How to make news and influence people

The latest annual rankings of Twitter’s ‘most influential’ UK tweeters has been unveiled by PeerIndex, a social media analytics company.

Astonishingly (or not) the top five places are filled by the five members of boy band, One Direction. Sixth spot goes to another pop star, Ed Sheeran. Not until you read down the list to seventh place, do you find non-pop star, Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Does this really mean that a bunch of 19 and 20-year-olds are more influential than the prime minister of the UK?

Amongst their millions of fans, almost certainly, yes. Interestingly, the boys all have over 12 million followers a piece on twitter – apart from young Zayn, who lags behind with just shy of 10 million. But even he is miles ahead, in follower terms, of poor old David, whose followers only number 400,000.

Looking elsewhere in the chart, one of the most famous pioneers of the medium, Stephen Fry, seems to be losing ground, only showing up at number 11.

Indeed, not far behind national treasure, Stephen is opinionated footballer, Joey Barton, often good for a controversial tweet and the odd twitter barney.

Of the same ilk is Piers Morgan, who occupies the number eight position, probably because he’s able to get more people’s backs up than Joey.

Lower down the list, glamour model, Jodie Marsh sits five places above loveable physicist and ex D:Ream keyboard player, Prof Brian Cox.

At a quick glance, the ranking appears to be made up of pop stars, TV personalities, footballers (and pundits), a few politicians and commentators who hold strong, political views and are keen to share them.

Quoted in the Guardian’s report on the ranking, PeerIndex founder Azeem Azhar said: “As Twitter has become more mainstream, the top 140 starts to resemble the contours of popular culture and power, the footballers, politicians and boy bands.”

But are they really influential?

In compiling the chart, PeerIndex has omitted corporate and brand accounts, including newspapers, along with journalists from main national newspapers (with some exceptions if they undertake external activities, such as writing books) and parody twitter accounts.

But why? Why indeed.

If the rankings are a true measure of influence, why not include everybody?

Well, without knowing how the rankings would look if all of these excluded accounts were included, it’s difficult to say.

One possible explanation could be that the power (and importance) of twitter and social media in general wouldn’t look so strong. Maybe, journalists in the national press and on TV and radio still hold sway when it comes to influencing the public.

And, in terms of the importance of the medium for getting across your message, it might be a lot more important for some people than others. For example, for a boy band, that wants to appear to be accessible to its fans, twitter and facebook offer a wonderful communications platform.

For a politician, such as David Cameron, he may still feel the best way to get his messages out to the electorate is through traditional news and current affairs programmes and via the national press. If he’s only talking to 400,000 people on twitter (assuming they’re all reading what he’s tweeting), he’s still got another 46 million or so other people to reach.

Is Joey Barton or Piers Morgan or Ricky Gervais (number 10 – in the chart, not Downing Street) really influential? People might want to engage with them, shout at them, retweet them or take issue with them. But is that really being influential?

In considering everything, it’s worth bearing in mind that PeerIndex is a social media analytics company. Their business is to advise organisations on how to make the most of social media.

Like all companies, they have their own agenda.

Having said all of that, PeerIndex hasn’t just relied on twitter to get its findings out there. Not at all. This morning, their 2013 most influential list was discussed on flagship BBC Radio 4 current affairs programme, Today. It also featured in most, if not all, of the main UK national press and no doubt many other broadcast and print media.

Good PR, but why bother when they could have just asked the influential chaps from 1D to give them a retweet?

Categories: Opinion PR