Bieber Beats Barack

This may come as a surprise to you, but Justin Bieber is the most powerful man in the world.

Almost equal to his dominance are Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.

Fourth, sadly, is the President of the United States. I’m sure he thinks himself to be the most influential man in the world, but a generation of Beliebers has shifted the power balance and knighted a popstar.

Such is the world of Twitter.

What’s All This Influence Actually Worth?

Let’s do a little experiment.

Raise your hand if you follow Ashton Kutcher on Twitter.


Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever done something because he suggested it.

Not as many, right?

Let’s try another one.

Imagine yourself 50 years from now, sitting in a rocking chair and recounting the events of your life to your grandchildren.

Who are you more likely to associate with the good ol’ days, Kim Kardashian or Bill Clinton?

Do you think you might tell little Johnny how Rihanna inspired the profoundly world-changing Salt March of 2015?

Do you imagine yourself recounting, word for word, Taylor Swift’s stirring speech, “I Have a Dream”?

Taking Influence with a Grain of Salt

Marketers have been increasing spend in social media quite a bit over the last few years. And that’s great – social media marketing definitely has a place at the table in my (occasionally humble) opinion.

But what worries me as a marketing consultant is the idea that social media is a magic bullet, free to use and easy to turn into more business.

Finding the Real(er) Numbers

Social Media is a very measurable platform. I’m a super data nerd, so that gets me all kinds of excited.

But we have to be careful to look at the right numbers before we jump in.

True Followers and Fake Followers

You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to get a huge number of followers on your twitter account. Some sites will fill your account for $5, and it’s estimated that the market for fake twitter followers is in the millions of dollars.

One relatively simple way to get a more accurate sense of influence on twitter is to parse out the real vs. the fake.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some celebrities’ accounts, and the percentage of real vs. fake.


So here, we can see that while Biebs’ total follower numbers are huge, around half of these followers aren’t real.

That kind of info would change your spend, wouldn’t it?

Influence vs. Homophily

People tend to hang out with people who are like them.

For example, I hang out with brilliant, athletic, devastatingly attractive people. Hey – it’s just nature 😉

This is homophily, and it’s not the result of social media or any other marketing idea. You might call it the “Birds of a Feather” principle.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Sinan Aral from NYU’s Stern School of Business ran some experiments to try and separate out the role of homophily from social influence and found some interesting results.

He found that traditional models overestimated social influence by a factor of seven.

He also found that half of perceived influence was really just homophily and a number of other “confounding factors”

So to get a true sense of how effective your social media efforts are, you might want to start by cutting the results in half.

Clout vs. Klout

Clout is an old concept, synonymous with influence or power. We all know someone who carries a lot of clout. That person is probably capable of changing our thought patterns and behaviors.

In the world of entrepreneurs, you might look at a guy like Richard Branson as having a lot of clout. He’s certainly made sweeping changes to how people think and behave as entrepreneurs.

Clout is a subtle thing, and measuring it would be truly challenging. Typically, we just “know it when we see it”.

And then there’s Klout-with-a-K, an independent measure of a person’s influence on social media.

If you read how Klout is calculated, you hear that it’s a mixture of over 400 different social signals.

What Klout seems to measure well is how likely your posts are to spread to other people.

But what a Klout score doesn’t seem to be able to measure is “how likely are you to change a particular behavior based on these messages?”

In short, it doesn’t measure what’s truly important: how these social messages actually contribute to real-world behaviors.

The Search for the Magic Bullet Continues

We’re big believers in integrated marketing here at Burst. And with information like the above, it just further bolsters the idea that truly effective marketing comes from a combination of tactics. Social Media, while inexpensive and user friendly, typically can’t get the job done by itself.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a place in the marketing mix for many organizations. As with every plan we create here at Burst, the real goal is to drive positive results. Having a realistic picture of the role each tactic plays in those results is key towards allocating budgets most effectively.