Twitter followers are not real followers.
A brief conversation on Twitter between Noemi Dado and myself about Carlo Ople's post on Top 10 Most Followed Broadcast Journalists on Twitter (PH) led me to look for ways of more accurately gauge one's influence in social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, and what-have-you).
In Carlo's post on Top 10 Most Followed Broadcast Journos, he lists down those with the most number of followers on Twitter.
Of course, I have no idea of how inclusive Carlo's universe of journalists are, but in his post, he indicated that his list includes only broadcast journalists (which, I assume, he means to refer to those in TV and Radio). Carlo says that he is developing a list for reporters in print and online media.
In any case, Carlo points out that in his list "You’ll notice that ABS-CBN (sic) reporters dominate Twitter. There’s no one from GMA on the list and the only one not from ABS-CBN is TV 5′s Paolo Bediones."
In the Top Five of this list are Karen Davila (first on the list with 130,168 followers), Julius Babao (third on the list with 86,051 followers), and Ces Drilon (fifth on the list with 69,063 followers). All three are anchors of Bandila, ABS-CBN's late night/early morning news program.
As a side note, after being posted and tweeted by Carlo, the list was an instant hit among people on twitter who were either Carlo's followers or the followers of the ten journalists on the list. Even more, Carlo's list became the source for an article on ABS-CBN News dot com titled "ABS-CBN Journalists dominate Twitter: web mag.
Carlo, being a New Media expert, seems to be quite popular and has been coming out at least once a week in articles and TV programs.
Anyway, for the moment, I'll go past any effort to distinguish between the terms journalist, reporter, news anchor, commentator, etcetera and go to the issue of whether the sheer volume of followers on Twitter actually amount to a pile of beans.
This is not a new question, really, and a lot of real experts in the "field" of social networking have attempted to answer it. (Yes, social networking or social marketing is actually a field of expertise which, oddly, reminds me of a classmate in computer programming back in 1992 who kept on saying he was a "software installation expert". Yes, it's true and what was scary was that HE ACTUALLY HAD CLIENTS!)
Noemi Dado pointed out on Twitter that the sheer volume of followers may not really tell the whole score of how influential a Twitter user is. Using just plain ordinary reckoning, I chimed in to say that one would have to consider the quality of the user's relationship with those followers -- such as how responsive they are, how often do they re-tweet Karen's tweets, how often do they click on the links that Karen may send out.
Ms. Dado suggested that I visit Klout.com which is a website that offers an assessment of a Twitter user's influence.
Here's a description of what www.klout.com offers:
The Klout Score is the measurement of your overall online influence. The scores range from 1 to 100 with higher scores representing a wider and stronger sphere of influence. Klout uses over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network Score.
True Reach is the size of your engaged audience and is based on those of your followers and friends who actively listen and react to your messages. Amplification Score is the likelihood that your messages will generate actions (retweets, @messages, likes and comments) and is on a scale of 1 to 100. Network score indicates how influential your engage audience is and is also on a scale from 1 to 100. The Klout score is highly correlated to clicks, comments and retweets.
We believe that influence is the ability to drive people to action -- "action" might be defined as a reply, a retweet, a comment, or a click. We perform significant testing to ensure that the average click-through rate on links shared is highly correlated with a person's Klout Score. The 25+ variables used to generate scores for each of these categories are normalized across the whole data set and run through our analytics engine. After the first pass of analytics, we apply a specific weight to each data point. We then run the factors through our machine-learning analysis and calculate the final Klout Score. The final Klout Score is a representation of how successful a person is at engaging their audience and how big of an impact their messages have on people.
Karen rates very highly on Klout with a score of 75; a True Reach rating of 41,000; an Amplication factor of 71; and a Network rating of 78.
It further describes Karen as a Feeder, which is described in a rather horoscope-like fashion as someone who her "audience relies on you for a steady flow of information about your industry or topic. Your audience is hooked on your updates and secretly can't live without them."
And if you don't think that's funny, get a load of Tim Yap's Klout analysis... According to the site, Tim Yap has a Klout Score of 76 (higher than Karen's), a True Reach of 52,000, an Amplification Factor of 64, and a Network Rating of 79.
Now get this, Tim Yap is described as a THOUGHT LEADER. Yes! You got that right.
Karen is a Feeder, while Tim Yap is a Thought Leader. And a thought leader is, "You are a thought leader in your industry. Your followers rely on you, not only to share the relevant news, but to give your opinion on the issues. People look to you to help them understand the day's developments. You understand what's important and what your audience values."
The thing is, calling someone who (1) cannot discern between appropriate and inappropriate action and (2) cannot differentiate between false and true information a Thought Leader is like saying a Forrest Gump is smarter than Rainman.
Anyway, the problem with this is that it takes a purely online approach to gauging the strength of Karen's Twitter presence and even at that, it doesn't analyze the content of her tweets -- just the number of people who follow her, followers who tweet back, etcetera.
I think what really is interesting to look at is the relationship between Twitter follower strength and real world power or influence.
Just to underline the absurdity of it, let me show you President Noynoy Aquino's Klout analysis.
The most powerful government official of the land has a Klout score of 42 (which is 8 points lower than mine, which is 50) and he is described as an Explorer (just like me).
Now, obviously, there are differences in gauging the strength of relationships in real life and relationships online. Malcolm Gladwell (or Em-Gee as I call him whenever we're out for beer with Mark Zuckerberg), as cited in article on Read Write Web, describes it:
In the Civil Rights era, says Gladwell, the high-risk activism that took place was based on strong ties and close relationships. It was rife with danger and often met with violence.
But today, the so-called activism that takes place on social networks isn't nearly as risky nor impactful. For example, the 1,282,339 members of the "Save Darfur" Facebook page have committed an average of 9 cents each to the cause. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of 35 cents. "Help Save Darfur" has 2,797 members have have given, on average, 15 cents, Gladwell writes.
He explains that "Facebook activism" succeeds by "not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice."
As for the Twitter revolution surrounding the Iranian elections? It was more of a product of shoddy Western journalism than any real activism. Gladwell cited Golnaz Esfandiari's article in "Foreign Policy" which stated, "Western journalists who couldn't reach--or didn't bother reaching?--people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets post with tag #iranelection. Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi."
There are many more examples in the article itself, but they all point to the same conclusion: activism that takes place on social networks just isn't the real thing.
Gladwell, of course, created quite a bit of controversy for himself and there are those who believe that he just doesn't get it.
I have a tendency to think that Gladwell may be right, but that's only because of just one account which has to do with a Facebook campaign against a Macapagal Arroyo sponsored Charter Change.
I have misgivings about crediting the Facebook campaign for the massing of people at Ayala Avenue, chiefly because the bulk of people who were comprised of the Lower C-D-E socio-economic class and it is usually the B and Upper C that have access to and use the internet in communications.
So, given this bit of observation, I really wonder how some people could say that "The second EDSA (2001) uprising was spawned by text messages, but the next uprising will be spawned by social networking sites."
In any case, I'd think that one way to test just how potent one's online internet following is to see just how many people will respond to an invitation to engage in a medium to high-involvement off-line activity just using Twitter or Facebook.
An article at www.physorg.com on Michael Kearns who ran an experiment at the University of Pennsylvania that aimed at coming up with empirical data on social connections and influence gives a glimpse of how such a test could be done.
Here are excerpts from that article:
Drawing from computer science, math, sociology and other disciplines, researchers are starting to figure out how those branching thickets of human social networks are shaping our tastes, our purchases, how we vote, and even our health and happiness.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Michael Kearns is using controlled voting experiments to show how a small minority view can win over an overwhelming majority.
"For all this discussion about influentials and how they drive word-of-mouth, there's no empirical evidence _ no real theory." Penn's Kearns, he said, is starting to bring a more hard-science approach to bear on the issue.
For his most recently published experiment, Kearns created a network from a group of 36 subjects. He put each one at a work station linked to between two and 18 of the others.
They were asked to vote for red or blue. If everyone in the group could agree on the same color within one minute, everyone would get rewarded with money. If they failed to reach consensus, they would get nothing.
But he gave the subjects different preferences. Some were told they'd get paid $1.50 for each round that red won and only 50 cents if blue won. For others the incentive was reversed.
He found that sometimes a tiny minority could rule. In the most extreme cases, red won when only six subjects preferred it, the other 30 wanting blue. All the members of the minority needed was "influence" _ that is, more connections within the group than the people they competed against.
"Influential' people can determine the outcome to their liking," Kearns said, even if the majority has a strong incentive to go the other way. In this case having lots of connections made a subject influential.
One thing that is unclear to me in this article is what Kearns was referring to when he used the word "connections". Did he refer to actual social connections or merely computer connections?
Gladwell would perhaps relate the effectiveness of a minority to control the outcome of a consensus with the quality of the connections.
In the tipping point, Gladwell points to a magic number (120, I think) which is the threshold for the number of strong social connections that the average primate or human can maintain. According to the sources cited by Gladwell, beyond the magic number, the social relationships or connections tended to be weaker and hence carried far less of a possibility to result in real life action.
My guess is that to get a better reading of whether Karen Davila and her 130,168 followers is any indication of her influence in real life, you'd have to look at the quality of her followers on Twitter:
1. How many of her followers are people with whom she has direct, regular contact with?
2. What types of relationships exist between Karen Davila and her followers who are in regular contact with here? How many of these relationships are power relationships? How many are peer relationships?
3. Of those who are followers of Karen Davila but are not in direct, regular contact with her, how many actually respond or interact with her?
4. What is the quality of interaction between Karen Davila and her responders on Twitter?
Certainly, there may be other things to consider in assessing Karen Davila and her followers on twitter.
So, at the end of this exercise, what have we learned?
Well, Twitter is basically good for sharing a thought in 140 characters or driving people to visit a website. How effective it is actually in imparting something useful, changing peoples minds or driving people to action beyond pushing a couple of buttons, well, is something that has to be looked into more closely.