Social Media Influencers – Are tweeters buyers or sellers?

Influence has to generate an effect – otherwise the initial action wasn’t influential! So what ‘effect’ do social media influence measurement companies purport to measure? These companies tend to have no connection to real-life sales decisions, so they measure any action they can see.

And in the case of Twitter that’s largely based on retweeting of the original message. Which is fine if that message is sent to someone who forwards it on selectively. But as we all know, that’s not the convention of Twitter users. Mass retweeting, not selective retweeting, is the norm.

Effectively those who retweet the most often, to the largest audience, are considered the most ‘influential’. And when those people are rewarded, through Klout Perks or similar, they are further encouraged to shout as loud as they can. They are advised to simply increase their activity to increase their ‘score’. So those considered Social Media Influencers are typically just the loudest people, not the most influential.

Twitter’s lack of selectivity, its lack of filtering intelligent comment from inane chat, is just one issue jarring the argument that Twitter is the new home of real-world influencers.

Supposing these ‘influencers’ were able to sway their audience, what is the makeup of that audience? In early Jan’13 we completed three months’ analysis into the Twitter audience for the business topic of Supply Chain Management.  The results indicate that Twitter is almost exclusively reaching those who have no role to play in B2B buying decisions.

Of 1900 original tweets on the subject, 470 were generated by suppliers selling into that market. Of the 1430 remaining, 1065 were from those we could immediately categorise as individuals, contractors, one-person brands or from marketing agencies. A further 308 were generic messages by bots or other mass-marketing tools. That leaves just 57 (3%), which could, yes could, have been contributed by those inside end-user organizations. That’s not even to say those 57 were definitely from end-user orgs, much less that they were involved in their company’s purchasing function.

When we look at retweets the evidence is even starker. Those initial 1900 tweets generated a further 5640 retweets, but only 5% of the original tweets were responsible for 97% of these subsequent retweets. And, only nine of the original tweets from possible end-user organisations were retweeted.

Overall, we believe that end-user organisation tweeters could have generated a maximum of just 1.6% of the tweets and retweets on the subject in the period we reviewed. If people selling something equates to 98.4% of users, and those potentially in a position to buy something just 1.6% – then that’s not a very promising statistic.

Of course, those from end-user organizations could be simply happily consuming Twitter messages rather than taking any more active role, but such passive consumption still doesn’t bode well. It’s further evidence to us that, in terms of business users, Twitter is almost universally being used by those with selling not buying on their minds.

Nick Hayes is Principal at Influencer50.