success of our methods. For instance, the big honking sign up form on http://www.bly.com is called an “interstitial” or “floater.”

    Your goal is to spread your content as wide as you can. My singular goal is to build my opt-in e-list, which my floater accomplished but your “ungated” (not requiring an e-mail to download) link above does not.

    By building my e-list to over 80,000 names, I generate over a thousand dollars a day in net passive income from online sales of information products to my list — “working” at home LESS THAN AN HOUR A DAY.

    That delivers a lifestyle that getting speaking and consulting gigs or selling a few thousand dollars of a trade book paying a modest 9-15% per copy royalty cannot duplicate (I know; I have done all of these things; my first trade book published in 1982 is still in print and earning royalties today).

    It’s not that one is better than the other, but our goals are different, and passive income delivers a lifestyle and degree of personal freedom your active income business model cannot (e.g., I can earn a six figure income without working), as Tim Ferris outlines in The 4-Hour Work Week.

    Readers interested in my method can learn more about it here:

    http://www.theinternetmarketingretirementplan.com

    BTW, I use both MY techniques and YOURS, and have several reports I give away free without requiring opt in to my list; for instance:

    http://www.marketing2goms.com

  19. Lou Wasser said:

    David:

    I was intrigued with your posts above, so I speed read your free ebook. I’ll go back later and read it more carefully. While I’m able to concede that there are other things in the universe besides ROI,I would like to ask you about your statement “those who adopt these ideas usually win big.”

    Without metrics or some kind of formal accountability standard, how do you know how “big” is “big?” And, under the circumstances, what does winning “big” then actually mean?

    I would like to make the plunge into social media if I feel it can help my business, but I’m always caught up short on Facebook and Twitter when I encounter “meaningful” comments like “arghhhh,” “awesome,” or “later, Dude.” Is that all there is for “losing control?” And is there a winning big prize at the end of this depressing anti-conversational miasma?

    Lou

  20. David Meerman Scott said:

    Lou, Target an audience and write for them. If you target surfers you will hear a lot of “dude” comments. If you target funeral directors you probably won’t.

    Jump in and try it. If you don;t like it you can stop (like Bob – he has not updated twitter in a while.)

    OK, now I am gonna tweet a link to this post. Let;s see how many people will come.

    David

  21. Mark Campanale said:

    I really like this; it makes a lot of sense! I use analytics from hubspot to measure my social media ROI, and it is very true that many of our buyers come from twitter (our ratio is roughly 20:1). Thanks for posting!

  22. Brad Farris said:

    Bob & David:

    I came by based on David’s tweet, but also because I have read several of Bob’s books and have respect for both of you.

    I’m currently writing an ebook and initially planned to offer it in trade for an email. Then I read some of Davids works, and thought differently.

    I’m drawn to having an effective email list (mine is small but results in about 20% of my leads through referral and reactivating of old contacts/customers) and feel like asking for the email may reduce the number of downloads, but the ones who do will be serious (therefore more likely prospects).

    As for twitter measures. I don’t care about follow to follower, but I do care about engagement. How often or how much do my tweets spark a conversation. Are my tweets gathering a like minded audience (who could be converted in to newsletter readers, or clients)? That’s what I measure and care about.

    Brad

  23. Joe Pulizzi said:

    David, saw your tweet and felt compelled to check out the conversation. Pretty interesting.

    Here’s my quick take on the back and forth between David and Bob.

    Bob – you point out, and rightly so, that it’s all about the objective. Bob, you go for opt-in signups. David, you go for spreading your content.

    So, if you take that same mentality to Twitter, the FF Ratio doesn’t hold up. Twitter can be a successful tool for someone with a horrible FF ratio depending on what their goal is. Chris Brogan, a very successful Twitter user, has about a 1:1 ratio. Seems like he is doing pretty well. I have about a 3:2 ratio, but if I followed 1,000 new people tomorrow it wouldn’t change anything about how I measure Twitter (my return on objective).

    My take is this…measuring Twitter as an independent strategy and not part of the entire content marketing strategy is almost impossible. Twitter success is improbable without the creation of relevant valuable content – point: if you don’t have something valuable to say, who wants to listen or share.

    Thanks for the great conversation guys.

    Best
    Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe)

  24. Janice L Brown said:

    Great article and comments. The debate and the different insights are really valuable.

    When advising clients, I usually counsel them to tie to business goals — for example, number of new customers acquired, amount of additional revenue brought in, number of new visitors to the web site and new opt-ins. It’s different for every business, and still an inexact science to be sure. It may also require putting some new tracking systems in place, which sometimes smaller clients are hesitant to do
    (bandwidth). We generally tend to worry less about the number of followers/fans and more about whether it’s the right followers/fans and the right conversation.

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  26. Carolyn Winter said:

    Love your ratio and have to say that looking at a tweeters ratio caught my attention soon after starting with this social media. When the FF ratio is equal I wonder if it is just some kind of recipriating software at play and not true followers. My next conclusion is that if they are now following me they are not really interested in my stuff – just hoping I would recipricate and follow them.

    I did arrive at this site due to DM Scotts Tweet which I read this morning.

    You have given me much to think about – thanks!

    Hav a great day.

    Carolyn W.

    Followers come to you if you have something of interest to them.

  27. Scott Sehlhorst said:

    Debate aside, @juntajoe has hit the key element – the objective. Your measurement should reflect your objective. If your measurement is “how loud is twitter as an outbound, broadcast channel for my thoughts?” then total followers is more relevant than anything else.

    Ratio is a reflection of how much you listen, relative to how much you speak. Really just how much opportunity to listen versus how much opportunity to be heard when you speak. Just because you’re in a crowded room at a cocktail party and shouting doesn’t mean people are paying any attention.

    Click-tracking is an interesting one – it says “people are listening” – at least for when you are providing links. If that’s your goal – create a funnel of audience to your ‘too large for twitter’ thoughts, then # of clicks on each link you send is the metric.

    If you’re trying to control the guest-list for your cocktail-party, then average clicks/follower/link will be a metric that reflects on average if people at your party are people who are listening to you. Deviation from that average – click/follower/specific-link will be a measure of interest in the topic (or copywriting skill).

    If you are sending people to a page with a call to action (CTA), like ‘download my ebook’ or ‘join my opt-in email list’, you can measure your funnel. That tells you how good your CTA is, mixed with how efficient your twitter-copy is in attracting people who are interested in your CTA.

    Personally, I think the followed-following ratio only gives insight into that ratio itself – and does not directly give you any insights into the quality of the conversations you’re creating or the effectiveness of the twitter channel, or the effectiveness of your message.

    @sehlhorst

  28. Joel Heffner said:

    Bob: In some ways Twitter is like your invitation to people to join your email list. It can draw attention to your site/email list. Twitter isn’t the place to sell stuff…just a place to attract some attention. The more people who get the message the better your chance of return. It takes the same amount of “time” to speak to 500 followers as it does to speak to 50000. The number of folks you follow really doesn’t count on Twitter. Twitter is also a place to spread a warm fuzzy feeling. Even giant companies like Zappos use Twitter in that way. Building relationships may not be easily measurable, but still work.

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  30. Bob Bly said:

    Joel: I think you cannot ignore the ROTI of social media, especially if you are a solopreneur selling billable time. David says he spends (assuming he is online every day as I suspect he is) around 3 hours a week on Twitter. At my billing rate, that would cost me $1,500 of billable time. I spent 120 seconds a week on Twitter. I simply cannot afford to spend more, because I devote me time to activities that (to me) are MUCH more important and interesting. To David they may not be.

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  32. Jeff Swanson said:

    I can’t say that I believe this is a credible metric. Also, you’re not measuring ROI, you’re measuring engagement. ROI has to involve money.

    Good topic to start a discussion and get some people talking, though. Thanks!

  33. Bob Bly said:

    Jeff: I am not measuring engagement, which people talk about but I am not sure means anything at the end of the day. I am CRUDELY getting a rough indicator of ROTI, return on time invested, which for all businesses but especially solopreneurs is absolutely critical, but which no one talks about.

  34. Kamil said:

    Here we are… http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/08/26/twitters-golden-ratio-that-no-one-likes-to-talk-about/

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  37. Mr. John said:

    Couldn’t advertising be lumped into two vague, fuzzy, hairball-like groups — direct sales and brand positioning?

    Most of what is on the Internet, Banner Ads, email, and Click Through, are direct advertising: at the end of the chain is a call to action and hopefully a purchase. More eyes on the site results in more revenue; improved conversion rate gives more revenue; sales process – site interaction, email interaction, phone call – generates higher transaction rates per contact.

    Brand Advertising is more of what is on television & radio; Nike does a great deal of it and so does Gatoraid. Ads that don’t necessarily sell but generates mind share: High quality car is a …
    Most green car is a…
    Longest Lasting car is a…
    Hopefully your answers weren’t all the same, else the folks doing the ads at Honda, Toyota, and Subaru are in trouble.

    Couldn’t twitter be thought of as a new category, one that combines brand advertising with customer service? Your brand is re-enforced or eroded with every tweet — are you an industry expert? travelling? producing somthing in batches? What you say and how you say it (in 124 characters or less) is your brand image.

    But its also a two-way communication, so each response or failure to respond helps or hinders your customer service rating.

    Therefore, to measure twitter effectiveness wouldn’t you need to measure mind share and customer satisfaction?

    And, aren’t the tools at hand, clicks and views, next to useless for this type of metric?

  38. Andreas Ramos said:

    The F/F ratio is interesting, but not useful. What counts is revenue. Time or money has to show measurable revenue.

    If I have five marketing channels, I allocate my time or money across those according to the results.

    Twitter could certainly be considered as a branding channel, but then it has to submit to the same testing as other branding channels, namely, number of impressions, results, and so on.

    With email campaigns, banner ads, paid search, or any other campaign, this can be measured and compared. But so far, I’ve not seen case studies about Twitter.

    Does anyone have any case studies on Twitter? Any analysis of clicks, conversions, or sales?

    If so, please let me know at andreas@andreas.com.

  39. Frenk Stayl said:

    Hi Daved
    I think I do not think you are correct. The goal is not to get the highest number of followers possible. The goal is to maximize ROTI — return on time invested. A large FF ratio is indicative of more followers in proportion to time spent following. Yes, a percentage of the people one follows are there just to get them to follow you. But for the average user, a large number of people you follow is indicative of increased time spent opening and reading tweets, which is a time-wasting activity.

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