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How Do You Measure Twitter Influence: Is It Worth Measuring?

Twitter FollowersSo  “How Do You Measure Twitter Influence?” .. Is it worth attempting to put a metric to?  This question is becoming more relevant and will continue to be increasingly important as the growth of Twitter climbs,the worldwide takeup continues to spread and its entanglement with other social media platforms.

“Twitter Influence” could become a powerful and significant part of your brand whether its a “personal brand” or a “corporate brand”. So measurement is open to interpretation and different views of Twitters importance also needs to be factored into the discussion. So here are some different takes on this.

Firstly Ross Dawson makes a comment on his blog post titled “Twitter follower numbers as a Proxy of Influence” that even though this measurement is flawed its really all we have at this point in time.

He says “One of the reasons Twitter is important is that it is introducing the concept of assessing people’s degree of influence. A person’s number of Twitter followers is increasingly being taken as a proxy for their influence. If the only thing you know about someone is that they have 5,000 Twitter followers (or 50), you can make some preliminary assumptions about their influence. Of course Twitter follower numbers is a hopelessly flawed measure for many, many reasons, and pretty much everyone knows that. However it’s often all you have.Relatively few people have blogs, and in the broader population not many people know about blog ranking engines such as Technorati and Wikio. Everyone understands that numbers of Facebook and LinkedIn friends don’t indicate much other than how inclined people are to connect online”.

So yes that is a simplistic measurement of Influence but a study on “Influence on Twitter” titled  The Influentials: New Approaches for Analyzing Influence on Twitter, created measures for relative influence, which gives a more in depth analysis of “Influence on Twitter” by tracking in detail 12 popular users, which included popular tweeters like Ashton Kutcher and top news sites such as CNN and Mashable. The study does attribute one element of  influence on Twitter to the number of  followers but goes further.

The study defines influence on Twitter as “the potential of an action of a user to initiate a further action by another user”. The term user is defined by Twitter’s platform.

So what are some elements that contribute to Influence on Twitter according to the Study?

1. The Number of Followers

A lot of the more popular measurement of influence and importance on Twitter is based upon the number of followers you have. This assumption makes sense if you assume that twitter is a “140 character” broadcast medium that is only delivering the message that you read in the “tweet” (not the links embedded in the message), in fact a lot of “tweeters” interact with the content on the platform. Comment: The content linked and embedded within the the 140 characters is a more important measurement then the raw quantity of followers.

2. Follower to Following Ratio ( 3 Types)

Type 1: Celebrity Type Ratio. If you have a high count of followers but few people you follow back the user account might be described as focusing on the material aspect of Twitter. By material, we mean a compulsion toward moving content to other users in the environment.

Type 2: Conversationalist. If the ratio approaches 1 (an equal or near-equal amount of followers and followees), the user might be categorized as a conversationalist. The user most likely follows back a majority of his followers, to retain familiarity with more personal conversations. Contrarily, the materialistic user aims to collect followers as contacts to whom the user may push content (who may then share the same content with other users)

Type 3: Spammer. If the ratio approaches zero (low follower total versus high followee total), we might categorize the user as a spammer. As an emergent behavior, the stereotypical spammer attempts to collect users with the intent to push content to as many people as possible after achieving a high follower tally. However, most contemporary users can spot the stereotypical behavior of a spammer or bot, resulting in the low follower total on the spammer’s account.

Note: So here type one and two are obviously the more influential than type 3, but the conversationalist with a ratio of 1 to 1 is perceived as more influential (and in the Hubspot grading system is treated as such)

3. The Ability to Create Actions is an important element of measuring “Twitter Influence”. This is part of the Twitter Infrastructure.   So what are 4 core actions on Twitter

  • The Reply: Example… @chrisbrogan Thanks for this. I’m new to twitter and it was really helpful
  • The Retweet: Example….  RT @aplusk great article thank U RT @Morgan_Johnston: this great article on health care by Whole Foods cofounder/CEO
  • The  Mention: In fact, a mention is similar to a reply, except a mention occurs at some point in the tweet other than at the beginning
    • This {content} @username ({content})
      Watching @BarackObama speak in Colorado on @CNN
  • Attribution: This where you attribute where the message or action came from
    • eg{content} via @username ({content})
      Fire at Kuwaiti wedding kills dozens, official media says http://bit.ly/wn95A (via @cnnbrk)

Note: Similar to the reply and the retweet, the mention and the attribution are categorized as actions because they too are applied by a user to a piece of content. So the distribution and promotion of content is an important part of influence as well as the conversations and follower count. So its not just the follower count and the follower ratio that is important but the response to the different actions as described above to the Tweets.

So the conclusions from the report:

  • Mashable is more influential than CNN.
  • Sockington is more influential than MCHammer, while MCHammer is more influential than three major social media analysts (garyvee, Scobleizer, and chrisbrogan).
  • Celebrities with higher follower totals (eg., THE_REAL_SHAQ and ijustine) foster more conversation than provide retweetable content.
  • News outlets, regardless of follower count, influence large amounts of followers to republish their content to other users.

So after looking at what constitutes “Influence on Twitter” what are some tools to measure influence or grade it.

One tool that seems to be increasingly accepted and used is the “Twitter Grader” app from Hubspot which has come up with the following measurements and rules it uses to grade twitterers with currently over 4.7 Million tweeters graded.

1. The Number of Followers: More followers leads to a higher Twitter Grade (all other things being equal).

2.  Power of Followers: If you have a high number of followers who themselves have a large number of followers then this means your “potential” retweet power can be significant.

3.  Updates: Updating more often generally leads to a higher grade according to their rules

4.  Update Recency: Users that are more current, have tweeted more recently. Google ranks recency as more important and relevant. (So this seems valid)

5.  Follower/Following Ratio: The higher the ratio, the better according to hubspot. (So does mean that “tweeters” that have a lot of followers but don’t follow back (like Oprah) are more powerful.. maybe?)

6.  Engagement: The more a given user’s tweets are being retweeted, the more times the user is being referenced or cited, the higher the twitter grade.  Further, the value of the engagement is higher based on who is being engaged.  If a user with a very high Twitter Grade retweets, it counts more.

So how does Hubspot do the ” Grade Calculation”?

The 6 factors go into the calculation of a score, then this score is then used to compare a user against all other users that also have a score. The grade is calculated as the approximate percentage of other users that have an equal or lower score.  So, a Twitter Grade of 80 means that about 80% of the other users got a lower score.

Note: Another element that could be added here, that I think is an important indicator is  the “website power” or blog power” of the person or corporate “Tweeter”, where the value of the content on those sites is taken into consideration. Also if you want to try some other tools to measure your “Twitter Influence and Reach” here is a link to “9 Tools to Measure your Twitter Influence and Reach”

So as Techcrunch says “Twitter keeps on growing like a weed, and there seems to be no stopping the much-hyped, heavily scrutinized Silicon Valley startup in its quest to turn its popular micro-sharing service into a veritable pulse of the planet. Twitter passed 50 million unique visitors worldwide in July, according to comScore, reaching 51.6 million UVs at the end of the month. Note that this traffic only accounts for members who are content with using the Twitter website, and doesn’t take into account the multitude of users who log on to third-party web services or desktop clients to access their Twitter streams”.

Its growing influence cannot be ignored with those sort of numbers. So do you think “Twitter Influence” is important? Would like to hear your thoughts.

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Good information, as always, Jeff. Thanks for sharing.

    Seems we’re in a transition phase at the moment. Lots of attention being dumped on The Tools and The Technology. The tools & technology are indeed fascinating; still, they’re only tools. A mechanic with a ton of tools is not necessarily better than a mechanic with a few.

    When I play golf, I deliberating leave some of my clubs at home. Why? Because I’m simply not good with some. There’s no point in me taking my #1 Driver (or any other wood, for that matter; I can’t hit any of them). Though my partners often culture when I take my 5 iron out to tee off on a 565 yard fairway, I do it anyway. I’ll let them power stroke their tee shot a long, long way past my drive. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction being able to actually see one’s ball in the fairway; searching for a long drive shot deep into the woods isn’t quite so much fun.

    Even then, the goal of the drive isn’t to get the ball into the fairway. The tee shot is only one aspect of the game. Getting the ball into that little cup is the key.

    Right now, much of the hubbub around social media leaves the ball lost in the woods while everyone says, “Did you see me hit that a mile?”

  • Good post Jeff. I have learned through experience that first impression when you see a Twitter account counts a lot towards its behavior. I’ve been toying around with the idea of turning off my “auto follow” and I believe I may have convinced myself to do just that. I did a little test where I found that when I leave auto-follow on, I may get higher number of followers but they are not as responsive as the ones who follow just for the shear value of the updates. More on the research here http://www.targetinfolabs.com/?p=508

  • andrewgrill

    Jeff – liked the post.

    The topic of social media metrics was discussed yesterday at the #ogilvysocial day – see http://bit.ly/headscratch which also talks about “Why are clients still scratching their heads about Social Media?”

    Andrew Grill

    ps – look after my old home town!

  • Thanks for this – very useful.

    As Trey said, this is about tools, but still they are tools which are aggregating the behaviour of lots of people, so they’re not just mechanical. I think tools like this are helpful to augment what you can already see about someone when you look at their latest tweets and profile.

  • Nice posting. But maybe you also can try to check “how influence are you on Twitter” using http://www.tweetlevel.edelman.com


  • Hi, Jeff –

    Thanks for sharing the cartoon! I’m glad you liked it.

    I’m happy to have people repost my cartoons, but I do ask that they keep the original credit on it and that they link back to my site. Would you mind replacing the image with the original, and linking it to http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/archive/2009-01-11-quittr/ ? And I realize it’s been a while, but if you remember where you found the version with the credit removed, could you let me know so I can make the same request of them?

    Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for the comment Rob. I cannot remember where I found it and happily will link and attribute to you. Thanks for dropping by and by the way.. Great cartoon 🙂

  • Fascinating post! Love the conclusion!

  • Fascinating post…appreciate the insight you share about the different tools that measure influence! Interesting conclusion as well. 

  • A really interesting post. Twitter is becoming so important as a way to amplify messages and themes. I think the blog connection is an important aspect so I like that you mentioned that. Its integration into iOS 5 and other platforms just shows how key it is to be a part of the Twitter activity

  • Hello,

    Great thinking. I also gave a lot of thought on how to measure influence on Twitter. Here are a few of my conclusions, published almost two years ago, and they are aligned with yours to some extent. http://stritar.net/Post/Twitfluence_Prototype_Calculation_For_Measuring_Twitter_Influence.aspx

    We managed to implement this logic into a fully working service, called Twenity (http://twenity.com/), and it seems to be working very well. But since authority measuring market has become quite saturated, we’ve added a gamification layer on top of it, trying to make this whole concept less frustrating more fun for the users.


  • Susan DePue

    good information. Thanks!

  • Great informative post.

    For all the spammers out there :

    Just because you may have 200 000 , or more followers – still means that you’re human – having the ego of a small planet doesn’t suit you!