For a very short period of time, Twitter hid the number of followers every account has. Whether this was a bug or Twitter trying out a new feature, it is interesting to think what would happen if every social network decided to hide the number of followers we have.
This is an intriguing topic that has many good sides and bad sides. The most obvious benefit is that the law of big numbers no longer applies. If social networks decided to hide audience sizes, no one will know if you have 10 followers or 10 million followers. With LinkedIn, people with over 500 connections are shown as having “500+ connections.” As far as we know, that “500+” could mean 501 connections or 2,000 connections.
The fake follower industry has turned into a multi-million dollar underground business that even attracts the most famous Twitter users. If Twitter hides this number, there is no longer a legitimate reason to buy fake followers. Fake followers do not result in more engagement, and no one is going to see the big number. The people in the fake follower industry would be devastated if this change ever took place.
However, removing the number of followers we have creates a problem. Now there will be more experts calling themselves experts. Many people have the natural tendency to go to the experts who have the most followers. Many people go to the expert with 10,000 real followers for advice before they go to the expert with 1,000 real followers. Removing the number eliminates the distinction between the experts with big audiences and the experts with smaller audiences. The people who have built their audiences from the ground up will now have a big piece of that hard work hidden from view. I don’t want the fact that I have over 100,000 Twitter followers to be hidden.
In this type of world, the main way to determine how influential someone is on social media is through engagement. In this type of world, the person who gets 10 retweets is more influential than the person who only gets one retweet. Engagement is a good way to determine influence, but just like follower numbers, engagement is also something that can get rigged. Just by typing “buy retweets” into Google, I saw an option to buy 1,000 retweets for just $8. Removing the follower count invites people to rig the system by buying their way to higher engagement numbers. Although it’s not quality engagement that results in long-term interactions and connections, the law of big numbers comes back into play. If you can’t tell how big people’s audiences are and which retweets are real or fake, the person with 1,000 fake retweets looks more influential than the person with 100 real retweets. You can buy practically any kind of engagement for any social network. If the option does not exist for a particular social network now, it will exist in the very near future.
The final act Twitter and other social networks could take would be to hide all of the numbers, but in my opinion, that would cause too much chaos. Hiding the number of followers we have is chaotic enough, but hiding the size of our audiences will force every marketer, entrepreneur, and expert to ask themselves whether they are really doing a good job or not. This type of self reflection is what allows the fakers to realize they are doing something wrong and the people with targeted audiences to realize that what they are doing is right.
Is it a good move to hide audience sizes? Just as all of the people who bought fake followers deserve this fate, the people who have built their audiences from the ground up do not deserve to have their audience size hidden. Then again, does the size of an audience matter at all, or is it all about engagement, which could also get rigged? There are so many different perspectives and thought patterns that can emerge from this topic of discussion
What is your opinion?
Rodney Robinson says
This is interesting to think about. The problem is that we put WAYYY too much emphasis on followership, and people assume that the number of followers means influence. My belief is that if networks decided to hide the number, there would be much less usage of social media platforms because users would be less incentivized to post and interact. After all, wouldn’t you suggest most people, while using social media, are looking to grow their audience?
Marc Guberti says
It is an unfortunate fact that many people are growing their audiences just to get bragging rights. To some people, it feels good to boast 1,000 followers while every other friend only has 100 followers. I think hiding the numbers would weed out the people who only care about growing an audience, but it also puts people with the big audiences at a disadvantage.
I’m not doing this to toot my horn, but having 100,000 Twitter followers gives my products about Twitter more credibility. This credibility impacts the number of sales I get and provides good social proof. Hiding the numbers would hurt people like me but weed out the people who only use social media to boost their ego.
This is a topic that I could easily discuss farther, and I enjoy having debates about this topic. It may be one of the most intriguing topics pertaining to all of social media.
Very interesting topic, Marc, with many very good points. Seeing high numbers on a twitter account helps us make a decision, right or wrong, whether this person deserves a follow or not. In far too many cases we would be able to make a better decision if we spent two minutes researching that person/account’s engagement (and in many cases it wouldn’t take but a 10-second glance at the account’s timeline to see how “real” the person/account is). But these days, two minutes or even 10 seconds is more time than we want to spend. Following the numbers is easy – and most of us automatically take the easy way out.
Marc Guberti says
I agree that most people automatically take the easy way out. It’s convenient for time, and there are people who take less than 10 seconds to decide whether someone is worth following or not. If I were to follow 100 people and take 10 seconds to make the decision, it would take me 16 minutes to follow those 100 people. However, if I were to follow 100 people, and put in the research (2 minutes of research per follower), it would take me 3 hours and 20 minutes to perform the same task. At this rate combined with the other things that I do, I would have to make drastic changes to my schedule in order to get the same goals accomplished.
The system is not perfect, but making it perfect would sap away a giant chunk of our valuable time. High numbers indicates that someone is popular, and some people will follow another person just because that person is popular. Humans have a natural tendency to do the things that are popular. If the Ice Bucket Challenge stayed in New York, it wouldn’t have been the viral sensation that it was. Some people did the challenge because everyone else was too.