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Research explores how you can cultivate influence on Twitter

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As Twitter has grown in size and importance, there have been a number of attempts to understand what contributes to success (or not).  For instance there have been various studies into what encourages people to retweet your updates.

Various other studies have focused instead on the field of influence.  For instance, one recent paper explored the role influential people on social networks play in disseminating scientific findings, and even in government communications.

So, influence is pretty important, but what if you don’t have any?  How can you go about becoming influential from a standing start?

One approach is to trade off your lack of influence with an increase in volume.  By tweeting more, people hope that this will translate into influence over time.  Researchers from the Technical University of Madrid set out to find out in a recent paper whether this approach has any merit.

The team trawled through thousands of conversations held on Twitter to try and devise a measure that computes the effort people go to (in terms of posts), and the subsequent increase in their influence.The very structure of Twitter determines that there will always be a relatively small number of influential users.  The median number of followers is, after all, just 61.

When influence is distributed in this kind of way, the position you hold in the network becomes more important then your relative merits as a user.  Therefore, having a lot of followers is regarded as more important than posting regularly.

“However, if the underlying network were homogeneous (something which it is not), users would have approximately the same number of connections and their position on the network would not be important; their influence would depend directly on their activity,” the researchers say.

They go on to make the rather controversial suggestion that if you lack influence, then your posting style is largely irrelevant.  Those with influence can largely flout the ‘rules’ and still record greater impact, even if they don’t post as perfectly as you.

“The data shows that the emergence of a group of users who write fewer tweets but that are largely retweeted is due to the social network being heterogeneous,” the researchers concludet.

Of course, one thing not covered particularly in the research is the quality of the followers one has, and whether that influences your subsequent levels of influence.  I’ve written numerous times about the huge growth in buying followers, which whilst it boosts your numbers, it would (hopefully) contribute little to your influence.

At least, you’d hope that, except a study from earlier this year suggested it might not be quite so rosy.  Researchers developed an army of fake accounts and programmed them to do various basic things.  Whilst some were picked up by the Twitter police, and some flopped, a sizable minority managed to obtain a large degree of influence.  Some even grew their Klout score to be higher than certain high profile academics in their particular niche.

The researchers reveal that the key to success was activity.  The more active the bots were, the better they fared.  What’s more, the ‘original’ tweets that each bot generated seemed to be more effective than the bots who relied more on retweeting others content.  Indeed, the researchers suggest the relative incoherence of the tweets may have been of benefit.

Funny old world is Twitter.

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