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?