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Social Media Influence isn’t About Popularity, It’s Contextual

Nobody cares what I say about cheese

There are at least three questions you should ask yourself before engaging online with influential thought leaders in your target market.

1. Which topical communities should I be looking at?

2. Who do the people inside of those communities respect most and listen to?

3. What can I do for those people?

Remember the old saying “9 out of 10 dentists recommend?”  If you’re looking for information about the dental field, ask the dentists – not the neuroscientists or the cheese mongers.

Little Bird will answer for you, or help you answer, all of those 3 questions.

Contextual Connections Are Key

If I’m looking for top experts and influencers in the field of Neuroscience, what matters most is how many other neuroscience experts pay attention to someone I’m looking at engaging with.

Consider neuroscience writer Oliver Sacks, author of books like Musicophilia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.

Sacks is a generally popular author, but do other neuroscientists pay attention to him?  By analyzing his connections online, we can see that he’s won the attention of other thought leaders in the field like Vaughan Bell, Marsha Lucas and Micah Allen, among many other neuroscience specialists.

That’s super relevant, it’s contextual, it makes sense that we count those connections in evaluating his influence in the world of Neuroscience.  (Incidentally, Sacks doesn’t follow any of those three people back yet – but I’ve tweeted to him about it and perhaps he will!)

Irrelevant Followers Are Irrelevant

Oliver Sacks is also followed on Twitter by Rebecca Siegel, who is a cheese maker and goat herder in Vermont. That’s cool, but is it relevant to evaluating his influence in the world of neuroscientists?  No.

On the other hand, if I wanted to know about cheese, Rebecca Siegel’s judgement would be very important.  She’s won the ear of leaders in the cheese industry like Marcella Wright and Tia Keenan.   Almost 100 other cheese industry leaders online follow Siegel on Twitter – which we understand means she’s a very important player in that field.  Her opinion about neuroscience probably isn’t relevant though.

Below: Rebecca Siegel has the ear of the cheese community.

That’s why we believe that connections out of context, or even absolute popularity with the general public, are not the best way to evaluate someone’s influence in a particular field.

We believe that in-group validation is the best metric.  It’s made even more valuable because it cannot be gamed, or cheated.  There’s no way you’re going to win the attention of a whole bunch of neuroscience leaders without being pretty darned interesting.  Thus, working backwards, seeing who has won the attention of a bunch of neuroscientists is a good way to find out who neuroscientists find interesting.

We at Little Bird perform all this social network analysis faster, better and cheaper than any other system you’ll find.  We’ll lead you to the door of the top cheese mongers, neuroscientists or anyone else you like.  Then we’ll help you figure out what you can do for them, too.  That’s the subject of another post.

  • Lionel Menchaca Jr.

    Agree with your thoughts here Marshall. I like how you guys think.

  • Derek Wyatt

    Great article! An influencer isn’t determined by how many followers they have. A true influencer can produce content that drives action. Every time I encounter someone with 50K followers, they’re following 30k people themselves and have tweeted over 150K times, I see that they are just trying to “play the game.” They’re not concerned with establishing an ROI, they’re concerned about building vanity metrics.

  • Rhea Galsim

    Yes! Thanks ! Great read.

  • Andre van Wyk

    Very relevant, but this also assumes that anyone person would stick solely to one topic or subject field. What of one’s outside interests, other than vocational.

    • Nate ☃ Angell


      Thanks for your comment!

      I work with Marshall at Little Bird and was wondering why you think Marshall’s points here suggest a person would engage in only one topic? A single person might have in-group validation for their position in multiple topical communities.

      Maybe I don’t quite get your point.

      • Andre van Wyk

        Hi Nate

        In the example laid out, it appears that Marshall states that Rebecca as being a follower of Oliver is irrelevant within the neuroscience subject. My point is that who is to say that she is irrelevant within this case, for all we know she may be a qualified neuro-scientist turned cheese maker. Or may have an avid interest in neuroscience – and contributes to the subject field in some or other way.

        I understand and agree with the relevance of what has been written here, I am considering the issue of discounting followers based on a broad sweeping assumption.