Every time I write a post about Twitter, I vow it’ll be the last time. The problem is Twitter is too damned fascinating of a phenomenon to not write about. And the more people try to explain it, harness it, and measure it, the more holes we reveal in our understanding of it.
The latest couple of posts I’ve seen about Twitter paint it as a “non-social” network, and/or as a “lens into all that moves us as individuals and also as a global society.” Both posts are based on a lot of research about who uses Twitter, how they use it, and what kind of influence the most active or most followed players have. That influence is mostly measured by some combination of: number of followers, whether the followers are symmetrical or asymmetrical, what kind of interaction they have with followers (@ replies) and the number of RTs the get.
But most of the manifestation of influence derived from Twitter plays out far beyond Twitter itself. So while there *may* be importance to follower count, RTs and @ replies, I’m wondering if all that is more naval-gazing via monitoring than measurement of influence. I simply don’t think you can measure the influence of a person on Twitter by only looking at Twitter.
So I decided to map out some of the paths spawned by “influential” tweets.
This is a visualization of actual activities I do on a regular basis after reading things people said and clicking links to deeper content that people provide on Twitter. It’s the path of actions taken post Twitter influence. (You’ll probably need to blow it up to see all that’s going on… and that’s part of the point, in a way. There’s much more going on than just what is seen in the stream. And keep in mind that this is only a snapshot of the number of tweets read, written, and acted upon in a day. I follow 400+ people, and I don’t stare at the stream all day. I do use Tweetdeck to sort certain topics, but even so I will act on—or even see—a fraction of a roughly approximated 200 tweets an hour.)
Very little of the action I take is measurable by looking solely at Twitter metrics. And once more than one step of separation takes place (i.e. a RT or click), the ability to measure the true influence of Twitter content becomes exponentially harder. In fact, the path that represents the most influence, the greatest reach, and the scenario that can have the biggest return (in terms of traffic, engagement, etc.) is the one that is bar far the hardest to measure.
In scenario A, the original content: spawned a social bookmark which is syndicated on a minimum of three sites; inspired, and would be referenced in, a new blog post that will be read, commented on, quoted and linked to by others; and that new blog post is promoted via a large variety of posting locations, including Twitter. That’s a lot of new channels back to the original Tweet… it’s a lot of influence extending far beyond the originating channel.
What’s the takeaway from this? Simply that we have to think beyond followers, @ replies and retweets when trying to measure the influence a person has via Twitter. And both posts that got me thinking about this more in depth hearken the same thinking. Whether Twitter is a non-social, broadcast medium or a “lens into all that moves us,” the exploration and perpetuation of that 140 character information is done elsewhere.