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Ashton Kutcher. Britney Spears. Michael Phelps. Rachel Maddow. Celebrities of all stripes are jumping on Twitter, and by extension, social media. Yet many are using it as a means to talk at their audiences. In doing so, they ignore the power of the medium. You—and your brand—can benefit by listening.

It’s happened quite suddenly: celebrities have found Twitter, and so have the masses. In the last few weeks, we’ve started to hear more and more in the media about Twitter, everything from Larry King/CNN and Ashton Kutcher throwing down in a contest to be the first to reach 1 million followers (Kutcher won), to Oprah doing her first tweet. What started as a small community of early social media adopters has become the CB radio—no, the AOL—of the late 2000s.

I realized this the other day when CNN’s HLN channel started posting “Follow CNNBRK on Twitter for breaking news” at the bottom of the screen. I sat there amazed: Twitter IDs…on CNN?!? Clearly, things have changed, and they’ve changed very rapidly:

Twitter has gone mainstream.

“Getting” social media

@trinetizen on @kingsthings and @oprah

This recent tweet from Julian Matthews (@trinetizen) got me thinking: all the recent news about Twitter, all the recent Twitter adoption by celebrities, is going to cause two things: 1) the masses will investigate, and 2) the masses’ impression of Twitter will be hugely impacted by this flurry of celebrity tweeting.

The only problem? If you don’t follow others, you can’t possibly “get” the value of Twitter…or any social media, for that matter.

Why? First of all, Twitter’s value comes from dialogue. Social media and networking were borne out of the desire to connect you to others, to learn from others, to create an exchange, and to share items of interest. When we use it as it was intended, social media is extremely powerful: consider the recent successful Obama presidential campaign.

But when we use social media for monologue, e.g., blasting one-way content at whomever will listen, then we’re not connecting, we’re shouting from a street corner.

Imagine, if you will, handing out megaphones at the various street corners in Times Square. Add some TV cameras to the mix. What would you get? Overwhelming cacophony of very little value.

Yet that’s how many Twittering celebrities are using the site: as one more one-way communication channel. Some seem to be taking the time to respond to fans, but most appear very uni-directional.

That had me wondering: which celebs are following the most people, and by extension, getting a more accurate impression of Twitter? Is it Demi Moore or Ashton Kutcher? Oprah? Larry King? Let’s take a look.

Celebrity Twitter Follow Ratio


LAST NAME FIRST TWITTER ID CATEGORY FOLLOWING FOLLOWERS RATIO
Rove Karl @KarlRove Politician 40982 43,514 94.181%
Ono Yoko @yokoono Musician 29623 31,602 93.738%
Gudmundsdottir Bjork @bjork Musician 20362 22,467 90.631%
Schwarzenegger Arnold @schwarzenegger Politician 42483 51,244 82.903%
Shriver Maria @mariashriver Celebrity 41035 50,115 81.882%
Colbert Stephen @StephenTColbert Comedian 12013 30,235 39.732%
Sanchez Rick @ricksanchezcnn News 32988 83,326 39.589%
Tyler Aisha @aishatyler Comedian 999 2,742 36.433%
Spears Britney @britneyspears Musician 376224 1,166,446 32.254%
Ireland Kathy @kathyireland Model 2064 6,557 31.478%
Drescher Fran @frandrescher Actor 3226 11,956 26.982%
Heap Imogen @imogenheap Musician 36430 232,743 15.652%
Williams Robin @rwilliamscomedy Comedian 1263 10,396 12.149%
Hamm Jon @JonHamm Actor 627 5,451 11.502%
Loeb Lisa @lisaloeb4real Musician 728 6,510 11.183%
Hawkshaw Kirsty @kirstyhawkshaw Musician 42 402 10.448%
Branson Richard @richardbranson Celebrity 6597 89,965 7.333%
Doig Lexa @LexaShmexa Actor 19 343 5.539%
Hammer MC @MCHammer Musician 26065 528,118 4.935%
Fonda Jane @Janefonda Actor 638 12,933 4.933%
Hemingway Mariel @Marielhemingway Model 187 4,749 3.938%
Spektor Regina @reginaspektor Musician 452 23,895 1.892%
Love Courtney @courtneylover79 Musician 258 16,195 1.593%
Hansen Chris @chrishansen News 79 5,419 1.458%
Craven Wes @wescraven Director 73 6,831 1.069%
Grant Brea @breagrant Actor 178 19,925 0.893%
Cho Margaret @margaretcho Comedian 152 27,140 0.560%
Bateman Justine @JustineBateman Actor 43 10,625 0.405%
Milano Alyssa @Alyssa_Milano Actor 84 22,191 0.379%
Watson Emma @mwtsnx Actor 33 11,327 0.291%
Hewlett David @dhewlett Actor 30 11,503 0.261%
Hodgman John @hodgman Comedian 151 59,581 0.253%
Carolla Adam @adamcarolla Comedian 34 14,133 0.241%
Takei George @georgetakei Actor 27 11,334 0.238%
Lithgow John @John_Lithgow Actor 22 9,571 0.230%
Bollea Terry @RealHulkHogan Athlete 10 4,722 0.212%
Phelps Michael @Michael_Phelps Athlete 207 133,216 0.155%
Dogg Snoop @snoopdogg Musician 248 176,885 0.140%
Maddow Rachel @maddow News 553 407,129 0.136%
Rogen Seth @Seth_Rogen Actor 102 85,298 0.120%
Dick Andy @andydick Comedian 19 15,971 0.119%
Stiller Ben @ben_stiller Actor 16 21,376 0.075%
O’Neill Shaquille @THE_REAL_SHAQ Athlete 510 797,989 0.064%
Tequila Tila @officialTila Celebrity 62 97,585 0.064%
Grunberg Greg @greggrungerg Actor 161 254,730 0.063%
Knowles Solange @solangeknowles Musician 66 109,447 0.060%
Corddry Rob @robcorddry Comedian 140 244,237 0.057%
Pollak Kevin @kevinpollak Comedian 88 164,964 0.053%
Favreau Jon @Jon_Favreau Director 26 54,405 0.048%
Cook Dane @danecook Comedian 67 147,186 0.046%
Cleese John @JohnCleese Comedian 63 148,931 0.042%
Swift Taylor @tayswift Musician 21 52,220 0.040%
Izzard Eddie @eddieizzard Actor 34 86,185 0.039%
King Larry @kingsthings News 46 123,698 0.037%
Yankovic Al @alyankovic Musician 88 255,235 0.034%
Hilton Perez @perezhilton Playah 180 682,400 0.026%
Lynch David @DAVID_LYNCH Director 17 66,523 0.026%
Jackman Hugh @RealHughJackman Actor 33 131,194 0.025%
Wheaton Wil @wilw Actor 104 485,854 0.021%
Burton LeVar @levarburton Actor 80 395,490 0.020%
Pinsky Drew @drdrew Celebrity 96 492,284 0.020%
Combs Sean @iamdiddy Musician 121 702,265 0.017%
Simpson Jessica @JessicaSimpson Musician 13 89,038 0.015%
Frye Soleil Moon @moonfrye Musician 42 290,561 0.014%
Cooper Anderson @andersoncooper News 22 159,230 0.014%
Richie Nicole @nicolerichie Musician 22 171,277 0.013%
Fallon Jimmy @jimmyfallon Comedian 97 815,980 0.012%
Moore Demi @mrskutcher Actor 79 741,236 0.011%
Shatner William @WilliamShatner Actor 6 58,708 0.010%
Hawk Tony @tonyhawk Athlete 51 502,466 0.010%
Allen Lily @lilyroseallen Musician 17 168,882 0.010%
Kutcher Ashton @aplusk Actor 136 1,419,112 0.010%
Simpson Ashley @ashsimpsonwentz Musician 29 306,223 0.009%
Durst Fred @freddurst Musician? 31 335,258 0.009%
Kardashian Kim @KimKardashian Model 40 489,102 0.008%
Cyrus Miley @mileycyrus Musician 34 416,733 0.008%
Armstrong Lance @lancearmstrong Athlete 56 706,131 0.008%
Buscemi Steve @Steve_Buscemi Actor 2 26,614 0.008%
Brand Russell @rustyrockets Musician 20 266,322 0.008%
Stewart Martha @MarthaStewart Celebrity 28 475,408 0.006%
Carey Mariah @MariahCarey Musician 11 192,358 0.006%
Smith Kevin @ThatKevinSmith Director 22 415,684 0.005%
Mayer John @johncmayer Musician 39 845,882 0.005%
McHale Joel @joelmchale Comedian 11 343,109 0.003%
Swift Taylor @taylorswift13 Musician 10 329,401 0.003%
Jackson Curtis @50cent Musician 10 487,776 0.002%
Winfrey Oprah @Oprah Celebrity 11 594,586 0.002%
DeGeneres Ellen @TheEllenShow Comedian 20 1,145,396 0.002%
Spiner Brent @BrentSpiner Actor 4 292,013 0.001%
Gore Al @algore Politician 7 664,161 0.001%
Burke Brooke @brookeburke Model 4 472,497 0.001%
Moore Mandy @TheMandyMoore Musician 2 258,107 0.001%
Jillette Penn @pennjillette Comedian 3 452,450 0.001%
Matthews Dave @DaveJMatthews Musician 3 505,054 0.001%
Barton Mischa @mischabarton Actor 0 1,463 0.000%
Griffin Kathy @kathygriffin Comedian 0 12,657 0.000%
Vila Bob @BobVilacom Celebrity 0 107,520 0.000%

Amongst the least dialoguey celebs are, yes, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Oprah and Larry King. Pat yourselves on the back, kids! The news commentator ranks the highest of the group, but even he is only following a mere 46 people out of the 123,000+ following him.

Interestingly, the person most open to the most inbound information is none other than Karl Rove. Whether you think he’s a wiley super-genius or Satan Reincarnate, the man is at least giving the appearance of doing the most listening. I’d say he’s up there in the Most Likely to Get Social Media camp.

In the meantime, his political antithesis, Al Gore, is following 7 people out of 664,000.

Musicians Yoko Ono and Björk are both following over 90% of those who follow them. Yet Mandy Moore and Dave Matthews follow 2 and 3 people, respectively.

In the news realm, CNN’s Rick Sanchez is following over 30,000 people. Talk about casting the net widely! But CNN’s own Anderson Cooper follows a paltry 22.

Finally, comedian Robin Williams is following over 1200 people. Yet comedienne Kathy Griffin, whom I find equally hilarious, has only posted two tweets and follows no one. Kathy, here’s your perfect focus group for jokes!

Your brand needs to listen, too

And I guess that segues into the punch line for my post: like these celebs, you need to listen to your audiences—your market—if you want to understand social media: how it works, the advantages, the disadvantages, and the power it provides. Not power to blast your one-way message to waiting millions, but the knowledge, connections, conversation and feedback it provides.

Because if all your brand is doing is barking on a street corner with a megaphone, you ignore the competitive advantage provided by engaging your market. You ignore market feedback, specific market needs, advice on what to avoid pursuing, and perhaps just some really good ideas. By not listening, you won’t really “get” the power of social tools.

You leave your social media “success” up to the power of your brand’s celebrity—or lack thereof. And you do so at your competitive peril.


Caveats

I’ve excluded Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and others where their tweets were clearly done by staffers. Britney Spears was included because her staff differentiates between her tweets and those of her manager/publicist. There are other minor celebrities, some of whom you may feel unnecessarily excluded, that I bypassed simply because I didn’t know much about them.

Obviously, also there is a human limit to the number of people you can follow before the resulting onslaught of information becomes unmanageable. So while MC Hammer and others may be following thousands, for them the Twitter experience is likely overwhelming on a good day, repulsive on a bad one. A high following ratio shows openness, not necessarily actual listening. I get that.

Finally, I didn’t link many of the Twitter handles because I simply didn’t have time. I think you can manage.

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