I’m relentlessly plowing away on survey data this week generating the next round of analysis for the “al Qaeda: One Year After Bin Laden” crowdsourcing experiment. Polls are still open and I am still seeking input so cast your votes here on the state of al Qaeda a year after the death of its founder.
Meanwhile, I wanted to point out an excellent new bit of research examining ‘influence’ in social media. Jared Keller of The Atlantic reported last month on a new study:
Competition Among Memes in a World With Limited Attention, Indiana University researchers Lillian Weng, Alessando Flammini, Alessando Vespignani, and Filippo Menczer analyzed 120 million retweets connected to 12.5 million users and 1.3 million hashtags.
For the last several years, businesses and narcissists have been trying to capture a measure for assessing individual influence in social media as a means to monetize the new information highway paved by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. The goal for developing these measures of influence is to connect with consumers and specified populations in a streamlined, customized way with pinpoint ads. National security types might call these “Surgical Advertising Strikes” that efficiently and effectively use key (identified) influencers to further disseminate messages to target audiences. Well, the simple quantitative metrics relied on thus far (friends, followers, tweets, posts, re-tweets, etc.) may in fact not be that effective in assessing influence. This excellent study finds that:
“Influence” doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does. In the age of the social-media celebrity, a glut of Twitter followers or particularly pugnacious sampling of pithy updates are often the hallmarks of an influencer. But new research suggests that influence is situational at best: as people compete for the attention of the broader online ecosystem, the relevance of your message to the existing conversation of those around you trumps any innate “power” a person may have.
I’m sure these findings will make some folks at Klout and Topsy angry as their models appear to rely very much on simple quantitative metrics.
The messages that achieve longevity aren’t just the ones that have the right phrasing but those that are most relevant to the existing conversation of the people near them in the ecosystem….
According to co-author Vespignani, having millions of followers does not denote an important message. Rather, the messages with the most immediate relevance tend to have a higher probability of resonating within a certain network than others. Think of it as “survival of the fittest” for information: those tweets that capture the most attention, whether related to a major geopolitical or news event or a particular interest, are likely to persist longer.
The article concludes:
The research suggests that it doesn’t fully matter who you are or how many connections you have, but what you’re saying relative to the existing conversation is what really matters in spreading knowledge online.
So, much like we’ve seen in almost every influence arena, it’s the quality of content, not the volume of content that matters. I’ve recently heard some say they need to “increase the social media presence” of something to increase its influence. I’ve heard this repeatedly in Washington, DC. That’s true to an extent, social media has taken on a new place in influence. However, key influencers not participating in social media still do and always will remain in our society. For example, I often ask the overzealous “where is VP Dick Cheney’s Twitter account at?” or “what did the J.P. Morgan CEO’s Facebook page say this morning?” BLUF: Influence can still exist outside of social media as well.
Focus on content rather than contacts if you want to assess influence – competition models are the best for studying this as seen here by this excellent example from NewsPatterns.
In closing, I’m glad to hear that it’s “what you say and when you say it” that matters. A enduring lesson for us all.