Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao is the host and co-founder of BlogcastFM

Why 150 Followers Is All You Really Need

 When you first get on twitter, it’s likely the thing you care most about is how many followers you have. I’ve even been to parties where people will judge my status by the number of followers I have. It’s like walking up to somebody and asking them how much money they make. A year ago when I first got on twitter, I met a girl at a party who I asked me how many followers I had. At the time I didn’t really know how to use twitter, and I had roughly 100 followers. She then proceeded to tell me about a mass follow tool of some sort, so I went home and went crazy following people. I’ve never interacted with her on twitter, and I have no idea what happened to her.

To add to that my twitter account eventually got banned and I had to start all over again. Before I get into the rest of the concepts in this post, I want to recommend that you read Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point.

Quality trumps Quantity: The idea that 150 followers is all you need probably sounds crazy to people, especially if you are just starting out. In an interview I conducted with Scott Stratten (this year’s keynote speaker for Blogworld), he mentioned that he tweeted over 10,000 times before he shared any of his own content. 75% of those were not even retweets, but @replies. He was engaged in real conversations with real people. So I decided to experiment with the concept for a month. The byproduct was incredible. The traffic I got from twitter increased exponentially. To top it off I met a bunch of new, really interesting people. Before long I found them on my blog commenting and sharing my posts with their followers.

The Rule of 150: In The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell talks about a concept called Dunbar’s number, named for anthropologist Robin Dunbar. After studying numerous groups the number 150 kept coming up over and over again. The conclusion that Robin Dunbar came to was that the maximum number of social relationships a person can effectively manage is 150. Gladwell went on to say that 150 people is what you need to make an idea spread. What’s even more interesting to is that after you get past 150 something happens that makes it harder for an idea to spread. Hopefully you see where I’m going with this concept. I want to share one concrete example from my own twitter presence. On my @skooloflife account I have 2000 followers. I get an average of 10 tweets per post. On my @blogcastfm account (the one for the podcast I host), I have about 500 followers and most interviews I get close to 20 tweets. There’s no way you are realistically going to engage with effectively with thousands of followers unless you absolutely have no life. Think about the power of 150 people who love you and everything you do when compared to the thousands of people where you are just trying to stand out from the noise.

Creating Your 150
Creating your 150 is actually quite easy and if you follow the steps below you’ll have discovered your 150 in no time. I’ve written my process out below of how I do this using tweetdeck.

  • Track Mentions: The major thing you should be tracking is mentions of your twitter name. Anytime somebody mentions your name, it’s an opportunity to start a conversation and acquire a new high quality follower.
  • Track Retweets: You should also pay close attention to the people who are retweeting the posts you have written. It’s obvious that they like your content, otherwise they wouldn’t be sharing it.
  • Create a List: I have a list called my inner circle. Anytime somebody mentions me or retweets me, I make a point to to add them to that list. If they are a spammer, they get blocked.
  • Engage with the People on that List: Simply creating the list is not going to be enough. Once you have created your inner circle list, you need to start engaging with them.
    • Daily Conversations: I talk to the people on my inner circle list almost daily. I don’t talk to all 150 of them every single day. But I talk to at least a few of them and that’s all that you really need to do to start getting true value out of twitter.
    • Retweet their Stuff: I make a point to promote the stuff of the people in my inner circle, especially if they are newer than I am to the blogosphere. It’s much easier to form relationships with people who are at your same level or slightly below. People have a tendency to only try to form relationships with people who are more established. Don’t discredit the value of your peer group because they won’t be small forever.

Where to Start When You Are at Zero: If you are starting at zero, some of the above might seem more challenging, but it’s not. Just start with bloggers who you have been reading. This is why it’s important to read more than just the a-list blogs. Find people you think are interesting and just reach out to them. They’ll be happy to hear from you. That will be the start of creating your 150.

Comments

  • October 27, 2010

    Thanks for the really great information. It’s so refreshing to read what really works, and quality always beats quantity.

  • October 27, 2010

    I like the inner circle concept, especially since I’ve started a new Twitter account as part of a new site launch and already have folks from my existing account that I’ve already engaged with.

    I already have too many columns in TweetDeck already, though, so it sounds like I need to take a serious look at what I need and don’t need there.

  • October 27, 2010

    I’ve heard you talk about this multiple times on BlogCastFM, and I love the logic behind the Rule of 150. Makes sense, and I’m currently using an “inner circle” list. But I don’t understand why some people ONLY follow 100 or 150 people. Why not follow everyone who legitimately (no Twitter spam accounts) follows you? There is no downside for you! As long as you’re using lists, that is.

  • October 27, 2010

    I get overwhelmed when more than 2 people are talking….this is going to be a long journey. ;)

  • October 27, 2010

    Yep, yep, and yep.

    Gladwell wasn’t the first person to say this, actually, he just changed the context.

    The idea stems from an old business management concept: you can’t possible manage more than 150 people.

    And at the end of the day it applies to social networking too.

    Now quick, go follow me ;-)

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  • October 27, 2010

    @virtuavip, if I remember correctly, the concept actually dates back several hundred years and an antrhopologist by the name of robin dunbar talked about this.

  • October 27, 2010

    I’d argue that based on Dunbar’s research it dates a lot farther than that. On the other hand, Dunbar’s # was only proposed about 20 years ago. What’s fascinating is that

    Dunbar has argued that 150 would be the mean group size only for communities with a very high incentive to remain together. For a group of this size to remain cohesive, Dunbar speculated that as much as 42% of the group’s time would have to be devoted to social grooming. (see here:) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

    That said . . . businesses certainly fit the criteria; high incentive to stay in touch with each other’s stuff. And in a social networking construct the same idea applies . . . or at least it does if you subscribe to Gladwell.

    Which by the way, I do.

  • October 27, 2010

    How come you haven’t reduced your followers to 150 on either accounts? I see complete reason in you post, and have been thinking about initiating this on my personal account that I’ve been using on Twitter since 07. Great post btw!

  • October 27, 2010

    nice article!
    I’ve just registered for twitter account about last month and already did few tips you mentioned above like retweets others’ articles if I found they’re useful and interesting!
    The thing is, you do not lose anything if you retweet other’s post/entry, so why not helping them retweet their entry/post, while at the same time build a good relationship with them?

  • October 27, 2010

    Intriguing article, and a very nice volley between you and Jeff. I remember a while back Biz Stone mentioning that he personally didn’t follow very many people because he couldn’t interact with more than a few hundred tops. Personally, I use a similar approach to what you describe above – 1 group (about 100 people), a 2nd group (about 200 people) and everybody else (who occasionally get tossed into private “classification” groups. And it works.

    Again, nice article.

  • October 27, 2010

    So then what do you do when your followers have grown way beyond that sweet 150?

  • October 28, 2010

    @jtreeSEO: Well, I haven’t reduced my followings because of many of my screwups mentioned. It’s either clean it all up or use lists :) . If can figure out a way to unfollow everybody except my inner circle list, I’d have no issues doing that.

    @Tristan: I don’t think there’s a problem with more than 150 per se, but the thing is lots of people might end up following you as part of their use of a mass follow tool which leads to more useless followers. So I think it’s better to only follow people who start a conversation with you or engage with you on some level.

    @Affan: nothing wrong at all with promoting people’s stuff :) . In fact I do it and I recommend it.

    @fred: Thanks I’m going to put up a video tutorial as a follow up to this.

  • October 28, 2010

    Yes, Jeff, I remember learning the 150 rule as part of sales training waaay back in the ’80s as part of job training.

    In relation to this article and Twitter, I would like to suggest that you can absolutely have both. Tools like TweetVisor, TweetDeck, favorites, ffhelper, TwitterTagProject, Twitter search and Twitter lists make it possible to keep track of many tweeps. Having a great memory helps, too. I think as long as your primary focus is on the relationships, there is no crime in meeting thousands of people. Maybe one in a thousand will be a new part of your 150 =)
    x0x
    Anita Nelson @ModelSupplies

  • October 28, 2010

    Dude…where’s my avatar?

  • October 28, 2010

    Is it only me or does this strategy make perfect sense, yet go against natural instincts? This is a thought provoking post.
    BTW, I just made an inner circle list – Thank you.

  • October 28, 2010

    This seems useful to me. I have recently stalled on tTtter because while I can find people who are interested in my area, they are not all active/interested in interacting with me. This makes more sense as a methodology for approaching tweeting. Thanks.

  • October 28, 2010

    @randyclarkto: It definitely goes against natural instinct because the #of followers you have is all the rage, yet if you take this approach you’ll be amazed at how much more traffic twitter drives to your blog. Since I started this I”ve gone on my person blog from about 10 tweets per post to upwards of 30 on many posts.

  • October 28, 2010

    I like the concept of an “inner circle list.” I’ve been using that concept for a while now, I just hadn’t named it anything. I just called the list “interesting people” and left it at that.

    In any case, I don’t think that we should put much stock in Gladwell’s book since he tends to cherry pick his examples and then make sweeping and broad generalizations that aren’t based on facts.

  • October 28, 2010

    I’m definitely a fan of creating Twitter Lists as a way to manage and remember to actively engage with the members of that list. I do this actively for clients and friends and they’re the first list I scan in the morning and just before calling it a night. I think that it’s effective and a great way to stay in touch and on top of what’s going on.

  • October 28, 2010

    Really great post and something that I had not thought of. Yes, for me I saw a spike when I started following and vice versa anyone and everyone, then it started to end. Now I might know why!

    Thanks for the excellent post!

    Michael
    OutMaturity.com

  • October 28, 2010

    Fabulous article. I have been in a bit of a Twitter rut. And I think your tips are really going to help. Going to make an inner circle list tonight!

  • October 28, 2010

    Ricardo, that’s an interesting point. Viewed in the right context, it’s actually a game changer.

    IF you view each of the lists AS “one contact” then in theory you’ve just extended your manageable load of contacts. But for that to be meaningful you have to be OK with a paradigm shift: you may see what each of your contacts says, but because each of those contacts is made up of so many otherwise-unnaturally disparate thoughts you EITHER still aren’t extending your reach OR have redefined what it means to be in touch with each of your contacts.

    The former would mean that you’re being kind of disingenuous to yourself, and the latter would mean you’re being so to your contacts.

    So . . . we end up back where we started!

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  • October 28, 2010

    Hey Srini – great post! In meeting you at BWE I had no idea you were Skool of Life. I’ve been to that site quite abit due to people RTing your content.

    Do you spend any time maintaining that Inner Circle list? I sort of treat my following list in a way that I only follow those I am enjoying hearing from. I like the idea of that Inner Circle and paying closest attention to that.

  • October 28, 2010

    Great post! I’ve heard about the 150 people concept before and it makes perfect sense. Creating an inner circle list is good. I always thank people who RT me and acknowledge anyone who mentions me. Very useful information and I will definitely pass this on to others.

    Jan Gordon

  • October 29, 2010

    @highlyinspired: I spend lots of time maintaining the inner circle list. While I may not talk to each person on it every single day, I talk to at least 10 or so everyday. The thing is that I don’t look at people who follow me until I see a mention or they have started a conversation because then I know it’s an opportunity for a genuine conversation/relationship. It’s somebody who is looking to connect. Also if somebody I don’t recognize tweets my stuff for the first time I’ll add them to the list and check out their profile and their blog.

  • October 29, 2010

    I’ve begun doing the same, of only following once they’ve talked to me or something – unless they look really fascinating (new followers).

    Thanks for the insights Srini.

  • October 29, 2010

    Everything is true…except the specific number. Really it depends on the people. Some great people are heavy interactors, other great people are light interactors. @TweetSmarter follows a lot of people so anyone can DM us as needed and I keep up with a TON of interaction (of course, I have no life, lol). We tweeted over 20,000 times before starting our blog and sharing any of its content.

  • October 30, 2010

    @tweetsmarter: The specific number is one I used as a way of testing the theory, but you are right. I think you could reap the same benefits with 20-40 followers who are all sharing your content and engaging with you. I think the fact that you tweeted 20,000 times is insane but very smart :) . Scott Stratten talked about the exact thing in his speech at Blogworld and my interview with him.

  • October 31, 2010
    valeriy
    @valguypr

    Interesting theory. I’ve heard that following 2000 people is necessary to get the full twitter experience, but those same people will say that lists need to be created in HootSuite in order to filter people and place them into the right categories. I have a hard time believing that following 2000 people is necessary and even practical. It is impossible to keep up with all of them if you can’t what is the point of following so many people? I do however agree with the 150 theory it sounds practical and useful. It may actually work and be effective in getting the message across. Thanks for the suggestion to engage with people and to start with interesting bloggers and not just a-list bloggers who are usually bombarded with comments.

  • October 31, 2010

    Love this post! Practical advice that you can follow and be very true to your values while doing so. I’ve been learning so much just by taking the time to genuinely connect with other bloggers, not to mention meeting some really amazing people along the way! Thanks for the great advice, as always:)

  • October 31, 2010

    1) Focus on the quality Tweeps among those you follow by using a filtering program (such as HootSuite) to filter by Klout Score. I figure that anyone with a score above 30-35 has found their Twitter niche or has branded themself well enough to be interesting and engaging.

    2) Share information about your Insiders, your favorites! Tweet about your list like this: “#Follow @Twittername/ListName/members fpr the most interesting Tweeps in the Twittersphere! #MyLists”

    3) Be sure to add a verbal description to your list that grabs the attention. Example: “#MyLists: Tweeps that share the Light and wisdom for self-improvement and personal growth – #Follow @InboxNspire/empowerment-advocates”

  • November 2, 2010

    Interesting, I had @KRONiS which has 5150 followers… and @SEORockstar which is around 100 has the exact same Klout.com score of 31. With KRONiS i had a similar experience where I added everyone and everything and tried out different ways to do it. with @SEORockstar all I did was add people I know IRL (In Real Life) and it works extremely well!

  • November 2, 2010

    Thank you very much indeed. Retweeted your information and added, “Gladwell, Dunbar, 150 what a great post. Off to RT and create my inner circle. Thank you! Quality information.”
    Seems we are thinking parallel thoughts as I have been culling my following. Your Tweet is comforting, knowing that I am on the right track.

  • November 2, 2010

    Hi Srini, great article but I’ve got a question about maintaining and interacting with the Inner Circle list.

    I’ve been trying to form relationships more strategically and purposefully. So for example, i put @skooloflife on a list of people that I want to build relationship with because I’m hoping to guest post or interview you in the future.

    Your inner circle list sounds like it’s different from my strategy above. The inner circle list is to grow a list of followers who will help you ’spread an idea’ right?

    And do you have another relationship-building list like mine? :)

  • November 2, 2010

    @InboxNspire great tip for the Hootsuite Klout filter. I’m gonna be using Hootsuite more now!

  • November 2, 2010

    Thanks for an informative post! I have been bemused by Twitter a lot of the time, but am taking the time to interact with some of my followers just because they seem interesting. I hope they find at least some of what I tweet interesting, too, and that it subsequently leads them to my blog. I particularly like the idea of your “inner circle” list and will be doing something similar myself – once I work out how!!

  • November 2, 2010

    Great advice. I recently wrote on my blog abut how I’d jumped off the ‘follow everything that tweets’ bandwagon. I recently created my new account with the sole purpose of making it useful for *me* – which is something you can’t do when random quotes and spiels are whizzing by at a rate of several hundred per hour.

  • November 2, 2010

    Thanks, this post is like a breath of fresh air.

    There’s SO much noise out there about “gaining followers” and few seem to stop and question what the point of it all is!

    One sad side effect of this is that it makes it harder to find those who really want to connect, and who actually engage with their followers.

    Maybe the comments roll here will be the start of a source of like minded individuals, who knows :)

  • November 2, 2010
    Daniel
    @Kiswooi

    truely great article on board.loved the whole thought & foremost the concept of inner circle.thanks so so much

  • November 2, 2010

    Great article!! As a newcomer onto the social media consultancy scene, I really appreciated your advice to give newbies a chance. Everyone has to start somewhere and being part of a community means being inclusive with those who are building their profile. Cheers!

  • November 2, 2010

    I hate commenting after so many people but this post was great! (I also hate using “great” but it’s still early in the AM).
    I am just starting out and at first I thought I needed to have 3000 followers to get any impact but I am finding the small social peer circle I have is enough. At this moment I have 123. My following grows about 10 a week then 7 drop because I don’t refollow. (If you get my drift.)
    My twitter friends, I call them that because they have begun to be my friends, are helping my feed grow and they interact on my blog. Now if they could just get me out of the rank of 13,189,003 on Alexa. LOL!

  • November 2, 2010

    Thanks for this. I love that so many successful bloggers are out there saying, essentially, “Stop being a dick and engage with human beings!”

  • November 2, 2010

    It all gets back to your strategy, but honestly I think you are missing out on one of the greatest advantages of Twitter. Here’s the rule of thumb for creating business benefits through this platform: You Just Never Know. I have acquired partners and customers through the most random tweets into the Twitterverse. Thos opportunities could never be realized by limiting yourself.

    I recently wrote a blog post taking on this trend of Twitter Snobbery:
    http://bit.ly/aGhNRR

    To eaach his own, but at least take look at this alternate view.

  • November 3, 2010

    Great points. It is easy to have 1000 followers – but they won’t be interacting. Gotta put the social back in social media…

  • November 3, 2010

    Awesome – this is the most challenging post I have ever read on Twitter – having achieved over 3,500 followers in 35 days over 4 accounts I now see that interacting a little more with my followers is actually going to bring me more value than gaining higher numbers. Good shout :)

  • November 4, 2010

    Just as I celebrated by 499th follower today and am eagerly waiting for that one more…this article tells me what’s really important. Relationships.
    *sigh* thanks for the healthy perspective, Srinivas. Time to go make that list.

  • November 4, 2010

    Just want to say thanks to all of you who have commented above. I’ve been trying to respond to each comment individually. I’m really excited to see so many people going on the path to forming their inner circles. I think there’s insane amounts of value to be gained from people on twitter if you can understand how to use it. Above all things, my advice would be “make friends instead of followers.” It makes the whole experience of twitter so much more fun

  • November 5, 2010

    A really interesting article which I think addresses a key point – quality will always beat quantity.

    Twitter is about sharing engaging content, not staring at your followers list.

  • November 8, 2010

    The corollary – and possibly more important – question is how many people should a person follow. I find it next to impossible to read tweets for more than just a handful of people. If thousands are sending tweets, I won’t read any of them. What’s the point, then? If not controlled, all of the social media methods can result in overload and stasis. Time be serious and cut back?

  • November 8, 2010

    Great post Srinivas. It helps keep everything in perspective. As you say, “make friends instead of followers.”

  • November 9, 2010

    I’m at 149 as of this morning – tipping point here I come!!

  • November 10, 2010

    You’ve said this on the show a gazillion times, but somehow you really drove the point home with this post. To me, Twitter still has the feel of a high school cafeteria or a singles bar. The whole quality over quantity idea and engaging in meaningful conversations are the greatest takeaways I’ve gotten from this. Thanks!

  • November 12, 2010

    “Twitterland” has become a massive advertising billboard. The idea of social interaction has been lost. Of the thousands of tweets that flow by, only a scant few have any glimmer of interaction. The rest are short ads with a link to something. It isn’t much different today than banner ads, spam email, or TV/radio/print advertising. Facebook, however, seems to be holding to the social ideology. Now, what’s next?

  • November 17, 2010

    Srini, I was there with you and all our friends when Scott gave that brilliant keynote and I remember exactly when he talked about his Twitter strategy – right after he told us he doesn’t care what someone else had for lunch and his initial impressions of twitter until he gave it a month!
    Beautiful and smart articulation of a great approach to effective Twitting!! No wonder you are part of my inner circle …..!!

  • November 18, 2010

    This post teaches a good lesson. It’s truly not all about the numbers and volume. Quality trumps quantity all day every day. Props.

  • November 22, 2010

    Great Article! Should you make the inner circle list public or private?

  • December 1, 2010

    Christopher: thanks. I’ve found this to be true across the board in everything I’ve done lately. While it is the slower route in the short term, it’s key to everything in the long term.

    Casey: That’s really your call. Some people make it private, others makes it public. I’ve made mine private just because I don’t want people to mass follow some list that I created. This might take you 3-5 months to create, but believe it pays off. Before I started this process I was averaging about 5-10 tweets per blog post. After this I’ve had posts get up to 30+ tweets at least once a week.

  • December 2, 2010
    Ironked
    @ironked

    I don’t know about 150, but I subscribe to the parity theory. I follow about 300 and am followed by 300. It’s taken a couple of years and culling out the spammers. However, a list is a great way to pare that down to the 10% with whom you want to regularly interact.

  • December 12, 2010

    Wow, this is gold. I loved Tipping Point and have been using the Dunbar number for managing my closest 150 friends via Facebook (an important thing to do when you are a long-term traveler).

    But I can see how this can be used very powerfully with Twitter.

  • December 15, 2010

    I read the book Tipping Point and loved it. In fact, I enjoyed all of Malcom Gladwell’s books. Very interesting and easy to read. I have found Twitter to be one of those things that just doesn’t click with me. This is one of the first articles I have read about Twitter that has actually made sense. Don’t just mass follow people to have them follow you back. Who wants a bunch of people following them that could really care less about who they are or what they are saying…no thanks.

  • January 7, 2011

    I enjoy your inner circle idea — didn’t think about it. Thank you for sharing, now this can turn into a true strategy to me.

    What about you guys, are you already using lists and stay in touch (daily) with your valuable contacts (friends) ?

  • January 8, 2011

    I read the book Tipping Point and loved it. In fact, I enjoyed all of Malcom Gladwell’s books. Very interesting and easy to read. I have found Twitter to be one of those things that just doesn’t click with me. This is one of the first articles I have read about Twitter that has actually made sense. Don’t just mass follow people to have them follow you back. Who wants a bunch of people following them that could really care less about who they are or what they are saying…no thanks.

  • January 18, 2011

    Of all the posts I’ve read here, this is probably the most useful! Really nice tips! Thanks a lot! :D

  • January 21, 2011

    I have to say that was really helpful and I’m starting my 150 list of people RIGHT NOW! thank you so much, it makes total sense!

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