Are Ashton Kutcher and Puff Daddy the Most Influential Twitter Users?

In a post on ReadWriteWeb, Sarah Perez summarizes “Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy“, a recent research paper by Meeyoung Cha, Hamed Haddadi, Fabricio Benevenuto, and Krishna Gummadi. The punch line should hardly be surprising to regular readers here given my variety of rants on the subject: follower count isn’t great measure of influence.

The authors focus on measuring three quantities: followers (which they call indegree), retweets, and mentions. Their main results is that, while the number of followers is strongly correlated to the numbers of retweets and mentions for the general user population, the correlation is much weaker for the users with high follower counts, e.g., in the top 10%. Indeed, the authors believe that the correlation for the general population is “an artifact of the tied ranks among the least influential users, e.g., many of the least connected users also received zero retweet and mention.”

The authors further note that:

Across all three measures, the top influentials were generally recognizable public figures and websites. Interestingly, we saw marginal overlap in these three top lists. These top-20 lists only had 2 users in common: Ashton Kutcher and Puff Daddy. The top-100 lists also showed marginal overlap, as shown in Figure 1, indicating that the three measures capture different types of influence.

The authors ultimately conclude that:

  • Follower count represents a user’s popularity, but is not related to notions of influence such as engaging audience, i.e., retweets and mentions.
  • Retweets are driven by the content value of a tweet, favoring mainstream news organizations.
  • Mentions are driven by the name value of the user, favoring celebrities.

I can’t argue with any of the above, but I do wonder if any of them are ideal measures of influence. All three measures are easy to game–and none of them model the scarcity of user attention, which is the motivating principle of TunkRank. Nor do they ground “influence” in any outcome external to Twitter.

Still, it’s an interesting negative result. If nothing else, it helps reinforce the argument that follower count isn’t a useful measure–at least once you get beyond the very low end of the range.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.