Blinding Me With Science

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Conventional wisdom holds that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” so we have metrics to help us manage our businesses.

And then there are Twitter-related metrics.

Meeyoung Cha from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems looked at data from all 52 million Twitter accounts and determined that:

“The number of followers a Tweeter has is largely meaningless. Popular users who have a high number of followers are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions,” she said. The more interesting question is how should one measure influence, she continues. Unfortunately there is no one easy answer to that, she says. “One would have to take a combination of many metrics, including follower count, mentions, and re-tweets. However the hard part is figuring out the relative importance of the component metrics.”

Cha is spot on that follower count isn’t important. But she’s wrong when she says that the hard part of measuring influence is “figuring out the relative importance of the component metrics.”

The hard part is figuring out what influence is. When you figure that out, then you can start arguing about how to measure it.

Social media analytics firm Sysomos conveniently avoids defining what influence is, and has developed a metric it calls the authority ranking: A score between 0 to 10 – with 10 signifying someone with very high reach and influence.

Social media “heavyweights” Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang have an average follower authority (an “AFA” if you want to sound cool) of 4.0 while Jason Falls’ AFA is 4.8, and Scott Stratten’s is 4.6.

I guess we’re to conclude that Jason and Scott are more influential than Chris and Jeremiah.

If they want to raise their AFA, Chris and Jeremiah can cull through their list of followers (139k for Chris, 65k for Jeremiah) and block those with a low AFA. And then, going forward, only allow people with a high AFA to follow them.  I can’t think of a bigger waste of time, or stupider thing to do.

I could be off-base here, but to me, influence is about shaping how people think and/or act, wouldn’t you agree?

If you do, then how in the world can you measure influence simply by looking at follower count or follower’s follower count, retweeting activity, or mentions? What does any of that have to with influence?

Answer: NOTHING. Those “metrics” have nothing to do with influence.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve DMed someone who has tweeted a link and asked “You believe that load of crap?” only to receive the reply “oh, I don’t believe it — I was just passing on the link.” If they don’t believe it, then they really weren’t influenced, were they? Nor are they being influential, because, apparently, they’re not trying to shape anyone’s thoughts or behaviors.

Most of these Twitter metrics are just pseudo-scientific stabs at establishing a system for score-keeping.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that you stop bragging about your follower count, influence ranking, or AFA score. Anything that helps you deal with your personal insecurities is OK in my book. But don’t try to blind me with your science. It’s not working.

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