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How to measure influence on Twitter

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A lot of people are trying to integrate Twitter into their marketing efforts or political campaigns. But the question arises, what is the best strategy for using Twitter to influence people to buy your product or service, or vote for your candidate? The conventional wisdom about Twitter has been that the more followers a person has, the greater that person’s influence. This belief has been so entrenched that some companies reportedly pay $5,000 to $10,000 to people with large followings (50,000 followers or more) for each tweet that contains a link to the advertiser’s website (pay-per-tweet). But now there’s a new study that says a large following does not equate to large influence. Meeyoung Cha headed a team at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems that studied 2 billion follow links among the 54 million Twitter users (“Tweeple” in Twitter parlance). The result is a study called “The Million Follower Fallacy.”

Cha, when interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, explained the motivation for her research:

“There’s a lot of focus on Twitter’s follower count. Many think that having many followers will make their tweets spread more quickly and widely in the network. They try to increase their followers to increase their influence. Further, there are advertising companies that offer users tips on how to increase their follower count and they pay popular users with a lot of followers to insert ads in their tweets. We sought to investigate this hype in a more rigorous way.”

What Cha found was that simply having a large number of followers did not correlate with those followers passing on a person’s tweets (“retweets”) or mentioning the person in their own tweets (“mentions”).

If number of followers does not correlate with influence on Twitter, what does? There are a number of free tools that purport to measure influence on Twitter. I decided to try out three of them to see how they worked.

I have two Twitter accounts: one is @evansmichaelj, which I use to Tweet about law, social media, Apple products, consumer issues, and things that make me laugh. I have another Twitter account (@BPOilNews) which I started using a couple of weeks ago to share information about the Gulf oil spill. I obtained reports on both accounts from three popular Twitter influence tools. The results show that the tools give very different perspectives on Twitter influence.

Retweetrank uses only one metric to measure influence: the number of times your tweets are retweeted. My BPOilNews account had a Retweet rank of 902 – approximately 99.94 percentile. I was amazed to see that I beat out CNN”s Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper), who had a Retweet rank of 912. My evansmichaelj account didn’t fare as well, coming in with a Retweet rank of 8,370 – approximately 99.48 percentile.

TwitterGrader looks at a variety of factors, including your number of followers, power of your followers, and your level of engagement with the community. TwitterGrader doesn’t really define “power of your followers,” so it’s hard to know exactly what it means. BPOilNews was ranked 832,533 out of the 6,978,622 users in the TwitterGrader database. This translated to a grade of 88 out of 100. My evansmichaelj account got a rank of 533,847 out of 6,978,627. This equaled a grade of 92 out of 100.

Klout uses a complicated formula to determine “a numerical representation of the size and strength of a person’s sphere of influence on Twitter.” Klout ranks influence on a scale of 1-100. My BPOilNews account had a Klout score of 51. My evansmichaelj account got a Klout score of only 9 out of 100.

Conclusion: the new study by Cha’s group is a pretty clear statement that the number of followers is not the way to measure the influence of a person on Twitter. Cha said she plans further study to determine what factors are important. Until her next study comes out, there are a few tools that can give you a perspective on Twitter influence, but there is no one definitive tool that one can rely on.

Recommended reading for those interested in using Twitter for marketing or influencing the public:

Twitter is the New CNN

What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?

Tweeting: The New “Profession”

About Michael J. Evans

Michael J. Evans is a personal injury lawyer who represents people with claims involving defective medicine or medical devices, other defective products that cause serious injury or death, and environmental cases. Evans also handles whistleblower lawsuits in which employees, or former employees, expose fraud or other illegal conduct by the corporation for which they work(ed), Evans organizes litigation groups of plaintiffs law firms to work with him on these cases nationwide. Evans uses social media, blogs, online video, mobile apps and traditional media to connect with clients, and help other prominent law firms connect with clients.. Evans is also an advocate for the rights of consumers. His primary areas of legal practice are mass torts, and advising law firms on the ethical rules and law governing legal marketing via the Internet and social media.

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