I’ve been on Twitter for a long time and thus, when lists were first introduced I got put on a bunch of them and continue to be added to lists every now and then. I’m currently on 237 of them. By the way, if you think that’s a lot, it isn’t. Here’s just one example of someone I personally know (someone who is a regular person i.e. not a celebrity or prominent journalist) being on a great many more of them.
The fascinating thing for me about lists is not how many you are on, but how many people follow the lists you get placed on. What I mean is, when someone makes a Twitter list, if it is public, that list can be viewed by other Twitter users. Subsequently, other people can follow this pre-made list even though they weren’t the ones who put it together in the first place. The reasons a person might do that are numerous, but one of the reasons is surely that you trust the judgment of the original list compiler. Thus, you trust that this person has truly made a good list and that everyone is on it for a good reason. You might also trust that they will continue to add and subtract from this list as necessary.
I actually never thought much about how many people follow others’ lists until I got put on one that is followed by a lot of people. Once that happened, I started to think about it more.
I started out by looking at the lists I was on. I don’t have time to view all 237, but I looked at the 50-60 most recent ones. Most of the lists are followed by 10 or fewer people. Other than this one very special list that I’m going to get to eventually, the largest numbers I saw where in the 20s or 30s. Here’s one example of a list I am on that 29 others follow. Here’s one with 39 followers. So we see that most lists aren’t capturing the attention of a huge multitude. What would it take for a list to have 100 followers? 500? 700?
Apparently what it takes is for the list-maker to be extremely influential in their niche. It also doesn’t hurt if that extremely influential list-maker publicizes the creation of the list ahead of time and asks for nominations of people to be put on it. Then it doesn’t hurt if this list-maker announces the final formation of the list, of course not precluding adding additional people to it as the need arises.
That’s just what happened when Jay Rosen created his list of young, smart newsies. Remember when I said that 20s and 30s were high numbers of followers for lists I was on other than this very special one? How many followers do you suppose this list has? If you guessed 857 and counting, you’d be right. And this isn’t even the most followed of Jay’s lists. Here’s one with 1,728 followers.
Jay is not alone in this. Here’s a list by Leo Laporte, an extremely influential Silicon Valley guy, which is followed by 722 people. Here’s a list put together by a New York Times staffer of breaking news feeds which is followed by 637 people. You might say that this happens because the people who create these lists are followed by many people on Twitter in general, but I don’t think that’s the case. For instance, the NYT staffer who put together the list I just mentioned is Patrick LaForge who has 9,232 followers. While that is certainly a high number, it’s not exactly ridiculous. We also see that influentials with large followings can make lists that are followed by a somewhat small numbers. Here’s a list made by Dave Winer who has 32,854 current followers. Only 68 people follow this list.
So what makes a list such that it is followed by a large group? Whatever that magic combination of factors is, having such lists to one’s name equals true social influence.
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