Originally posted at Joshua St. AubinAugust 20, 2014

If influence was completely based on vanity metrics like follower count, Katy Perry would be themost influential person on Twitter with Justin Bieber following closely behind. Unless you’re a teenage girl, I think we can agree that their opinions do very little to influence decisions we make. Influence is much more than a popularity contest and isn’t one-size-fits-all. We don’t all have the same interests and to imply importance on something as arbitrary as the number of followers just doesn’t work. Popularity can be a factor, but influence goes so much deeper than surface appearances.

Looks can be deceiving.
If follower count directly identified the most influential people, then we’d agree that someone with 17K followers would be more influential than someone with 10K followers. Simple math, right? But follower count alone doesn’t tell the whole story. If you take the top 5 CMOs from Forbes’s list of the “Most Influential Big Brand CMOs on Twitter”, 3 of those, including Mashable’s CMO Stacy Martinet, have fewer followers than @RetweetThunder, a retweet buying site. And@SplashTabCases, a profile selling suction mounts for tablets, has more followers than 4 of those same CMOs, including Google’s Nikesh Arora. Once you add the details, it’s pretty apparent that this thinking is flawed. To think that the CMOs for Mashable and Google could be less influential than these other two profiles is crazy, even though they fall short according to the metrics. In fact, if we completely remove followers from the conversation, I think we’d agree that the CMOs on Forbes’s entire list would hold up to that challenge. There are quite a few people that I follow that might not be considered influential based on their follower count alone, but Brooke BallardNicole MillerChris Tuff and Sebastian Rusk are people who I intently listen to when they have something to say. It’s easy to lose sight of the important information when you take vanity metrics out of context. It takes influencing only one person to become influential.

A profile bio and a couple tweets.
Now that we’ve established that follower counts are unreliable to determine influence, we can depend on profile bios, right? Wrong. Bios help to create expectations about the kind of content you should plan on receiving, but there’s only one way to completely know. You can learn a lot about a user within the first couple of tweets. If they engage with their audience or are just broadcasters, how frequently they post, and if their tweets are even relevant to your interests. For example, by looking at some of Mark Schaefer’s tweets I’m able to tell that he posts frequently about topics that I’m interested in and he engages his audience. It’s not about the quantity of followers that creates influence as much as it is about the quality of the content, community and engagement that’s been created that counts. You don’t need any special algorithms or fancy tools to determine any of that. The most important information is right at the top of every feed.

Mark Schaefer's Tweets

Influence is individual.
Influence can be very different for every person. What influences you might not influence anyone else. Without context, it falls flat. CNBC might be considered the leader in financial news and they might have the most informative twitter feed for all things investments, but investments don’t excite me like marketing and social media. So when Gary Vaynerchuk or Ted Rubin post a tweet or a new YouTube clip, no matter what the subject is, I’m listening attentively. You can’t force someone to be influenced any more than you can force someone to be influential. It just isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Just because someone appears to have all the ingredients to be influential doesn’t mean they will be. Even Katy Perry can’t influence everyone.

10 thoughts on “Influence, Vanity Metrics and Katy Perry

  1. Hi, Josh! You KNOW I couldn’t agree with you more. Looks are totally deceiving and I do my very best not to get swayed by “big” numbers. For instance, I’m constantly getting followed by users on Twitter who have 8 billion followers, are following 7 peeps, and have like maaaaybe 1,000 tweets. NOT. INTERESTED. I also make it a point to search users’ feeds to see how many @ or conversations they’re having on Twitter. None … NOT. INTERESTED.

    You know how the game goes! ;-) See you on Twitter!

    • Oh I know how the game goes Brooke! I’m always shocked when I check the profile of new followers and find these accounts. I think they get away with it because most people don’t go any deeper to see what they’re really about, but they just take up space and provide no value to anyone. Definitely not interested.

  2. There’s been a flaw in the measurement model of social for a long time, which happens with every new marketing channel/platform. When something takes off, it’s inevitable that the analytics and measurements are not up to par, as with Twitter until recently, so that we had no idea what was effective and what wasn’t. I respect people who have those thoughts on newer platforms.

    I take issue with using vanity metrics as some sort of social currency. As you said, followers are not a true measure of influence. Heck, they’re not even a good KPI to track. (Unless you can link growth in follower/fan count with similar growth in engagement, or whatever your goal/KPI is!)

    From a consultant/agency perspective, it’s pretty scary to put everything on the line and report on the metrics that matter because they are hard to achieve. Engagement and amplification is way harder than buying followers with ads :) But we do what we must. In most cases, what we must do is not simply ticking off boxes that we gained 5 followers this week.

    Thankfully, measurement is catching up! Couldn’t agree more with you, Josh.

    • Thanks Brian! It’s much easier for marketers to prove value in social media when they can show clients big growth in followers instead of explaining small growth in the metrics that really count. Unfortunately so many clients have been so misled that it makes re-educating them very difficult. If anyone pitches you on increasing your follower count only, run the other way.

  3. People can have an influence on me because I respect them. They have an air of “authority”. Sometime I have to listen to my teenage daughter because she demonstrates that she knows what she is talking about. Thought leadership in teenage girls’ universe.

    Personality and thought leadership (within the area of your interest) comes first. And number of followers comes next.

    Like so many things in life, it takes some practice to look beyond the surface and obvious.

    • I completely agree with you Isabella and I really like the comparison you make with your daughter because I think that is more true than we really think. You don’t have to be an “expert” or a “professional” to be influential, but people do have to respect what you say for it to make a difference. Looks can be deceiving.

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