What Becomes An Influencer Most?

The other day, a newspaper reporter posted an item on ProfNet (or was it HARO?) seeking experts on how best to identify online “influencers” on any given topic. The reporter seemed mostly focused on the much buzzed about Klout and how well its algorithm scored such influencers.

I dropped the inquisitor a note saying that I wasn’t a huge fan of Klout, in spite of having a reasonably respectable score myself. Maybe it had to do with a Klout meetup I attended in NYC last summer where one of the site’s principals was less than friendly. (Think dot-com CEO.)

Whatever the case, the reporter’s query also sought online resources for identifying influencers by subject area. Sawhorse Media’s Listorious naturally came first to mind, and then there’s Kevin Rose’s WeFollow in which anyone can register and add a profile. Finally, there’s PeerIndex, a much less robust Klout competitor. I’m sure there are others.

I sent these along and also suggested that our ratio of Twitter followers to friends (those we’re following) may also in some way play a factor in assessing influence, i.e., Kim Kardashian has 650K+ followers and only follows 126 people.

Not unexpectedly, the quants in the valley decided to examine the notion of influence, but from the perpective of what makes a Twitter trend. In their study titled “Trends in Social Media: Persistence and Decay” for which they examined 16 million tweets over 40 days last fall, a handful of scientists empirically proved the following:

“We also demonstrate empirically how factors such as user activity and number of followers do not contribute strongly to trend creation and its propagation. In fact, we find that the resonance of the content with the users of the social network plays a major role in causing trends.”

Resonance, huh? One digital influencer summarized the report in a post last week. The Times‘s “Bits” blogger Nick Bilton glommed onto this element of the HP Labs study:

“Instead, the researchers found that the mainstream media, including organizations like The New York Times, CNN and BBC, act as “feeders” for news topics, helping to amplify and in turn make something into a trend on the social network.”

This study is not insignificant for those of us PR types charged with identifying and engaging “influencers” — journalists among them — for our client’s products, services and POVs. Mark Leccese, writing for Boston.com’s “Gatekeeper” blog, weighed in via a post on Monday in which he ended with an unqualified endorsement of traditional media and its ability to set Twitter tongues-a-waggin.

“But the most rewteeted, and thus influential, posts on Twitter originate with the reporters and editor of traditional media. It makes sense. Who else the information-gathering resources and news-presentation resources traditional media has? Even as new communications technologies — blogs, Facebook, Twitter, the torrent of social media sites — offer new ways to disseminate information, the backbone of news-gathering and reporting remains (and is the really a surprise?) traditional media.”

Duly noted. I’m not undermining the influence of the more popular (resonant?) blogs like Politico, HuffPost, TechCrunch, Gothamist, Gawker, and a myriad others, but for now, those stalwart journalistic enterprises (of which a few are cited above) continue to serve as primary conversation catalysts.


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