While hard to define and measure, especially when it comes to Twitter, influence represents an important element for the practice of ediplomacy. It provides a way to better gauge how Twitter users have an impact on society and politics through their tweets and conversations.
In fact, as over the years Twitter has become a key tool for ediplomacy – so much so that the term twiplomacy on Google now generates more than double the search results than ediplomacy itself (221,000 vs 95,000) – measuring influence has attracted many different social media players both within and outside the diplomatic community. While most efforts are marketing-related, influence tools are an interesting tool for digital diplomacy as well as more traditional diplomacy. As all main research papers and articles on ediplomacy and digital diplomacy are based on or refer to influence, it is important to understand what it is and navigate beyond its elusiveness. So, what is influence? Unfortunately, no standard definition is exhaustive and covers the Twitter realm. Too often people believe that the number of followers determines how influential a user is on Twitter. Followers are certainly part of the equation, but other factors weigh more: interactions, mentions, activity, re-tweets. Those are all elements that amplify a user’s presence on Twitter beyond the account’s reach through followers.
“Someone with millions of followers may no longer post messages frequently, while someone followed by mere tens of thousands may be a prolific poster whose messages are amplified by others,” the New York Time’s David Leonhardt quoted Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams as saying in March 2011.
What Williams refers to is that Twitter can be a phenomenal digital diplomacy tool only when it leads to an open conversation, not a monologue. As I have argued time and time again, we’re at a crucial point where, when it comes to all forms of diplomacy, listening is as important as acting.
A recent Twiplomacy study published by public relations firm Burson-Masteller reveals not only world leaders aren’t very good listeners on Twitter, but also that most of them don’t tweet for themselves. Only some 30 out of the 264 world leaders on Twitter actually tweet themselves without using ghost twitter-ers. Oftentimes they’re also poorly active, as they use Twitter mostly for campaigning – to the point that some stop tweeting after taking office: as of today, French President François Hollande’s last tweet dates May 18, 2012, three days after being inaugurated.
No matter what the message is, interacting with and engaging the public is important to build up trust, increase your reach, and influence both your network and new possible followers. That’s what influence is all about: listening, communicating, and engaging. The most more successful you are in achieving those three goals, the more Twitter-influential you become.
“Influence is bliss… With every response and action that results from our engagement, we are slowly introduced to the laws of social physics: for every action there is a reaction – even if that reaction is silence,” writes Brian Solis, social media expert and principal at Altimeter, on his blog. “The extent of this resulting activity is measured by levels of influence and other factors such as the size and shape of niche-works as well as attention aperture and time.
Influence metrics are vast and mostly derived from proprietary formulas and algorithms developed by marketing firms. Influence in fact is a key element too better rebalance a company’s strategy, product development, and ad campaigns. It is as important for governments and diplomacies around the world to re-calibrate foreign policy priorities and understand those numerous non-traditional players that social media have thrown in to the diplomatic arena and are now as engaging as traditional actors.
[In part two of this guest blog Andreas Sandr illustrates how to gauge influence through an analysis of Twitter users in the Arab region. Andreas is 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]