Dissecting Influence on Twitter: Understand It to Obtain It

Dissecting Influence on Twitter: Understand It to Obtain It

Marc Cowlin
27 August 2014
Want to get a better understanding of how to grow your influence on Twitter? (Yes, you.)

What is Influence – and Can it Be Measured?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, influence is defined as being “the power to change or affect someone or something, the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.” This idea of influence on social media has hooked marketing and public relations professionals, because the ability to reach a wide audience through a handful of influential individuals is extremely compelling – so much so that people have started devising ways to “measure” influence on Twitter.

The only problem with trying to measure influence is that, by its nature, influence isn’t something that can be measured. And creating our own variables by which we measure it might actually be doing more harm than good. Of course, a large number of followers, retweets and mentions will do much to create influence, but that is not the question we should be asking. Instead, we should be asking what influence means.

What is Real Influence on Twitter?

Recently, a reporter approached our firm with a series of questions regarding what we thought about influence on Twitter: who has it, how does one obtain it, how do you measure it, etc. One question he asked stood out among the rest: he was curious to see who held the most influence between companies selling a product, celebrities, politicians, or professionals who advocate a cause. It was an interesting angle to analyze, but I questioned the value of lumping together all of these potentially influential accounts.

Sure, it’s obvious that celebrities like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga with millions of followers receive an enormous level of engagement. And, yes, when Lady Gaga makes a comment on a pressing national issue, her tremendous influence is shown as media will showcase her tweets. But how well does this translate in measuring influence on Twitter? A high percentage of Lady Gaga’s followers do not follow her to hear her speak out on world affairs. They follow her because they are fans of her music. Other than knowing the number of retweets a tweet like this received, we have no way of knowing which of her users took away a legitimate concern and/or understanding of this – actual influence.  Similarly, Justin Bieber could tweet his endorsement of a political candidate (which would apparently crash every Twitter influence algorithm) – but how many of Justin’s 50 million followers are even old enough to vote? How many have a vested interest in politics? How many even take Justin’s comments seriously on politics? (Never mind that Justin is Canadian and can’t vote himself.)

So how does all this translate to the rest of us non-celebrities looking to gain followers and gain our own influence?

How to Gain Influence on Twitter (if you’re not Justin Bieber):

Ultimately, influence on Twitter is something that takes time and effort when you have not been lucky enough to land in the national spotlight offline (unless you were one of the lucky accounts first on the platform and the first to be included in Twitter’s suggested lists). Those who don’t have celebrity status need to put in the time – and it’s a lot of time – into establishing a valuable point of view on the topics and areas most important to it, engage with other users, create discussion and tweet relevant and unique content.

Establish a strong online presence and you will gain followers: play into trending topics and craft messages around timely subjects. Tweets have a relatively short life to be seen, so make each one count. Also, don’t forget the most important element when it comes to influence: don’t try to influence everyone. Tailor your content to a specific audience or industry. Those who shoot far and wide will often not connect with anyone. Growing your own influence will allow you to connect with these more influential Twitter users (make sure these people are the correct fit for your message and audience).

When it comes to your following, these people matter the most. A high number of followers will definitely increase influence and clout for your message, but that number isn’t everything. Certain Twitter accounts may have 200,000 or more followers, but how many of these people are actually engaging, responding, or retweeting? An easy way to test influence on an account is to ask a question and see how many followers respond. This will tell you how engaged followers are with the content you are putting out. Engaged followers are the most desired followers, because these are the people that will actively promote your product, champion your cause, or support you in the polls. A large following will mean your message is seen by a large audience, but how influential are you truly if you have 100,000 followers but nobody comments or engages with you?

Similar to the offline world, gaining influence on Twitter is hard earned and takes a tremendous amount of time and patience. Choosing a target audience and getting that audience to engage with you is crucial to increasing social media clout and influence in an online world. Create compelling content, engage with people, make connections and watch your influence grow.

Landen Zumwalt is a PR professional at Raffetto Herman Strategic Communications