This guest post is by Dan Zarella of of danzarrella.com.
I find myself in the quantity of followers versus quality of followers debate quite a bit. And one of the fundamental questions of that argument is the concept of influencers. There are clearly some social media users who have more reach and more influence than others, and it is obviously a good thing to have as many of them following you as possible.
A few years ago, when Twitter had just launched and was used primarily by social media geeks, I did a survey. I asked takers how often then shared content with their friends. I found that people who were on Twitter tended to share content more frequently. Those bleeding edge social media users were clearly more influential. For many mainstream markets, whose customer bases aren’t full of hardcore social media users, the percentage of the audience who is on social media (especially the newer platforms) tends to be more influential and connected.
Great tools like Klout and Twitter Grader exist to help you identify influential users, but it becomes tricky and often expensive in terms of time and resources to scale your reach by targeting individual, high-value users.
On the flip side of the coin is the concept of contextual influence. A few months ago there was a death hoax about Nelson Mandela on Twitter. A few Blackberry messenger spam was sent to a number of South African people one morning informing them that Mandela had died. One user, @lebolukewarm, tweeted the phrase “RIP Nelson Mandela” and got around 70 retweets. The phrase then began to trend worldwide on Twitter and received mainstream media coverage.
Lebolukewarm isn’t traditionally influential. He had less than 1,000 followers when the hoax started. He would never show up on any Klout report. It’s nearly impossible to specifically target this kind of influencer, he was just in the right place at the right time. The same was true for many of the users who got tons of ReTweets about Osama Bin Ladin’s capture.
The only way to optimize for having influencers like Lebo following you is to cast a wide net. Since you can’t target users like him, you can only hope to get a lot of followers, thereby increasing the probability that someone like him is following you.
Dan Zarrella is the award-winning social media scientist at HubSpot and host of the upcoming webinar: The Science of Social Media on August 23rd at 2PM ET.