Many Measures of Social Media Influence

social media influence: people around a table

It began with a simple tweet:

Ray conducted his own analysis, received four different analyses in addition, then did a meta-analysis of all of those.

As interesting as who the most influential people are is the challenge of conducting social media research itself. The five approaches were quite different from one another:

  1. Ray took a “wisdom of the crowd” approach, simply asking for nominations from within the community, receiving 40 different responses.
  2. Stu Shulman of Texifter did extensive crowdsourced cleaning of #MRX tweets to make sure they were relevant to market research; he has a great walkthrough of the Texifter process. He shared a list of the heaviest users of the #MRX hashtag, using that as his proxy for influence.
  3. Colourtext (a spin-off from Dollywagon) looked at mentions and retweets to develop its list, an update to MRX influencer research its parent company did in 2012.
  4. Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Forum used NodeXL for his analysis, which calculates betweenness centrality as a measure of influence, along with the raw count of mentions.
  5. At Ray’s request, I adopted a tool I had at hand: each week, I track the top 100 stories being shared on the #MRX hash tag. For the time period in question, I saw how often different Twitter accounts had shared each of the 100 stories. This is at best a proxy for influence, since some propelled the stories to the top 100 by tweeting them in the first place, and others (including me) simply road the coat-tails by sharing popular tweets.

What, in fact, is your social-media influence? Here are some questions that highlight parts of your influence:

  • How many follow you? – This is a simple number to estimate and should have some role in any measure of influence. Unfortunately you can game this, purchasing followers. Even if you don’t game this, your followers may be passive: as a result, the number of followers does not strongly correlate to engagement (see “Influence and Passivity in Social Media“).
  • How many retweets did you get? – This is a good measure of influence, as it indicates that people see and share your tweets.
  • How many mentions are there of your Twitter handle? – Are people mentioning you or asking you questions? Both are good measures of influence. Most tools cheat and only track @-mentions of your account, leaving out when people mention you by your real name (so @LoveStats doesn’t get credit when people cite “Annie”).
  • What hashtags are you using and what is their reach? – People who don’t follow you will see your tweets if they follow any of the hashtags that you use.
  • What hashtags have you popularized? – This is an unusual one, but certainly covers a real-world measure of influence: Ray Poynter has popularized #newmr, Tom H.C. Anderson #NGMR (Next Generation MR), Lenny Murphy #IIeX (Insights & Innovation Exchange), and I first coined and promoted #MRX for market research (before that it was used by the National Weather Service to tag Morristown, Tennessee weather alerts.)
  • How central are you to a network? – Betweenness centrality counts the shortest paths from all accounts to all others that pass through a particular influencer, and seems particularly suited for analyzing an open-ended social network such as Twitter, which has many weak and temporary connections compared to Facebook or LinkedIn.

No definitive formula for calculating social media influence has yet taken hold, keeping open multiple ways to answer the question of what influence is and how much of it people have. Want more of it? The answer is as simple as the task is hard: create compelling content that people want to share.

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices.  He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.

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