A huge amount of Twitter followers might look nice on your resume, but it often means very little in terms of actual influence, says a new study.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute analyzed 1.7 billion tweets from 54 million Twitter users and discovered that true influence is determined by personal effort and actively engaging with your followers – you know, all that laborious social media stuff.
One of Twitter’s eternal tragedies is that it’s always been a numbers game for a great many people, and newcomers to the platform see these huge follower counts being boasted by total nobodies and, unaware as to how that number has been accumulated, innocently assume that this person must be someone of importance with valuable things to say. So, they follow them accordingly, thus keeping the cycle going. Unfortunately, the reverse is often true, especially when somebody has accumulated their network size through means that are entirely false.
All too often, massive follower counts on Twitter are the equivalent of Ferraris for the socially under-endowed. They might look nice, and temporarily sway the gullible, but we know what they’re really hiding. Rule of thumb: if somebody with tens of thousands of followers is also following tens of thousands of people, give them a wide berth.
The study further observed that influence is not a constant – it fluctuates considerably, and is never gained spontaneously or by accident. It’s only through making a consistent effort that an individual on Twitter can improve their standing.
We found that inﬂuence is not gained spontaneously or accidentally, but through concerted effort. In order to gain and maintain inﬂuence, users need to keep great personal involvement. This could mean that inﬂuential users are more predictable than suggested by theory (Watts 2007), shedding light on how to identify emerging inﬂuential users.
In other words: do the work.
You can read the full report here (PDF).