Zero to Hero: Does increasing Twitter followers increase influence?

The HORROR!!!!  Because of some bug yesterday, Twitter follow/following numbers were at 0…for everyone.  Even Ashton Kutcher.  What?  No follow/following numbers?  How will we know who the “influentials” are if we don’t know who has millions of followers?  Well, its a good thing that a recent study by Meeyoung Cha of the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany (via Harvard Business Review) has officially proven that the number of Twitter followers an individual has is largely meaningless.  Whew!  We can all relax. Maybe.

Cha’s study discredits the notion that increasing followers increases influence.  And while counting followers is not necessarily a bad metric, it is not sufficient to capture influence.  Cha suggests that businesses should try to increase audience responsiveness, in the form of retweets and mentions, rather than just increasing the number of followers. I think influence is driven by trustworthiness, consistency, reciprocation, and technical expertise, not just by numbers as Cha suggests.  However, reach can be considered an important feature of influence as it enables the sender of information to have their message at least seen by a large number of people, and probably internalized and acted upon by some.

However, messages passed on within more strongly connected trusted networks have greater impact than those circulated through more dispersed communities.  So it’s give and take.  With a million followers, you have more people seeing your message, but have fewer guarantees they find value in it and be motivated to action.  But with 50 followers who you’ve shared a non-Internet based conversation with in your lifetime, you don’t have as many people seeing your message, but they are probably way more likely to trust and act on your recommendation or solicitation.

I’m torn on this debate.  How important is increasing Twitter followers to increasing influence?  Thoughts?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Zero to Hero: Does increasing Twitter followers increase influence?

  1. Jaime Abeja

    In Spain, a famous and very smart sport journalist with thousands of followers says that you should have more followers than ….tweets!. It’s a kinda original (and weird) ratio but I think it only works if you are a celebrity like he is. I only use Twitter since last January but IMHO, mouth to mouth is very useful there. My experience: I started following the journalist mentioned above (@ADaimiel), he “introduces” me another sport journalist (@maldinisport) who follows a meteorologist (@digitalmeteo) …Am I such nerd? maybe ;) but he is very accurate and reports permanently about the volcano ashes over Europe’s skies. Eventually, I found out that this guy has the same smart phone than me (HTC Magic with Android) and recommended a blog fan page which is totally awesome and I read everyday (@Elandroidelibre). With more or less influence, you can learn things just by following anyone who show you anything useful. The thing is How can you manage so many information? Creating lists, thought.

  2. Hey Ellie:

    I’m torn too with this. It is no shocker twitter is sometimes a numbers game and to see how many followers you can get, but you have to interact with them. It might be difficult for a company with 100,000 followers. But the company still has to display the trustworthiness, consistency, reciprocation mentioned from Cha’s study.

    I wish I had an answer to this dilemma. Maybe businesses can be more proactive than reactive by starting more conversations with their followers by sending @ replies or DM’s asking, “What do you think of our product?” They have to do it on a consistent basis, not just when it suits them. But that might mean increasing expenses and having multiple people running a twitter account. Tough question.

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