How Influenced Should You Be by the Rising Obsession With 'Social Influencers'?

A Look at the Supposed Influencers Driving Conversation Around Five Brands: Audi, Bugaboo, 'Mad Men,' 'American Idol' and Maker's Mark

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Since the ancient, early days of social media, people have been obsessed with certain numbers as expressed in almost existential questions: How many people should I follow on Twitter? Are enough people following me? Should I accept friend requests from strangers -- not to mention high-school classmates I haven't thought of in ages -- to pad out my Facebook social circle?

Lately, everybody's been obsessing about yet another number -- a sort of meta number that is meant to tally your "social influence," particularly on Twitter. Among the players in the influence-rating space: Klout (known for its notorious Klout Score), PeerIndex and Twitalyzer, while companies like PeopleBrowsr offer integrated solutions: ways to identify influencers ("Find Your Brand Champions") and means to further engage them.

Who's leading the discussion of these brands?
Who's leading the discussion of these brands?

As my colleague David Teicher wrote in Ad Age's DigitalNext blog last September, some marketers are looking at social-influence scores to determine whether they offer special perks to customers (e.g., hotel room upgrades). Confoundingly, though, all the influence-grading companies use secret algorithms to judge you. In fact, given how ridiculously divergent influence scores tend to be -- one service can give you a high score, while another decides you're basically a social loser -- you might decide the whole influence-ranking phenomenon is a questionable racket.

Of course, all the companies insist that there are well-thought-out processes behind their parsing of various data, including how often you're retweeted, the relative influence of your followers, etc. Some of the influence-tracking companies also attempt to quantify your social influence elsewhere, including on Facebook and LinkedIn.

As a sort of experiment, Advertising Age decided to look past mere scores. And so we asked one company, PeopleBrowsr, to name names of specific influencers. We went with PeopleBrowsr not only because it was ready and able to do what we asked, but because of its deep history with Twitter: It started collecting, archiving and analyzing the tweet stream back in 2007, before Twitter even bought Summize, the company whose tweet-search product became Twitter's site search.

We gave a list of brands to PeopleBrowsr and said: Tell us who, on Twitter, is influencing the conversation about them. The ranked results, along with some opinionated responses from me:

Audi

  1. @AllWorldCars
  2. @quattroworld
  3. @audi_a1

I don't drive an Audi -- as a Manhattanite, I don't even own a car -- but in manually parsing these users' tweet streams, my reaction is: Hmmmm. For instance, @audi__a1 has just 2,094 followers, and though it's constantly tweeting all manner of eminently retweetable Audi-obsessed stuff tied to its associated blog, LTD-Cars, such as "Audi Video: All New 2011 Audi A7s7 amp Rs7 Spied In Austria," it seems to be very rarely retweeted. My suspicion: Its nonstop name-checking of Audi (in virtually every tweet) misleadingly amplifies its apparently small Twitter footprint in regard to the brand.

Bugaboo

  1. @MomCentral
  2. @thebump
  3. @247moms

I don't drive a Bugaboo either, but I'm more willing to accept that mommybloggers such as @thebump (which is the Twitter handle of TheBump blog, from the makers of TheKnot.com) could influence opinions and purchasing decisions surrounding the high-end stroller brand.

"Mad Men"
Direct show affiliates/characters/fan pages:

  1. @_DonDraper
  2. @bettydraper
  3. @DonDraperSCDP

Media-property Twitter accounts:
  1. @extratv
  2. @g4tv
  3. @TVGuide

For the AMC series "Mad Men," PeopleBrowsr broke influencers into two self-explanatory categories. And here's where the wires start to cross in my brain in regard to the very definition of the term "social influencer." For instance, the anonymous person tweeting at @_dondraper -- who is doing, basically, short-form fan fiction in the voice of the "Mad Men" character -- obviously has his fans. But when he tweets (e.g., "Sally just got sick in the car. Too many hot dogs at Nathan's..."), is he merely offering some low-level entertainment for already-hardcore "Mad Men" fans? How is that influencing anything? The @TVGuide account, on the other hand, which is attached, of course, to a storied media brand that has insider access to the makers and stars of the show, seems much more likely to actually influence non-"Mad Men" fans to consider watching the show. In other words, is "social influence" about preaching to (and/or amusing) the already converted, or finding new converts?

"American Idol"
Former contestants:

  1. @Syesha
  2. @kelliepickler

Direct affiliates:
  1. @RyanSeacrest
  2. @AmericanIdol
  3. @IdolNews

No affiliation:
  1. @JBiebsBoy
  2. @BuzzEdition

Once again, PeopleBrowsr chose to subcategorize influencers here. No surprises in the first two categories, but regarding those influencers with no affiliation to "American Idol," my curiosity was piqued by @JBiebsBoy in particular. On his linked Tumblr, he identifies himself as a 13-year-old Australian; he apparently amassed close to 59,000 followers for being a boy who openly admits to being a fan of pop star Justin Bieber. He has tweeted a lot recently about the Biebs (e.g., "Confession: I've been called 'gay' at school before for liking Bieber. But it's okay because I will accept the pain to support Justin"), though nothing that I can see about "American Idol." Is he truly influencing the Twitter conversation about "Idol" on Twitter? PeopleBrowsr says yes. I say: Um, really?

Maker's Mark

  1. @bourbonblog
  2. @JimBeamFans
  3. @justaddbourbon

OK, @bourbonblog and @justaddbourbon, sure. But frankly, I'm a bit dubious about @JimBeamFans. I happen to be a Maker's Mark man myself -- when you're buying. Otherwise, I'm probably drinking cheap vodka. And after reading through tons of @JimBeamFans tweets, I remain entirely uninfluenced. Yes, whoever's behind the account is admirably engaged, offering lots of "@ replies" in response to incoming tweets as well as sassy retweets (e.g., "Hate when people try & compare Jim Beam & Jack Daniels. 1 is a delicious nectar made by gods. The other is Jack Daniels."). But I simply can't imagine a scenario wherein someone with a strong preference for Maker's would ever be influenced by @JimBeamFans. If there are any Maker's-drinking @JimBeamFans followers out there who have been "influenced" by it, please, let's talk about it over drinks. The Smirnoff's on me!

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