March 28, 2009

Britney Spears Passes Obama for Most Followed Human on Twitter

This evening, around 8:25 p.m. Pacific Time, pop star Britney Spears passed President Barack Obama for the most popular Twitter account representing an individual (Both trail CNN Breaking News). While Spears joined Twitter relatively recently, only 6 months ago, to Obama's more than two years ago, the diva and those who help manage her online presence have shot to the top of the rankings, as Twitter has moved out of the geek sphere and into the mainstream. Not surprisingly, she and Obama are trailed by other "real world" celebrities like Ashton Kutcher (#4 overall), Jimmy Fallon (#6) and Shaquille O'Neal (#7).

As of 8:25 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, @britneyspears topped @barackobama.

Both Spears and Obama have more than 620,000 followers as of tonight, following Britney's passing of Barack.

Note: Previous reports from sites like WeFollow, TwitterHolic and TwitterCounter were incorrect, as Obama's following statistics were undercounted by almost 50,000, stuck at 571,885 for some reason. (See some premature notes of Spears passing Obama on Twitter Search and a tweet by someecards to that effect.)

@someecards was premature, but on target.

Earlier this week, sparked by a New York Times story, Spears' account, as well as others, were highlighted as being operated by "ghost writers" - sparking outrage from some corners of the Web who thought they were authentic. Guy Kawasaki, who admitted to letting others tweet on his behalf, said he managed all direct messages and replies, while others were able to post links. But Spears' account was never really a secret - offering some transparency to the process. In December, you can recall an interview by Jesse Stay with Lauren Kozak, her social media director, that discussed how the account operated.

As she said then:
"Yes, we do get Twitters directly from Britney. We also get Twitters directly from Britney's Entourage. We provide announcement and tour information. We also have messages which are designed to drive traffic around Britney Spears' properties when we have something cool go on."
Ghost writers or not, the account has gained significant visibility and popularity - despite only adding a tweet about once a day. Of course, in contrast, Obama has only posted an update once since his swearing in on January 20th.

As Twitter grows, you can see the growth in the pair's audiences. Refreshing either's page will show a few dozen followers joining each minute, though Britney is increasing hers at a more dramatic rate.

The Spears and Obama teams operate differently when it comes to Twitter, not just in terms of frequency of their updates, but in how they follow back. Obama's account follows more than half a million, with 60,000 or so not being followed, for whatever reason. Spears' account, in comparison, follows fewer than 80,000. Of course, it doesn't exactly seem possible that either user, or their handlers, is really paying attention to the updates from fans - as the numbers are astronomical, and they probably have other priorities.

It's not clear if Britney can maintain the top spot for long. Kutcher joined Twitter in January, and his account is rapidly gaining, showing more than 583,000 followers as of 7:30 Pacific time this evening. At the current pace, it may be he, and not Britney, who tops the followers chart.

Ashton is Looking to Pass Britney Soon

Oh... and for the record, I don't follow any of these accounts, so my own data did not contribute.