X RESEARCH: Your real X, formerly Twitter, follower numbers are lower than you think

We need to talk about the fact that your X, formerly Twitter, follower numbers may not give an accurate picture.

Many public sector organisations saw a rise in follower numbers during COVID.

But since this high watermark how much does this properly represent your audience today? 

Accurate UK figures are not available yet and it’ll be interesting to see Ofcom data when it emerges. But there is reporting that global X, formerly Twitter use has fallen by 11.6 per cent in one estimate with a 14 per cent drop in another.

So. I thought I’d run a snapshot using the Fedica tool I use in social media reviews. 

I chose five organisations from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and counted inactive and accounts that hadn’t posted for six months or more. 

Overall? A total of 55.0 per cent of accounts hadn’t been active for more than six months.

Here’s how they panned out across local government, NHS, police and fire & rescue.

I’ve anonymised the account names so as not to point a finger.

Local government

Overall, 53.5 per cent were inactive over six months. A Scottish city council with more than 200,000 followers led the table with 63.5 per cent inactive. Working through the list, a London unitary with just 39.2 per cent inactive was the lowest figure.

Overall, the five councils had a combined 300,000 with half of those no longer being active users.

NHS accounts

For these, I looked at corporate accounts as well as NHS sub-accounts which belonged to a team within an organisation.

The overall result was 48.1 per cent inactive with the highest inactive rate 54.3 per cent belonging to a Welsh hospital trust. The lowest was a Northern English integrated care board with 27.3 per cent. Given that integrated care boards have only become formal entities in 2022 this is understandable.

Follower numbers ranged from 1,200 for a northern English integrated health board to 93,200 for a UK-wide organisation.  

The Northern Ireland account is a regional account that covers NHS and social care. 


Police corporate accounts have big overall numbers and are long established.

A Welsh police force recorded the highest disengagement rate at 67.4 per cent of followers with a northern English police force 66.9 per cent and a community account that covers an area of Northern Ireland 58.3 per cent.  

Almost 700,000 have followed the five accounts with four force corporate accounts and one police city account.

Around two thirds of all police accounts looked at had a disengaged audience. 

Fire and rescue

For fire and rescue, long established accounts have high levels of disengagement.

Of the five fire and rescue corporate accounts, there is an average of 30,000 followers per account with an average of 56 per cent no longer using X, formerly Twitter. 

The largest is a northern fire and rescue service with 59.1 per cent with a Welsh service at 51.0 per cent.


So, what to make of this. 

The public sector first started to use Twitter in 2008 with most accounts being created across a four year window. The headline numbers do not represent the current potential users in 2023.

With half of users straying away from the application the question to ask is whether or not the platform should be used. It’s a reasonable question to ask. For me, there isn’t an overall answer. It depends on your audience. 

The audience for X, formerly Twitter, has historically been strong amongst journalists and if this remains the case there is an argument for using it as a distribution channel. Not only that but it has been a go to channel in an emergency such as the London Bridge attacks in 2017.

The jury is out on the role the channel will be playing in an emergency. The reach has been limited by Elon Musk so you’ll see fewer tweets.  As you’ll see fewer tweets that can only limit the effectiveness of it as a channel. 

Your own use of the channel is something you need to actively consider.

Of course, all social media channels may have an element of dormant accounts.

The Fedica tool is useful but needs a subscription. However, one thing you can do to see how effective your X, formerly Twitter, account is performing judged by Adobe’s own social media engagement research. An engagement rate of 1 per cent is classed as ‘good’ on the channel.

Are you getting more than 1 per cent engagement with your content?

I carry out social media reviews for organisations. You can find out more here

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