Editor   28 Aug 2012   E-Diplomacy

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“As the Web grows more massive all the time, it's becoming increasingly important to quickly assess what Internet users are influential about and how they are influenced in order to make more informed decisions,” said Klout co-founder and CEO Joe Fernandez in a February 2012 interview with CNN.

Klout, a four-year-old online service that measures influence the user’s “ability to drive action” – as Fernandez puts it – is one of the many companies that have dipped their feet into measuring the elusiveness of influence – even more elusive and difficult to put on paper as the web is registering a great shift from desktop to mobile, making calculations and algorithms more and more difficult.

Because influence is based on very diverse factors – the social being one of the most difficult to measure – results vary, sometimes even greatly, but they indeed hand interesting data.

As the Arab world is emerging as one of the fastest growing players in digital diplomacy, with over 1.3 million Twitter users as of March 2012 (see infographic by Jordanian social media expert Khaled El Ahmad), I have compared influence scores of the most influential Twitter users in the region using three different sources: 1) AFP’s eDiplomacy Hub; 2) Edelman’s TweetLevel; and 3) Klout.

Starting up with the AFP ranking of top influencers in Arab countries, I compared the scores of the first 20 (as of August 9-10, 2012). As you can see from the table below, although with different metrics and values, scores seem to provide a similar picture. 

The few exceptions where scores don’t match up give us an idea of how influence is more of a perception than an exact science… And how difficult it is to measure it. For example, Mohamed El Baradei, a former IAEA head and Presidential candidate in Egypt’s last elections, scores 34th most influential in the world (6th in the Arab world) in the AFP’s eDiplomacy Hub. However, his Edelman TweetLevel score is only 65.5, the lowest among the top 20 reviewed, while his Klout score is a low 73.8, compared to higher ranks of other Egyptians listed.

To have a better picture of influence in the Arab world, the graphic below shows the three highest-ranking Twitter users, as listed by AFP, Edelman, and Klout (data were pulled for the 136 top influencers ranked by AFP for the Arab region, more details is available for socialmedianerds!). 

To use once again Egypt as an example, while El Baradei is the top influencer in the country according to AFP, Edelman ranks top Mona Eltahawy (44th in the region and 176th in the world according to AFP), and Klout gives its highest rank to blogger Nawara Negm (for AFP, 25th in the region and 100th in the world). For other countries, especially those where the number of Twitter users is lower and thus penetration is limited, scores tend to match up better.

As metrics and logarithms used by AFP, Edelman, and Klout to measure influence are not the same, comparing them is definitely not a scientific endeavor. It is however, a way to see how we can use influence parameters in the practice of eDiplomacy and in the training of diplomats and social media practitioners in the field of foreign policy and international relations.

“Influence is truly complex. And this is a considerable challenge – and opportunity – to marketing and public relations firms,” writes author Philip Sheldrake in the Guardian. “So far, many have claimed to be able to identify the influentials, get to know them, and influence them. They are effectively claiming to be the influencer of influencers, a sort of influencer-in-chief, if you like.”

Sheldrake is definitely right: measuring influence is a challenge and not a perfect science. Rather than measuring something so complex we should focus on understanding it and applying influence parameters to all sectors where online influence is key factor, such as digital diplomacy as a conveyor tool for eDiplomacy.

[This is the second part of a guest blog by Andreas Sandre, a Press and Public Affairs Officer at the Embassy of Italy in Washington DC. The views expressed in the article are the author's only and do not necessarily reflect those of the Embassy of Italy. On Twitter: @andreas212nyc] 

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