Calculating Your Value on Twitter

There are several ways you can calculate your value on Twitter. The method with the most merit does not include the number of people you’re following OR the number of people who are following you. The latter seems to be the obvious way to gauge someone’s value. If people subscribe to your updates, then you must be worth listening to. Unfortunately, I think the best proof to the contrary is my own Twitter account. According to some lists, I am currently the 13th most-followed user on Twitter, where there are over 14 million registered accounts (but probably only about 1 million active users.. Wait, did I say “only”?).

Choose an adjective: funny, interesting, thoughtful, intriguing, fascinating, entertaining, etc. No matter which adjective you choose, I guarantee I am not in the top 0.000001 percentile of people. I think it is fair to say that this is reasonable evidence that the number of people following someone does not correlate to the value of the information they provide.

Robert Scoble recently wrote about the value of the number of people you follow, and how he thinks it is more important of a metric than the number of people who follow you. I definitely do not disagree with the importance of listening to many sources (I even wrote about and agree with Sean Tierney’s thoughts on people who subscribe to many RSS feeds). However, the number itself is not a metric of the value of one’s content. Anyone, especially uninteresting people, can follow thousands of users on Twitter.

The Real Metric

These numbers obviously mean very little when it comes to measuring the content of a Twitter user. There is, however, a way that I believe you can. The value of a Twitter user is in the amount, depth, and breadth of interaction with other Twitter users. Users who start global conversations and provoke discussion from others seem to have the most value. For people who need a concrete method of tallying this can start by performing searches on a given user’s Twitter name using tools like Tweet Scan.

Still, it is not as simple as counting the number of replies. For example, social media princess “iJustine” could post on Twitter that she is eating ice cream and receive dozens of replies. The replies that matter are ones that include thoughtful commentary, progression on the topic, or even redistributing the thought to one’s own followers. It is also important to see the user in question engaging in conversation with the people who are replying. When Twitter is treated like a distribution mechanism for a user to push messages to fans, the user loses value.

While quantity of interaction will definitely be on the side of the highly-followed users, it is easy for users closer to the average to carry on meaningful discussions with a diverse group of users. I personally think there are many, many users with between 100 and 1,000 followers that have much more value in their thoughts and conversations than the majority of the top 100 most-followed users.

7 Replies to “Calculating Your Value on Twitter”

  1. Good post. I definitely agree with you that it isn’t as simple as the number value of follower and those you are following. I tend to be picky about who I am following because the people whom I am following act as filters to some degree. They decide what is and isn’t important to tweet about.

  2. I would say the most annoying tweets are those to the effect of ‘x followers now’ or ‘1000th tweet!’. As if no one has ever reached it before?

  3. I wonder if you could take inspiration from the way that Google does PageRank.. Roughly: “The value of a page is a combination of the value of its incoming links and outgoing links. Value is distributed through links, so the value of the page on the other end of a link weights the value of the link.”

    Thus, the social value of a person on Twitter (or any social network, really) is a measure of how many important people follow you, as well as the importance of the people you follow.

    You might also be able to look at this as a graph-distance problem: what is the coverage of the total number of users from the account to be measured, and the average/mean/median/weighted average distance from the account to the most distant.

    The latter could be called the “Kevin Bacon number” of Twitter.

    Of course, the real measure is simply impact. From what I understand, Ze Frank is the person behind the tribalization of the Twitter groups. I’m not following him, nor is he following me, but the impact is clearly felt. Very similarly, Scott Sigler’s upcoming launch of his novel “Infected” has made a very significant impact — at least in my corner of the twitterati.

    Ah, and thus is exposed another question: is Twitter really a “grouping of groups” (or “collection of niches”) or is there more structure to it? Does Milgram’s experiment have some similarity in the twitterati?

    Heh.. reminds me of some research I was working on a couple of years ago.. I should re-run some of my analysis on twitter, perhaps..

  4. Hmm, if there is any point in measuring one’s value on Twitter, I think you have to note the actual purpose for which twitter was made. Like Annalee Newitz wrote it on AlterNet: “When you work at home and don’t have office pals to say hello to in the morning, Twitter is your surrogate office chit-chat zone. […] Though I’m home on my computer, Twitter keeps me in touch with the social world.”

    So Twitter’s purpose was never ment to be discussing or haveing global conversations. It was ment to be your “chit-chat zone”, it was ment to give chance to stay in contact with your mates. But not in an active communicating, not in a discussing way but in a passive, superficial way.

    Hence, _if_ there is a certain “value” of users on Twitter, it’s not their interacting, discussion-provoking and magniloquent style of beeing, but their relaxed way how they make their mates listen to them on this social network.
    I agree, “when Twitter is treated like a distribution mechanism for a user to push messages to fans, the user loses value”, like in your real social world, some people talk to loads of people but don’t say anything interesting, some to little but great things. And here we are.

    The value of a Twitter user is at the end the value of what he posts. So like there are different interests, there are different expectations and so different values for one and the same person. You _can_ messure the value of a Twitter user, but you can messure it only for yourself, with no claim to be valid for otherones too.

  5. Excellent points. I totally agree that it should be the quality of one’s connections that determine the value of your network. Building such a high-quality network probably takes more time than just simply amassing numbers; however, it’s worth the effort.

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