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“Am I Influential?” – The many failures of Twitter influence

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(Photo Source: Salty Waffle)

“Am I influential?” is a question that obsesses us online. The popularity of engines like Klout that measure how many friends and followers we have, and spit out a number for influence that is less than Barack Obama’s but more than that guy from high school, show how desperate we are to measure our personal social media power. (Klout recently told me that I “look like someone who knows a lot about restaurants” – I think it’s my glasses.)

But our current measure of Twitter influence by follower count and reach is all wrong. I’m going to try to demonstrate why.

(WARNING – as it turns out I might not be very influential, so you may want to stop reading now)

Let’s spell out the problem with examples from my colleagues, Alan Sexton and Shira Levy, and myself. Look at our reach, the conventional metric for measuring social media influence:

Handle

Followers*

Luke

@LukePartridge

385

Alan

@AlanSexton

352

Shira

@Shira123

139

*This is only followers with public accounts

Every time I tweet, there is a chance that 385 people will see it. That is 33 more than Alan and 246 more than Shira. So in terms of reach I am, by a whisker, the most influential on Twitter – and there we could leave it.

But being followed is no guarantee of influence. Why do we value followers? Followers are eyeballs, the number of people who could potentially see what you say. But realistically this is a blunt instrument to measure the chance of anyone seeing a post. This is why:

Handle

Our followers

Our followers are following

Our average follower follows

@LukePartridge

385

11,911,934

30,940

@AlanSexton

352

3,625,096

10,298

@Shira123

139

665,384

4,786

 

While I may have thirty more followers than Alan, they each, on average, follow three times more people.

The chance of any one of my followers seeing my tweet is much less.

To put an arbitrary number on it, it is estimated that the average account tweets 1.85 times a day. If we assume this is true of the people our followers are following…

 

Handle

 

Our followers

Tweets our average follower sees each day

Tweets our  average follower sees each minute

Time each tweet is  on top of our average follower’s feed

@LukePartridge

385

57,239

40

1.5 secs

@AlanSexton

352

19,052

13

4.5 secs

@Shira123

139

8,855

6

10 secs

 

… each minute my followers get 40 tweets in their stream; Shira’s get six. This is the value of a quality follower. Each of Shira’s (and Alan’s) followers is more likely to see their opinions than mine, because they will spend more time at the top of their feed.

So what does this do to influence? If we multiply how long the average tweet remains at the top by the number of followers we have, then we can see the total time our average tweet will spend on the top of all of our followers feeds combined.

Handle

Our followers

Total time our tweet is top of our follower’s streams

Luke

@LukePartridge

385

581 seconds

Alan

@AlanSexton

352

1,596 seconds

Shira

@Shira123

139

1,356 seconds

 

Every time I tweet, my words are on top of all of my followers’ feeds for a combined total of 581 seconds, or about 10 minutes. Despite both having fewer followers than me, Shira and Alan each have a window of more than 22 minutes every time they tweet.

With a good number of high quality followers, Alan is our ‘most influential,’ but through working with a small group of focused people, Shira is almost level. My terrible followers (sorry if you are one of them) leave me in last.

This is not a perfect measure of influence. For one, it does not account for activity, how likely followers are to retweet, or if followers actually spend any time on Twitter.

The real purpose is to prove a point about influence and follower numbers. A high number of followers is not the answer to ‘how can I be more influential online?’ Better followers might be.

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