influence needs context: lissted & and a top 250 twitter list

Everyone loves a list. A regional newspaper published a list of the most influential Twitterers. We're in it. Woohoo! But what were the metrics? And what was the behind-the-scenes story?

by Adam Parker

Last week the Birmingham Mail and its sister titles published a list created for them by us at Lissted of the Top 250 West Midlanders* on Twitter based on their significance to the rest of the UK.

Reaction to the list has been great, with lots of people getting involved, highlighting the appearance of people they know, or sometimes a bit of self promotion! The list has also generated a number of questions from people about the rankings and who’s on the list and who isn’t.

A culinary take on influence

The first thing to say about a list of this type is that the order accounts appear in needs to be taken with a good sized pinch of salt, as the people and organisations involved are potentially influential in so many different communities. This means we’re far from comparing apples with apples, more like an entire fruit salad!

Someone’s absolute ranking in the list will be impacted by various factors e.g. the relative sizes of the communities they are part of on Twitter and whether they are ones that are more or less likely to be populated with those individuals with wider national influence e.g. journalists, politicians, celebrities, national bodies and major brands.

Many different communities

So though it’s fun to compare individual entries, the more important element to focus on is collectively who appears, and understanding the national influence they possess that earned them a place on the list.

Here are a few examples (position in West Midlands list in brackets):

The Labour party community where we’d find Tom Watson (1st) ranked 9th and as such is the most influential West Midlander in this community. He also ranks 27th in the wider UK politics community as whole.

Michael Fabricant (2nd) ranks in the top 50 of the Conservative party community. He’s not as high as Tom Watson is in the Labour community, but then he has to compete with a lot of ministers and prominent journalists like Tim Montgomerie

Inspector Michael Brown (11th) ranks 9th in our mental health community and 30thin the police and crime community. This demonstrates his significant crossover in expertise and influence, something that is relatively rare outside of national politicians and celebrities.

Gardeners World Exhibition account (47th) ranks 19th in the UK gardening community. Its sister account for BBC Gardeners Question Time ranks 5th.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (44th) ranks 97th in the UK housing community. This apparently lowish position is because the community is dominated by high profile national politicians, journalists and media because of housing’s significance as a topic. If you only look at accounts in the community that have specific relevance to housing you find they rank 5th.

Comms2point0 (49th) ranks 41st in the UK PR community and is one of only a handful of accounts from outside the M25 in the Top 50.

Less can be more

Also Lissted’s methodology focuses on the relationships and interactions that people have with other accounts on Twitter, not simply whether an account tweets a great deal. In some cases an account might actually be very quiet on Twitter but still appear in the list.

These accounts are likely to relate to people or organisations who are exerting influence in other ways e.g. offline, but their Twitter account relationships reflect their standing in the community. A celebrity accounts like @IanBell (148th) is an example of this.

Local versus national

The final point about context relates to geography. This list was about West Midlands county people and organisations who have significance to the rest of the UK. We’ve produced another list that focuses on which West Midlanders appear most influential with other West Midlanders. Let’s call these the Provincial influencers (I think the Mail may be going to publish this too. If they don’t then if people are interested we will).

The contrast between the two lists also helps to illustrate how influence is all about context and relevance.

For example an account like @BhamUpdates ranks highly in the Provincial list (where will have to wait for the full list, but it’s not No.1), but doesn’t make the Top 250 in the National list. This reflects its follower relationships and interactions being concentrated in the West Midlands, and Birmingham in particular. So it scores very highly in a provincial context and much lower in a national one.

The situation is reversed with an account like @BritAthletics. They do very well on the national list coming in at 9th, but they don’t appear in the Top 250 provincially. This reflects their national relevance as the governing body of British track and field. At the same time the fact that they’re based in the West Midlands doesn’t automatically lead to them being influential in the local community.

So the lesson to draw is that one size fits all is not the greatest way to view trying to assess who’s influential. What’s more interesting is to understand the communities where someone’s potential influence exists.

But it’s worth putting the more complex stuff to one side sometimes to have a bit of fun!

*The list included people and organisations who appear to be based in the West Midlands county, or in a handful of places just outside that are covered by the Mail e.g. Lichfield. It should be noted that identifying where someone is located based on Twitter data can be tricky, not least because account locations can be anything a user types in e.g. we’ve seen “behind the sofa, boo!” more than a couple of times! We have various methods to mitigate this to establish likely location, but it does mean that the chances of the odd omission in such a list is quite high.

Adam Parker is founder and head data chef, Lissted and a member of the CIPR social media panel.

Picture credit.