The ranking of the top 100 most followed Twitter users is monopolized by singers, actors and other celebrities. This can offer a simplistic picture of this tool. We must keep in mind that people follow more than one account and, therefore, the reasons why we follow whom we follow (and the reasons why we use Twitter) are diverse.

Most people follow one or more celebrity accounts (which makes them appear in the top 100), but they also follow many other accounts that do not match this profile and have a lower number of followers.

The Table 1 shows the number of Top 100 most followed Twitter users in accordance with the category to which they belong. We can identify three main groups: celebrities, social networking sites and news and information portals.

Table 1. Top 100 of Most followed Twitter users, by category
Source: http://twitaholic.com (April 2, 2012)

Based on these results and on the analysis of other minority profiles, we obtain four types of motivations that explain why we follow whom we follow. Obviously, these four motivations are ideal types that do not take place isolated, but combined.

1. Fan Phenomenon

This is typical of people who follow singers, actors or celebrities. Likewise it has always been common to have the poster of our favorite singer, in the XXI century we are his/her followers on Twitter. Being a fan of someone means that we have or do anything related to him or her. Twitter is another way to show our admiration.

2. Information Alert System

This is the case of those who follow news portals, newspapers, television, government, etc. We follow these accounts because we want to keep up with the latest news. Thus, a company could follow the government to know when a new regulation is released, or a person could follow the weather service to know the tornados forecast. We could also want to follow the MTV to get the latest news about singers or concerts.

3. Common interests

In this fourth type of motivation, people follow an account because they share common interests and they think that the published information is interesting. Within this type we can find bloggers, magazines or specialized portals, for example.

The owners of these accounts are not always content creators. On Twitter, as I explained in a previous post, there are content creators, but we can also find “expert followers” whose ability is to know who are the best content creators.

4. Courtesy

Finally, it may happen that we follow someone who we know because he or she has an account on Twitter and it would be impolite not to follow them. In other words, it would be like running into an acquaintance and not say hello. Within this group there are family, friends, colleagues, groups we belong to, etc. This doesn’t means, obviously, that we are expected to follow all our acquaintances.

Of the four motivations, the most interesting one is, undoubtedly, the Courtesy. It is fascinating how a social norm from “the street” has been extended to the field of online social networks. Without any doubt, this norm has suffered some adaptations in its new environment, but it can be considered as positive evidence that the behavior of people on the Internet can be a valid object of sociological analysis.