Can a Tweet Really Influence Behavior?


Influence is a word that gets kicked around like a soccer ball on Twitter.

Many social media experts and Twitter itself point to its ability to influence behavior.  The conventional wisdom holds that businesses, brands and people can use micro-blogging to sway consumers, employers, shareholders, partners, analysis, friends and the media.

A start-up called Klout has even set-up a business model that ranks and measures the influence of Twitter users.  Klout uses a formula that measures factors like reach, amplification and network quality.  I tested three accounts through Klout to see how Klout ranked them: My @HighTalk account, a defunct account (unused for more than a year) and the satire account du jour @DrunkHulk

Here is how the accounts ranked:

  • @HighTalk: Score 32 (out of 100).  “HighTalk is a connector.  You are a constant source of information to your friends and co-workers. There is a good chance that you probably introduced several of your friends to Twitter. Your taste and opinion is respected and your judgment is trusted.”
  • Defunct Account: Score 7 (out of 100).  “You are a casual.  You don’t take this Twitter stuff too seriously. People towards the lower left corner are probably very new to social media. Most people in this quadrant tend to engage with a small group of friends that they know in real life. If you’re in the upper right corner, you have succeeded in building a strong audience, but need to engage and be more active to jump to the next level.”
  • @DrunkHulk: Score 69 (out of 100): “DrunkHulk is a persona. You have built a personal brand around your identity. There is a good chance that you work in social media or marketing but you might even be famous in real life. Being a persona is not just about having a ton of followers, to make it to the top right corner you need to engage with your audience. Make no mistake about it though, when you talk people listen.”

And therein lies the trouble with trying to measure influence on a platform like Twitter.  Some of Klout’s analysis rings true – not unlike the horoscopes you can find in your daily newspapers.  But businesses, brands and people use Twitter in many different ways and trying to analyze them in aggregate is a risky proposition.

Is Drunk Hulk – a hilarious parody account – really influential?  Of course not.  It’s an account that people peruse – laugh at – and share with friends.  Will the account even exist in six months?  Who knows?  But Drunk Hulk is not influencing buying decisions or helping change conventional wisdom.  When DrunkHulk talks people aren’t “listening” – at least not in the way Klout implies.

There is a larger question here (other than Klout’s ability to measure influence).  Can Twitter – as a platform – actually influence?  There’s no question that Twitter is a wonderful discovery engine.  It is very good at directing traffic – pushing people to other sources of information.  There are some people on Twitter better at this than others.  But is being a traffic cop really being influential?

It might be – in a sense.  But can Twitter – in the form of  tweets – really change perceptions and opinions and drive behavioral change?

Unless we water down what influence means (I define influence as the ability to effect and change behaviors), I’d argue that the platform isn’t there yet.  Twitter simply doesn’t have the content capacity for true influence.  It’s a bullhorn.  A place for discovery and for conversational snippets.  It’s a platform that does an excellent job of directing people to content that does have an ability to influence – articles, reviews, news, blog posts, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, podcasts, user forums, etc.  But the tweets themselves?

So if we narrowly define influence as being a traffic cop – Twitter ranks extremely high.  But as far of changing behavior, I’d argue that Twitter doesn’t have that capacity – at least not yet.

What do you think?  Is my definition of influence too narrow?  Has a tweet changed your behavior or made you think differently?





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3 Responses to “Can a Tweet Really Influence Behavior?”

  1. Not only twitter, the whole internet can influence behavior

  2. I don’t think anyone would argue with that observation!


  1. Beyond the Wire » Worthy on the Web – Week of July 9 - July 9, 2010

    […] Can a tweet really influence behavior? […]

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