The power of suggestion

On Friday last week Twitter added a collection of non-profit accounts to their Suggested Users list, seeming to focus on social entrepreneurship, including both organizations and individuals. These new Suggested Users included:

This was met with general acclaim in the non-profit blogosphere. Nathaniel Whittemore,'s Social Entrepreneurship blogger, went so far as to suggest that a listing could be worth $1 million.

On Tuesday a second set of non-profits were added to the list, this time including @AshokaTweets, which I run, and Ashoka's @Changemakers. Since then we've added over 10,000 new followers each.

The rate of increase really is quite amazing. I had worked diligently since January building an engaged community of 6,500,  sustained participation leading to consistent, organic growth. When I realized what was happening by Wednesday late morning we where already over 10,000. As of this writing, late Thursday evening, we have passed 17,000.

This gives rise to several thoughts.

As exciting as the growing count is these new followers are clearly less valuable in purely business terms than those who found us because they are overtly interested in Ashoka, social entrepreneurship, or social change. These original followers are self-consciously interested in what we have to say, and a decent number of them will check out articles or vote in competitions on our suggestion. In other words, they're engaged.

These new followers, on the other hand, have agreed to kick off their twitter experience by following a wildly diverse group of 300ish Suggestions Users, including a preponderance of celebrities and sports people but also twitter developers, journalists and newspapers, blogs and bloggers, online and offline businesses, business and social entrepreneurs. They may or may not be interested in what we have to say, they haven't consciously chosen to follow us, they just want to be following someone, and Twitters suggestions will do.

Equally, this group of new users are probably those mostly likely to quite twitter quickly. In February it was reported that 60% of twitter users quit within a month. As many as a third who get so far as to send a tweet never make it to their second. People who join twitter without a clear idea of what they want to get out of it, what sort of information they want to plug into, are probably those most likely to quit. So it seems inevitable that we will end up with many thousands of abandoned accounts padding our follower count.

But this is all really besides the point. Regardless of how many of our followers are no longer checking twitter there will be many, hopefully more, who are. And even if the majority of new followers are not currently focused on social entrepreneurship, some will be, and some will discover a new interest or passion.

This, indeed, is the ultimate opportunity for a citizen sector organization of placement on the Suggested Users list. Non-profits are always discussing how we can stop "preaching to the converted" and escape our silo. Well here's the chance, tens of thousands of people who don't yet know about your organization or cause but who, with good messaging and sustained effort, can be inspired to be your next generation of supporters, new members of your movement, the boost you need to reach a tipping point of awareness around an issue. In other words it is the fact that they didn't go looking for us that gives these new connections a different, and unique, value.

Ashoka's mission is to create an Everyone a Changemaker world, a world where everyone has the support and skills to create change in their community. Such a mission requires that we seek out opportunities to reach a wider audience and being added to the twitter Suggested Users list is an amazing opportunity to speak to larger, wider, more diverse audience and inspire them to imagine the future they would like to create, and then to take action to bring it about.

Thanks twitter!