“Am I Influential?” A Formula Revisited

My colleague, Luke Partridge, recently posted an entry on this site proposing a new way to measure “Twitter influence.”  A lot of people liked it and some even retweeted it.

Luke warns that to gauge a person’s social media power simply by the number of followers he or she has is all wrong. My colleague is right about that.

There are plenty of ways of boosting your number of Twitter followers. Some are legitimate and others are completely bogus. You can be active, engaging and interesting and build up a following. You can follow tens of thousands of other Twitter users and hope some will follow you back. Or you can take the lowest of low roads and simply pay a company to create bogus bot followers for you.

Luke proposes a new approach of gauging influence by determining the total amount time your tweet might be in front of someone else’s eyeballs. By my colleague’s back-of-the-envelope formula, this total time is reached by, first, estimating how long the average tweet spends at the top of an average follower’s stream and, second, multiplying it by one’s number of followers. This all seems to make sense as a shorthand approach to pegging a Twitter user’s influence.

But Luke’s model goes haywire for one simple reason. There are many Twitter accounts set up to follow many hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of other Twitter accounts. Luke has a good number of these gluttonous and no doubt artificial followers. These titanic trawlers push the “average” number of accounts Luke’s followers are following to 30,940 – an absurd number. With these inflated numbers, the “average” amount of time an “average” user would be able to see one of Luke’s witty and urbane tweets would be mere seconds.

Where my friend’s influence formula goes wrong is in its reliance on averages. Remember the statistician’s joke about the night Bill Gates walked into a Seattle bar and the average net worth went from $109,000 to $3 billion?  It would be better to use the median in the Bill Gates joke and in Luke’s formula. One billionaire stepping up to the bar doesn’t make any other barfly a penny richer. Adding one megabot follower on Twitter doesn’t mean that your 373 other followers will have one second less to read your tweets.

Luke, with his 374 followers, concludes that he may not be all that influential. But he’s much too hard on himself.  Most of the people who follow Luke on Twitter are genuine Grade A people with powerful brains, nifty wardrobes and discerning tastes. I would be happy to welcome them, any of the real ones that is, to follow me, because I know that expanding your influence is a cumulative process. And better and more followers – followers one earns – are, indeed, what make you more influential.

Recent Posts

July 31, 2020

The GSG QuaranTEAM: Angela Cervera-Vincenzo & Josiah Hernandez

July 24, 2020

The GSG QuaranTEAM: Luke Partridge & Marc Litvinoff

July 15, 2020

Online Activism Has Increased During Pandemic

May 29, 2020

The GSG QuaranTEAM: Alex Ivey & Emily Williams