Tweet counters: I can’t trust them

It’s nearly impossible to find out how many times a web page has been tweeted. At 11:45 Thursday night, I gathered these numbers to help explain what I mean.

Tweet button: 12

A Mashable blog post about was tweeted 12 times (as of 11:45 Thursday night). At least that’s what the official Twitter button widget said on the post itself.

Tweet button count for a Mashable post

Twitter search: 73

I clicked on that 12 button, which brought me to a Twitter search for tweets linking to that page … and I counted 73 tweets, not 12. 99

I randomly pulled up one of those tweets, and checked out the statistics provided by Scrolling down the page to “conversations” revealed 99 tweets, not 73 and certainly not 12.

BackType: 794

Armed with my BackType bookmarklet, I decided to go to a fairly unrelated source for some numbers. Oh no, the BackType page for that Mashable post, showed a whopping 794 tweets. That’s more than four times the tweets counted by, Twitter search, and the tweet button combined.

Tweetmeme: 898

When Twitter rolled out its own tweet button, they partnered with  Tweetmeme, creators of the old “retweet” button. I wanted to see what the veteran service had to say. The Tweetmeme search for that Mashable post found more tweets than any of the other methods: 898 tweets.


Yes, this is only one example, and a very non-scientific experiment. But I performed this little exercise because I see these discrepancies all the time, especially with popular posts/pages. Of course, one anecdote doesn’t prove that all counters are wrong, but with so many services disagreeing on one simple number, I simply can’t bring myself to trust any of them to be right. to the rescue?

One service might be able to provide the one tweet count to rule them all. Sometime this year, Twitter plans to wrap “all links shared on or third-party apps” within its own URL. It will become part of the Twitter infrastructure. If Twitter can aggregate the many different URLs that are used to share a single web page, then it will be able to provide an accurate count of tweets linking to that page.

Twitter will also track clicks on those links. If I were in there shoes, I would consider charging for those statistics. Will Twitter charge for statistics?

Every link shared via Twitter will start with by the end of this year. That was the gist of one part of an email from Twitter last night. The most important thing for businesses to note is that, with that change, Twitter will start tracking every time a tweeted link is clicked — no matter what shortener, web site, app or client is used to write or read the tweet. Twitter will finally have an accurate way to measure …

  • CLICKS: Using a traditional web analytics program to count the number of times sends traffic to a site, is a gross underestimate of Twitter referrals, because so many people click on tweeted links from applications and web sites other than the official Twitter site. Twitter will process and wrap every link — even links that have already been shortened — within it’s shortener, so they can count every time a link is clicked.
  • IMPRESSIONS: All Twitter applications use the Twitter API, so Twitter knows every time a tweet (and the links within a tweet) is requested. They can’t verify that each request  ends up in the tweet being displayed, but this is the best estimation of impressions, the number of times a tweet is shown.
  • CTR! Since Twitter will have a the number of impressions and the number clicks, they can dived and deliver a fairly accurate clickthrough rate. CTR is used to measure the success of many online ad campaigns.

That kind of information can help shape and measure the return on investment for companies using social media to drive traffic. This is unique information that, if used wisely, can boost an organization’s bottom line. That sounds like the kind of online content for which the Wall Street Journal is able to charge.

What do you think?

Will Twitter start providing these numbers for free, or are they creating the foundation for a new stream of revenue?

Google helps Twitter in new emails

If you get an email from Twitter every time someone starts following you, congratulation! You’ve probably already joined campaign “twitter20080331162631.”

Last week, Twitter changed their email notifications to include a Twitterer’s avatar and number of friends, followers and updates.

New follower email

But another change wasn’t immediately visible to the naked eye. Each link is now tracked by Google Analytics.

What’s being tracked?

The link labeled “their profile” brings you to L.A. LIVE’s Twitter page and sends this information to Google:

  • You clicked because of a follow notification.
  • You received the notification via email.
  • The email was part of a campaign called twitter20080331162631.

Check out Justin Cutroni’s blog post to learn about campaigns and Google Analytics.


I don’t know exactly what twitter20080331162631 is all about, but the numeric part resembles a date and time in ISO 8601 format. If that hunch is right, the campaign is tied to March 31, 2008 at 9:26:31 am (PDT). Digging through the Twitter blog archives didn’t reveal what happened in Twitter history on that date. If you’re an amateur Twistorian, please share your knowledge in the comments below.


Linked to from this post:

Retweetist and a new Twitter metric: RTPMF

RT me t-shirtRetweetist recently added a feature that begins to measures what I consider the “viral strength” of a Twitter user. (Read this if you don’t know what a retweet is.)

Go to, type a Twitter username in the box on the right and hit the “go” button.

Near the top of the page, you will see a number labeled “RT / 1,000 followers,” or what I call the RTPMF, following the CPM nomenclature from web advertising.

For example, @problogger Darren Rowse was retweeted 527 times in the last 7 days. Retweetist divides that number by 56.145 (Rowse’s followers in thousands) to come up with a 9.4 RTPMF.

Retweetist summary of @problogger

For masses without masses

There have been other sites that trackt RTs. Retweetrank, for example, ranks Twitter users by the raw number of times they are retweeted. As one might expect, celebrities and social media superstars frequently top it’s leaderboard.

What’s different about Retweetist’s RTPMF is that it is useful for Twitter users with small followings. If you have 531 followers and have been retweeted 5 times in the last week, your RTPMF is 9.4 — your tweets appeal to your friends just as much as Darren Rowse tweets appeals to his following.

More to consider

RTPMF is just part of an equation to measure viral strength on Twitter. Other numbers that need to be factored in:

  • Number of tweets posted be the user (fewer tweets suggest more powerful tweets)
  • Number of unique users who retweeted a single post (diversity suggest a stronger network of retweeters)
  • Number of non-followers who retweeted a post (non-follower RTs suggest a broader appeal)

What numbers do you use to measure the effectiveness of your tweets? What tools do you use to make those measurements?

Retweet links