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Everyone on Twitter has noticed that a key mention or link by an influential Twitter user can lead to a windfall of followers. But only a few users are lucky enough to get on Twitter's own Suggested Users list.

Making it to that coveted list can do wonders for a person's brand. According to Ben Lorica at O'Reilly Rader, a listing on the list grows a person's followers by an average of 53,000 followers a week after appearing.

And as The New York Times said this weekend: "In separating the wheat from the chaff, Twitter has become a kingmaker of sorts, conferring online stardom to a mix of writers, gadget geeks, political commentators and entrepreneurs."

The few who make it to the list are given many new followers and a sort of expert status. And while most individuals and companies using Twitter will not be so lucky, everyone on Twitter is working to achieve some piece of what the list manages to gift to the lucky few on it.

Is it list unfair? Basically. But it is not part of any dastardly plot on the part of Twitter. It was a stopgap measure by the company to prevent user dropoff that is a few months old. Many users sign up for Twitter and never actually use the service. So in January, Twitter started compiling a list of suggested users to get new Twitter subscribers started.

According to the New York Times:

“People were signing up and then they weren’t following anyone,” said Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders. Did he realize he was helping to create an arbiter of popularity? “We didn’t think that far ahead,” he said.

The Suggested Users list gets to Twitterers at their most vulnerable - when they have no tweets to read. Pulling out suggestions from the din of voices on the service helps new users understand the point of Twitter. Stone likens the list to "staff picks at your local bookstore," but that little table doesn't help sales the way that this does.

As Twitter's popularity has grown by leaps and bounds (1382% year-over-year), so has the effect of being on the list. According to sociologist Liz Pullen, the top 20 fastest growing Twitter accounts were all mentioned to on the list.

And while it's great to have followers, is your follower number on Twitter integral to the success of your business? Jason Calacanis thinks so. The Mahalo founder said that he would pay $250,000 to be on Twitter’s suggestion list for two years. He now says that offer was only “half-real,” but tells The New York Times he estimates the listing would garner him between 2 and 3 million Twitter followers, which would work out to be a bargain at 10 cents a follower.

The Shorty Awards served a similar purpose when they awarded the best producers of short content on Twitter in February. The honor helped people sift through the large number of users in the Twitterverse.

"I think it's all about influence," says Greg Galant, creator of the Shorty Awards. "The same way people want to be quoted in the paper or seen at a conference, they want to have influence and followers on Twitter."

While growing audience numbers on Twitter seems like a good strategy online, it is just one means of measuring influence.

But the reason that people are focusing attention in the space is because it has proven effective for more traditional methods of judging success. With Twitter users increasingly using their Twitter feed as an RSS reader, Twitter is beginning to affect the way that people read online. And many newsites are seeing their traffic increase from well placed links. For a news site like TechCrunch, Twitter accounts for 10% of traffic. TechCrunch writer Eric Schonfeld says that: "Retweets are becoming a new type of link currency."

It's not easy to get on Twitter's suggested users list. Even the company isn't exactly clear on the criteria. According to the Times:

"The list is cobbled together by a team of employees whose identities were withheld, lest they be bombarded with Twitterers trying to manipulate the process. The company says it compiles the list by tracking fast-growing accounts and then deciding whom to anoint."

The power of social media doesn't lie in numbers, it lies in influence. But if you can get followers in the hundreds of thousands, chances are that you'll get a few to click through to the places you want them to go.

Twitter's suggested users list has the potential to recreate personas in the Twitterverse, but it is just one method of sifting through the noise on Twitter, and more come out every day. If it proves to be a poor arbiter of "good Twitterers," it's usefulness will wane. But as the service grows, so are the number of people looking for useful tweets.

"So much of the value of a tweet is in the context and the immediacy." says Galant. "If you can identify the right content creators, then the tweets follow naturally."

Meghan Keane

Published 16 June, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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