Measuring success in Twitter: Influence vs. Participation
I was reading a post recently outlining a somewhat incomplete attempt to measure something called “Influence” as a measure of success in Twitter. Being a champion for complicated and easily misunderstood metrics based on cognitive and behavioral psychology I was immediately drawn to the article but walked away unsatisfied … that is, until I found Twinfluence.
Twinfluence is this nifty little Twitter tool that lets you explore a Twitterer’s “influence” based on their reach (size of their network and second-level network), velocity, social capital, and centralization (see the explanation page at Twinfluence for the details behind each.) For example, here are some of the people I follow in Twitter analyzed by Twinfluence rank:
- Rank #19: Jeremiah Owyang (jowyang) from Forrester Research
- Rank #660: Bryan Eisenberg (thegrok) from Future Now, Inc.
- Rank #2,893: Marshall Sponder (webmetricsguru) from Monster.com
- Rank #3,577: Avinash Kaushik (avinashkaushik) from Google Analytics
- Rank #6,124: Anil Batra (anilbatra) from ZeroDash1
- Rank #7,195: Aaron Gray (agray) from WebTrends
- Rank #7,591: Jim Sterne (jimsterne) from Emetrics
- Rank #11,209: Omniture (omniture) from, yep, Omniture
- Rank #11,786: Dennis Mortensen (dennismortensen) from Yahoo! Web Analytics
- Rank #11,940: Nick Arnett (nick_arnett) a social media blogger
Whee, what fun! I could Twinfluence my friends and folks I follow all night and day if only client work, my family, and copious powdery snow didn’t get in the way. In case you were interested I have a rank of #5,754 based on my nearly 700 followers who are followed by over 375,000 other people and a very resilient social network.
However, after a little while I started thinking that measuring someone’s “influence” in Twitter was the wrong way to think about success in social media in general. Especially since people who have been dubbed “influential” and successful in the blogosphere have a tendency to think about their popularity in somewhat ridiculous ways … say perhaps stating publicly that they’re going to charge to re-tweet content because they want to buy expensive stuff?
Anyway, when I went down this path I immediately thought “Hey, the two things I spend the most time on in Twitter is trying to find great people to follow and trying to share interesting ideas.” To find great people I use Tweetdeck and to a lesser extent MrTweet to find folks who are having a conversation I’m interested in. To share interesting ideas I limit the majority of my updates to the sharing of links on web analytics related topics.
These combined efforts have helped me find and share ideas with hundreds of folks in Twitter interested in web analytics. So I started thinking “So perhaps the true measure of success in Twitter is being as good a listener as you are a source of information!” Being a balanced participant in your efforts, not just a “social media rock star” who spends all their time talking at people, not to them …
Of course this line of thinking let me to Dave Donaldson’s Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio (or the Twitter Ratio for short.) The Twitter Ratio is dead simple: the number of followers you have divided by the number of people you follow — the perfect Twitter key performance indicator! Dave even provides benchmarks against which we can be measured:
- A ratio of less than 1.0 indicates that you are seeking knowledge (and Twitter Friends), but not getting much Twitter Love in return.
- A ratio of around 1.0 means you are respected among your peers. Either that or you follow your Mom and she follows you.
- A ratio of 2.0 or above shows that you are a popular person and people want to hear what you have to say. You might be a thought leader in your community.
- A ratio 10 or higher indicates that you’re either a Rock Star in your field or you are an elitist and you cannot be bothered by Twitter’s mindless chatter. You like to hear yourself talk. Luckily others like to hear you talk, too. You may be an ass.
(The emphasis on that last sentence is mine … I laughed out loud when I read that!)
I think Dave’s Twitter Ratio of 10 or higher is the same thing as Perry Belcher’s “Twitter Snob” (funny YouTube video if you have 5 minutes.) Perry comments that if your Twitter ratio is super high you may not be participating in “social media” but rather “solo media” — perfect! Perry’s point is why are you even in social media if you don’t have time to listen to the conversation?
If I apply the Twitter Ratio to all of the fine folks I analyzed still ranked using their Twinfluence score here is what we get:
- Jeremiah Owyang earns a score of 2.95 indicating that Jeremiah “may be a popular person” and “people want to hear what [Jeremiah] has to say” plus he “may be a thought leader in [his] community.” Sounds pretty much perfect to me, but I like Jeremiah.
- Bryan Eisenberg earns a score of 1.04 indicating that Bryan is “respected among [his] peers” (or that he follows his Mom and she follows him, but with 1,951 followers we can assume the former is the best explanation)
- Marshall Sponder earns a score of 2.30 which is pretty similar to Jeremiah’s score against his 851 followers.
- Avinash Kaushik earns a score of 105.5 indicating that Avinash is “either a Rock Star in [his] field or an elitist [who] cannot be bothered by Twitter’s mindless chatter” who “likes to hear [himself] talk” but “luckily others like to hear [him] talk too.”
- Anil Batra earns a score of 1.27 putting Anil in the same category with Bryan above although with only 266 followers his reach is somewhat lower than Bryan.
- Aaron Gray earns a score of 1.49 pushing Aaron more towards Jeremiah Owyang than Bryan Eisenberg, at least on Dave’s scale.
- Jim Sterne earns a score of 17.48 which is in the same “Rock Star” range as Avinash (although an order of magnitude less rock-starry than Google’s own analytics evangelist)
- Omniture earns a score of 1.26 indicating respect among the company’s 247 followers
- Dennis Mortensen earns a score of 13.85 showing that Dennis, like Jim and Avniash, is a true web analytics rock star!
- Nick Arnett earns a score of 0.58 which indicates that Nick is trying but alas, “not getting much Twitter love in return.”
My own score is 3.13 against 697 followers which I’m pretty happy about (especially the part about not “being an ass!”) Incidentally Perry Belcher’s Twitter Ratio is 0.98 … about as balanced as it gets! If you have 30 seconds you can go to Dave’s site and calculate your own Twitter Ratio.
What do you think?
Is “influence” the best measure of success in social media? Or should we pay closer attention to something like the Twitter Ratio as a measure of our likelihood to actively participate in the larger conversation? It’s not hard to imagine the Twitter Ratio combined with a measure of tenure or update velocity or even something like influence to come up with a system to help us better discover which members of Twitter are providing real and substantial value to the community.
I welcome your thoughts, comments, suggestions, and perhaps more selfishly, recommendations for great and interesting people to follow and tools to help with the discovery process.