On Twitter, Influence Is More Than Just a Numbers Game

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Recently a friend commented that Twitter wasn’t as effective as it used to be. It’s not doing as good a job driving sustainable traffic to his websites, with potential readers often visiting briefly, never to return again. Twitter’s signal to noise ratio had been weakened as there’s been a trend towards amassing followers just for the sake of numbers.  He thought that this dated back to the Ashton Kutcher versus CNN race to 1 million followers last year. As with any tracking system, blindly chasing one metric rarely yields sufficient insight to drive your business

Examine the Ashton Kutcher versus CNN race and you’ll see that it was largely about the competition. Neither Kutcher nor CNN cared about their followers as individuals or involved their brand using Twitter as a social media platform might. Their follower race was a numbers game that yielded the following three benefits:

  1. Built buzz about their race to one million followers.
  2. Provided a basis for content development. As a 24/7 news show, CNN has a lot of time to fill with information.
  3. Created another broadcast option to reach potential viewers with one-way communications. This is important for both a Hollywood star and a cable television network.

The Kutcher-CNN competition for followers neglected Twitter’s effectiveness as a social media platform.  Twitter’s strength for marketers and business entities in general is:

  1. Enables two-way and multi-directional communications. Twitter works best when people can engage with each other.
  2. Provides useful, inspiring information and tidbits that help others, not just promote your brand.
  3. Acts as another entry point to connect with similar minded people and organizations.

New research from HP shows that the best indicators of influence aren’t the number of followers you have but rather the number of followers you have combined with your I/P ratio or the number of influencers to passive users who follow you. Intuitively, this makes sense in light of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. Here are HP’s definitions:

  • Passivity is a measure of how difficult it is for other users to influence him or her
  • Influence depends on both the quantity and quality of the user’s audience

In case you’re motivated to follow them, here are the most influential Twitter accounts based on HP’s research. Interestingly, most accounts on the list are media sites (Note: I consider Google a media site.) For a more graphic rendering of the results of the HP research, click here.

Coincidentally, another colleague who works for a major financial institution, mentioned that it took her company a long time to get 1,000 followers on Twitter. I wasn’t surprised by this observation since many firms, especially highly regulated ones, tend to use social media platforms to broadcast rather than have a conversation. Here are my three questions to help you improve your Twitter strategy:

  1. What are you giving to your followers? Are you just putting out additional marketing-speak via another channel?
  2. Do you give prospective followers a reason to pay attention to your tweets? Remember that WII-FM (What’s in it for me) is by far the most listened to station.
  3. Are you talking at followers or with them? In other words, are you having a conversation or just broadcasting?

As HP’s research showed, followers by themselves aren’t sufficient to enhance your message. In addition to the I/P ratio, here are three other factors I suggest examining to determine the impact of your Twitter strategy.

  1. Retweets. Are your followers sharing your tweets with their networks? This translates into expanded reach.
  2. Engagement. Are your followers commenting on the content that you tweet? Are people clicking through on your URLs? Can you get interaction on your website, blog, etc.?
  3. Sentiment. What is the emotional content of the dialog about your firm? Is it positive or negative? Are you taking action when it’s negative? Remember, this may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of customer sentiment.

Remember, on Twitter, as with any social media platform, it’s not about you. It’s about your followers and your interactions with them.

What do you think? Which indicators do you track on Twitter?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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