Common Ground Initiative

New York Times: A Better Way to Measure Twitter Influence

March 31, 2011

The True Measure of Twitter Success

After reading the recent article below from the New York Times, you begin to realize Millions of Twitter followers, although initially impressive, may just be window dressing to a successful Twitter strategy. True influence on Twitter is not calculated by simply how many followers one has, but rather how active followers are with tweets.

Are followers retweeting? Do you they respond and interact with your content? Are they clicking on your links and visiting your website? These are the metrics that actually give you a powerful voice on Twitter. Check out the article from DAVID LEONHARDT of the New York Times to learn more about how to effectively measure success on Twitter. You may be surprised.


A Better Way to Measure Twitter Influence

March 24, 2011
New York Times
A version of this article will appear in print on March 27, 2011, on Page 18 of the Magazine.

Whether you’re a Twitter user like Lady Gaga (millions and millions of followers) or, say, me (2,600 and growing!), you’re always aware of roughly how many people follow you. It’s just how people keep score on the site and compare themselves with friends and colleagues.

But it turns out that counting followers is a seriously flawed way to measure a person’s impact on Twitter. Even one of Twitter’s founders, Evan Williams, made the point to me recently: someone with millions of followers may no longer post messages frequently, while someone followed by mere tens of thousands may be a prolific poster whose messages are amplified by others.

So who are the most influential people on Twitter? We asked the people at Twitalyzer, an independent research firm, to study the question, and they came back with something called the Influence Index. It counts the number of times somebody’s Twitter name is mentioned by other users (including retweets, which occur when one user rebroadcasts another’s message). The Influence Index doesn’t merely measure who’s talking on Twitter, but it also measures how much someone is affecting the conversation. Look below at how low Lady Gaga’s influence score is, for example.

Among the discoveries: It helps to come from one of the four countries where Twitter is most popular — the United States, Brazil, England and Canada. That may explain why there are three unfamiliar names, at least to most Americans, in the Top 10: Stephen Fry (a British actor), Luciano Huck (a Brazilian television star) and Rafinha Bastos (a Brazilian comedian).

Eric T. Peterson, the chief executive of Twitalyzer, points out that some of the most influential users also make a big effort to respond to much less famous people with personal messages. Kim Kardashian falls into this category. President Obama, as you may have guessed, does not.

One last thing: Twitalyzer’s public Web site doesn’t let people calculate their own influence scores. But you can get your impact score, which is a 0-to-100 index that combines influence, number of followers and frequency of message writing. To calculate that, type your Twitter name into the box here.

10 Most-Influential People*

1. Rafinha Bastos

Followers: 1,690,817
Influence: 90

2. Chad Ochocinco

Followers: 1,651,070
Influence: 89

3. Conan O’Brien

Followers: 2,367,928
Influence: 88

4. Stephen Fry

Followers: 2,188,395
Influence: 87

5. Ryan Seacrest

Followers: 3,880,840
Influence: 86

6. Snoop Dogg

Followers: 2,536,996
Influence: 85

7. Barack Obama

Followers: 6,531,868
Influence: 83

8. Rainn Wilson

Followers: 2,168,826
Influence: 83

9. Kim Kardashian

Followers: 6,032,559
Influence: 81

10. Huck Luciano

Followers: 2,663,202
Influence: 77

10 Most Followed People

1. Lady Gaga

Followers: 7,941,444
Influence: 41

2. Justin Bieber

Followers: 7,032,265
Influence: 67

3. Britney Spears

Followers: 6,652,470
Influence: 59

4. Barack Obama

Followers: 6,531,868
Influence: 83

5. Ashton Kutcher

Followers: 6,261,483
Influence: 68

6. Kim Kardashian

Followers: 6,032,559
Influence: 81

7. Ellen DeGeneres

Followers: 5,745,455
Influence: 67

8. Katy Perry

Followers: 5,283,350
Influence: 50

9. Taylor Swift

Followers: 5,020,965
Influence: 38

10. Oprah Winfrey

Followers: 5,013,218
Influence: 40

*Among the 100 most followed individuals on Twitter. All data was collected from Jan. 18 to Feb. 15; follower counts have since gone up.

Head to Head

Sarah Palin

Followers: 401,505
Influence: 39

Newt Gingrich

Followers: 1,308,173
Influence: 13

LeBron James

Followers: 1,357,627
Influence: 80

Shaquille O’Neal

Followers: 3,489,519
Influence: 47

Rick Warren

Followers: 236,054
Influence: 87

Dalai Lama

Followers: 1,313,098
Influence: 75

For this blog post, we also ranked the top five most influential users in four different areas: technology, potential 2012 presidential candidates, religion and sports.


1. Bill Gates

Followers: 2,102,615
Influence: 54

2. Biz Stone

Followers: 1,667,233
Influence: 42

3. Tim O’Reilly

Followers: 1,441,631
Influence: 39

4. Jack Dorsey

Followers: 1,606,820
Influence: 35

5. Tony Hsieh

Followers: 1,773,668
Influence: 20

Republican Contenders

1. Sarah Palin

Followers: 401,505
Influence: 39

2. Mike Huckabee

Followers: 123,168
Influence: 16

3. Jim DeMint

Followers: 70,962
Influence: 16

4. Donald Trump

Followers: 325,571
Influence: 13

5. Newt Gingrich

Followers: 1,308,173
Influence: 13


1. Rick Warren

Followers: 236,054
Influence: 87

2. Joel Osteen

Followers: 160,445
Influence: 87

3. Deepak Chopra

Followers: 401,709
Influence: 85

4. Dalai Lama

Followers: 1,313,098
Influence: 75

5. Joyce Meyer

Followers: 181,281
Influence: 52


1. Serena Williams

Followers: 1,903,261
Influence: 72

2. Lance Armstrong

Followers: 2,731,964
Influence: 50

3. Shaquille O’Neal

Followers: 3,489,519
Influence: 47

4. Dwight Howard

Followers: 1,826,440
Influence: 34

5. Tony Hawk

Influence: 18

Using Twitter to Measure Political Sentiment

February 6, 2011

I stumbled across this very interesting article on how Twitter can be used to track public sentiments in real-time on the New Media Strategies blog. The following post by NMS Senior Online Analyst Mark LeMunyon analyzes Twitter discussion during last week’s State of the Union Address to gauge sentiment and reactions to the speech. Read more about his findings from his post below.

Twitter Sentiment Analysis: 2011 State of the Union Address

By: Mark LeMunyon of New Media Strategies
February 2, 20011 on the NMS Blog

This is small project I whipped together by pulling information off Twitter’s API during the 2011 State of the Union Address, and then running the data through a senitment analysis to gauge audience reaction throughout the speech. The result:

This graph represents the ratio of positive words to negative words over time during the SOTU.

For reference, Pres. Obama’s speech began and ended at approximately 9:11PM and 10:13PM. To compare, here’s a timeline of selected quotes and topics discussed during the speech:

  • 21:18 – Economy, international competition
  • 21:20 – Need for innovation.
  • 21:24 – “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
  • 21:24 – Government investment in biotechnology, energy
  • 21:26 – “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”
  • 21:28 – Education.
  • 21:33 – “We’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.”
  • 21:36 – Immigration reform in regards to education.
  • 21:36 – Tax reform.
  • 21:45 – “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.”
  • 21:54 – Salmon joke.
  • 21:59 – al-Qaeda.
  • 22:01 – Foreign affairs, Obama’s planned trips.
  • 22:03 – Independence of South Sudan.
  • 22:04 – Uprising in Tunisia.
  • 22:06 – DADT, military recuiting on college campuses.

If you’re interested in further comparing the data to the speech, I recommend the White House video of the SOTU on Youtube, which has a full transciption timeline. Simply add 9 hours and 11 minutes to the video time to estimate the time in EST.

The data includes 240,000 tweets which use the term “sotu”, “#sotu”, “stateoftheunion” or “state of the union”, sent between 9:00PM and 10:30PM EST on 1/25/2011.

Every tweet was compared to a list of words with predetermined sentiment scores (from the University of Pittsburgh’s OpinionFinder subjectivity lexicon). Each tweet was given two scores, one for the number of matched positive words and another for number of matched negative words. The scores were then summed up by 10 second time intervals, and a sentiment ratio (total positive words / total negative words) was generated for each 10s interval. The ratio is represented on the above graph as the gray line. The magenta line is a 60 second moving average, and the navy line is a 5 minute moving average.

This methodology is nearly identical to that of a study by Carnegie Mellon (O’Connor et al. 2010), which was featured on Mashable and other blogs. As noted in that study, there are lexicons that may work much better with Twitter, as this one was developed for proper English, which is something of a rarity on Twitter. (“#zomg4reels.”)

Again, this isn’t an extremely rigorous peer-reviewed scientific analysis, but it does provide some interesting fodder for discussion around how people reacted to the State of the Union Address.

What’s the Future of Politics & Social Media?

January 4, 2011

4 Predictions for the Future of Politics & Social Media via Mashable

Mashable, one of my favorite blogs to keep tabs on social media trends has recently published a post about 4 key predictions of the future social media and politics. This is a very interesting take on how social media will become an ever-important piece of the campaign puzzle. This post is a must read for any campaign and political guru and operative looking to gain insights into what’s next on the social media horizon for political organizations and campaigns.

The following post is written by Matt Silverman, a social media expert and Mashable contributor.

Show me a modern political candidate who doesn’t understand television, and I’ll show you a loser.
When TV became the dominant medium for Americans to consume news and entertainment, political candidates could no longer be successful without looking polished in televised debates, appearing on talk shows and spending big on commercials.

Like the television boom of the 1960s, we are standing on the precipice of a big shift in how public figures are perceived and how campaigns are conducted. Our frontier is social media, and its impact on mainstream political culture is coming on fast.

While my colleagues have been making their predictions about what’s on the tech and social media horizon in 2011, there will be no major U.S. elections next year. Here, we’ll be postulating about social media’s impact on the more long-term future of American civics.

1. There Will Be a Tipping Point

While campaigning and marketing share many similarities, the differences mean everything when you’re talking about democracy’s big picture. Brands can sell by hitting a tech savvy demographic of influencers. Elections involve everyone, whether they’re online or not.

If a large bloc of your constituency is made up of 65+ year-old retirees, chances are a Facebook strategy won’t be time well spent. Despite the enthusiasm of the tech crowd and blogosphere, Twitter is exceedingly far from the mainstream, with only 6% of Americans using the service. And while the world consumes YouTube videos at a mind-bending rate, viral success is still transient and elusive.

While these tools have certainly proven to be effective in rallying support and contributions, we don’t yet live in a world where social media can make or break a political candidate by itself.

That will change, perhaps even by the next major election cycle.

The future of the social media politician is not about wild speculation and technological uncertainties. It has everything to do with when and how deeply social media can be absorbed into mainstream culture. We are on track for a tipping point — a JFK/Nixon TV debate moment — when everyone on the political scene will acknowledge that we can never go back to campaigns without social.

2. New Media Strategists Will Just Be Strategists

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with the new media strategists for a number of senators, congresspeople and political causes. Despite their differences, they all agree that their own jobs will soon be folded into the larger campaign strategy. As many have already foreseen, social media will not require experts for much longer. As we head toward true mainstream adoption, social will be a default and well-understood tool in the belt of any public-facing professional.

We’ve already seen this happening in the private sector with marketing and PR professionals. As many corporate entities lumber to catch up with those on the cutting edge, so too will government officials and the campaigners who seek their offices.

3. We’ll See the Devaluation of Old Media in Politics

Print and radio ads are not as valuable as TV. TV will no longer be as valuable as interactive media. For politics, this is especially so, as the arena (at its best, anyway) warrants engagement and discussion.

As media appetites shift, this is an inevitability. In the U.S., we’re already seeing web use catch up with television in terms of weekly hours spent. Political money will simply go where the eyeballs are, and we’re likely to see a big payoff on social creativity when it comes to future campaigns.

4. Whistle Blowing Gets More Efficient, But That’s It

The WikiLeaks saga has ignited plenty of discussion about journalism and whistle blowing in the Internet age. But at the end of the day, the mechanics of an information leak are about the same as they’ve always been: Someone from within an organization leaks damaging information, and the media (in whatever form) disseminates it to the public. Generally speaking, WikiLeaks has only acted as a “middle man” for raw information. It’s journalists who are making sense of it and transmitting it to the public with context.

The web only speeds up this process through digitization and universal access. Governments and politicians will feel the impact of leaks sooner, but it’s unlikely the methods of protecting sensitive information will be much changed.

5 Reasons To Use Twitter For Your Campaign

November 24, 2010

How Can Twitter Help Our Organization or Campaign?

For many campaigns, Facebook is seen as the most important weapon in your social media arsenal. While I agree with that most of the time, I don’t believe that Facebook is the end all to a social media strategy. Twitter is usually in mix of social media for campaigns out of popularity, but not typically out of necessity.

I am realizing more and more that many campaigns don’t really understand the potential and true value of Twitter. Many campaign operatives, especially those who don’t use Twitter personally, feel they should embrace it, because of all the buzz surrounding it. They’ve read glamorous articles about how President Obama used Twitter to win votes or how Senator Scott Brown’s campaign had 4 times the followers as his opponent, but fail to see the tangible ways Twitter can help you get ahead of competition and ultimately become a valuable tool for your campaign. Below, I have boiled down 5 essential ways Twitter can help your campaign.

5 Ways Twitter Can Benefit Your Campaign

  1. Increase Awareness: Communicate directly with activists, volunteers, bloggers, and the media without forcing information on them. The incessant non invasive updates (tweets) will increase presence and add relevance to your campaign’s efforts.
  2. Target Your Audience: Regardless of size and scope of your campaign, there are Twitter users who care about your campaign in your state or specific geographic location. If you talk to a press member, key supporter or blogger, ask if they are on Twitter and follow them. Ask most reporters you know today, and I bet you they’re using Twitter to follow their beats.
  3. Listen To Your Community: Twitter can put voters and constituents at the heart of the campaign. Ask questions, whether they be about policy ideas or feedback on a recent television ad or speech. Letting your followers know you’re interested in what they think will send an valuable message.
  4. Engage Your Followers: Provide information about events, rallies and fundraisers and encourage volunteerism while reminding people that even small contributions go along way. Don’t be afraid to Tweet something outside of politics, because remember Twitter is for real people.
  5. Track Your Adversaries: Do a weekly or even daily search on Twitter to see if your opponent(s) or even their campaign staffs are up to on Twitter. Track what they’re tweeting about and watch for missteps that can be sent to relevant bloggers and the press corps.

What ways do you use Twitter to boost your campaign message and/or voter engagement?

Building Online Communities Through Offline Efforts

November 16, 2010

When organizations are trying to boost their social media audiences they often forget about using offline approaches to reinforce their online tactics and strategies. Putting Facebook, YouTube and Twitter icons with URL addresses on direct mail, campaign fliers and business cards may be seem like a small thing, but can have a significant impact on the exposure and engagement of your social media platforms.  Representative Kevin Cameron wore his Facebook page in his sleeve (literally), making his Facebook the focus of his campaign t-shirts.

Small Steps to Promoting Your Social Media Offline

Here are some more steps your organization can take to promote participation in your social media channels:

  • During speeches or media interviews, plug your social media channels. Throwing in, “Find us on Facebook,” or “Follow us on Twitter” doesn’t take much effort and provides your audience an avenue to connect to your organization.
  • Where you would typically put your organization’s contact information like email, phone and address, also put your social media information. Look at social media as another avenue for voters and supporters to reach your campaign or organization.
  • Running a newspaper or radio ad? Promote your social media in the ad with a charge of engagement. Tell the readers or listeners to tell you what they think about the ad’s message.
  • When talking to a supporter or voter with a smart phone (iPhone, Blackberry) about your organization or campaign. Be proactive and tell them to join your Facebook page or Twitter profile on their mobile device while you talk to them.

Learn More…

Mashable, one of our favorite social media blogs recently posted an article about using offline opportunities to enhance your social media efforts. The article highlights 5 ways to approach this topic, and although it’s catered more towards business and retail, political groups and non-profits can certainly learn some valuable lessons from the post.  Click here to read the full article from our friends at Mashable.

What steps or tactics have you applied or seen used to promote social media offline?