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AP Photo/Matt Rourke
“Hello, is this Twitter?”

Trump may wield far greater social media influence than even his huge following suggests

By Janet Guyon

In January, a Forbes contributor took apart US president Donald Trump’s Twitter following, writing that his social media power was far smaller than it appeared, based on his then 20 million followers. Trump really had only 360,000 followers who showed “a high level of engagement” and only about 3 million were in the US, making his ability to influence the electorate via Twitter far less powerful than previously imagined.

The data cited came from analytics firm Affinio, which “uses machine learning to identify clusters of common traits and interests within a data set,” Forbes said. According to its website, Affinio, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was spun out of research lab that applied data analysis to a host of problems facing companies trying to connect with their consumers.

To understand how Trump’s following stacks up against that of others, such as “fake news” CNN, Quartz asked Affinio to perform the same analysis on the Twitter followings of five other people and organizations using the platform to broadcast messages to the public. Affinio looked at data gathered between the end of December 2016 and the end of January 2017. It turns out, that no one, not even Katy Perry, who is No.1 on Twitter with 96 million followers, has a large, active cadre of people engaged on the platform.

Affinio analyzes followers by first identifying how many are in the US. The firm gets this number by counting followers who self-identify as being in the US—it can’t tell if you’re in the US if you don’t tell Twitter that. It then breaks that number down into “lurkers,” or people who post to Twitter less than 15 times a month, and active users, or those who post more than 15 times a month. It’s this latter category that Forbes cited when it said Trump had only 360,000 active Twitter followers.

By that measurement, however, Trump has more active followers than CNN Breaking News, Katy Perry, the NFL, and even Bill Gates. Trump had 25 million Twitter followers as of Feb. 25—fewer overall than any of those groups except the NFL. About 85% of Trump’s followers are disengaged lurkers—which sounds high, until you find out that it’s a lower percentage than those following Katy Perry (93%), Bill Gates (91%), CNN (90%), or the NFL (90%). Which may help explain the passion of those Trump rallies.

Barack Obama has more overall active followers than Trump, with 610,072 to the current president’s 441,673. But he also has more overall followers: 85 million. So, at 12%, Obama’s active follower percentage is lower than Trump’s.

The takeaway? Trump may well wield far greater relative social media influence than his gross following suggests.

Twitter account Active US users Total users
Barack Obama 610,072 85 million
Donald Trump 441,673 25 million
CNNbrk 334,359 46 million
Katy Perry 233,571 96 million
NFL 205,256 21 million
Bill Gates 176,488 33 million
Source: Affinio