Big Numbers and No Influence

Like it or not, a very large part of Mark Britton’s role as CEO of Avvo is to market.  It’s a social media business, and social media businesses don’t survive without finding someone willing to pay them money.  So when Mark takes a position contrary to the every-growing population of social media experts, it means something.  And, as Mark puts it, he’s letting the “cat out of the bag.”


…the number of one’s Twitter followers has nothing to do with his or her influence. In other words, 9.9 times out of ten, the heavily Twitter-followed have as much influence as this guy. You don’t know him, do you? And, that’s the point. This guy could go on Twitter tomorrow and start following 100,000 people. Within a couple of months, he would have tens of thousands of followers, simply because the people he originally followed are flattered to be followed and follow him back.

So here is the true Twitter litmus test on the influence front: Look at the ratio of the number of people someone is “following” vs. their “followers” (i.e., divide their “following” number by their “follower” number). The closer that ratio is to 0 (e.g., 125 “following” divided by 40,000 “followers”), the more influential that person is. And, conversely, the closer that ratio is to 1 (e.g., 34,956 “following” divided by 40,000 “followers”), and especially if it exceeds 1 (e.g., 42,566 “following” divided by 40,000 “followers”), the *less* influential that person probably is. Rather than being a thought leader, maven or ninja, they are regular people just like you and me — they just work harder at spamming Twitter for followers than you or me.
While I hate to quibble, it’s not quite true that they are just “regular people,” unless your idea of regular people are those whose goal in using twitter, perhaps the internet as a whole, is to promote the living crap out of themselves and their businesses.  While I hesitate to use a percentage, my experience is that the vast majority of people twitting do so exclusively as a delivery mechanism for marketing.  That means that marketers are marketing to marketers who are marketing to other marketers.  And then, there are a few people who just happen to be on twitter for fun and, occasionally, to hang out and communicate with their friends.

Recently, my young friend Adrian Dayton, who has done a bang up job of establishing himself as a twitter expert despite the lack of clarity as to what qualifies him to teach anything to lawyers, has been giving seminars to those lawyers too dumb to twit on their own.  In the process, he twits to his 38,000 almost 39,000 followers to retweet his twit.  The purpose is to show the “power” of the retweet and the influence he wields by virtue of his many followers. 

It’s a fascinating exercise, both because it’s likely to be quite persuasive to Adrian’s audience, and it’s a total load of crap.  Of course, the audience is unlikely to realize that latter, lacking a clear understanding that followers on twitter are too often named “Britney” or themselves only interested in gathering as many followers as possible in their simplistic quest at marketing hegemony.  It’s a meaningless bit of theater, except for the fact that its goal is to get people to pay to learn the magic secret of great twitter influence.

Mark makes the point with a Charles Schulz impression.


To put this into [comic] relief, let me offer an offline, hypothetical conversation between, let’s say, Lucy and Charlie Brown.

Lucy: I went to a party last night with 65,000 people … I’m sooooo influential.

Charlie Brown: Really, who did you talk to?

Lucy: I don’t know, I just talked and talked.

Charlie Brown: Was anyone listening?

Lucy: Of course they were! Didn’t I just tell you there were 65,000 people!


As for me, I’m just going to keep pulling the football back every time some social media guru tries to kick it through the uprights.  I realize that technology is full of strange and mysterious ways, and that the chorus of people telling you that you absolutely, positively must utilize every new shiny thing or your practice will die and your life will be over.  Somebody has to remind you that there is no magic bullet that will change the fundamental requirements of a successful law practice: hard work, competence, integrity and client service. 

And somebody has to tell you that there’s no shortcut, like amassing a bunch of worthless followers on twitter.  My thanks to Mark Britton for letting that cat of the bag.

27 comments on “Big Numbers and No Influence

  1. Mark Bennett

    Britton’s index doesn’t measure influence—a person who follows nobody but is followed by his mother would score a perfect Zero.

    Britton’s index measures boringness. The more people you follow divided by those who follow you is your Twitter Boring Index. The inverse is your Twitter Interesting Index. The most interesting people might have very little influence.

    Here’s a Twitter Interesting Influence calculator (you’ll indulge me and allow the link?).

    To measure influence, we would need to somehow account for the number of followers who are actually paying attention. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to do that.

  2. SHG

    I’m not endorsing Mark’s index, since we both know that there’s no way, short of taking a hard look at who you follow and who follows you, of knowing whether followers matter at all.  I do, however, think that it’s important that someone who is in the business of promoting social media comes out to challenge the heavily promoted theme that the bigger the number, the greater the influence.  After all, it can’t be just you and me screaming about this in the darkness.

  3. Editor of Blawg Review

    It’s not the number of followers paying attention that shows influence. It’s the number of “interesting followers paying attention” that shows influence. To get some sense of that, you might try an experiment; ask followers to RT a post and see if anyone interesting does. Isn’t that what @AdrianDayton does?

  4. Editor of Blawg Review

    When a lawyer refers to another lawyer as his “young friend” he’s not really his friend, he’s an adversary whom the older lawyer is trying to denigrate so others won’t find his arguments persuasive on the merits. And my old friend Scott knows that.

  5. SHG

     Isn’t that what @AdrianDayton does?

    Not exactly.  Actually, not at all.  His retweet show has to do with the number of RTs, not whether the RTs are by interesting people.  That said, the interesting people vary based on what one finds interesting.  Adrian finds people who are interested in social media interesting, and if they were to enable his RTs (yes, obviously self-serving but put that aside for the moment), he would find them interesting. 

    I, on the other hand, find real lawyers interesting.  If I played the RT game, I would expect no response, none of them having the slightest interest in playing a game that only matters to social media gurus and marketers.  In other words, anyone who would indulge my RT was, by definition, of little interest to me.

  6. SHG

    Only partially true.  As Adrian knows, I like him.  I disagree with what he’s doing, but I do like him.

  7. David Sugerman

    The whole marketing thing is worth denigrating. The value starts with connections to people I would not have found but for Twitter (e.g., present company). But the bigger piece is that it provides a pipeline for information that matters. I want to be able to interact with colleagues and allies from my small,left-coast corner of the civil justice system. It manifests when I find out about the latest nasty cert petition granted by SCOTUS, an interesting post somebody put up on a trial court outcome, or what a state-wide ballot initiative or election mean to middle income consumers’ access to the courts. My take on influence is that it’s about content. Numbers of followers/number following mean next to nothing.

  8. Jdog

    The problem, I think, is that retweeting can be done to share interesting stuff or to promote visibility on twitter.

    It’s sort of a Turing test to figure out which it is (or mainly is) in a given case (with the social promotion biological wetware substituting for the computer program), and even if somebody can do that reasonably reliably (I’m pretty sure I could for some cases — I’d conclude that somebody who frequently tweets interesting stuff was doing it, once again, to share interesting stuff, and that the variants on BritneyBumpsUglies were doing it for the latter), that’s not something that scales up really well.

  9. SHG

    I love it when folks RT interesting posts and stories.  The problem, as you note, is what constitutes “interesting”.  Most SMGs RT stories about the glory of social media.  When they just plain old Twit, its often to thank someone else for RTing something they RTed.  For SMGs, it’s all about making people “like” you, under the marketing theory that people do business with people they like.

    My lips would hurt an awful lot if I had to kiss that many butts.

  10. Doug Greathouse

    Social media is what you make it. I have built great relationships with people I would have never met outside of social media. It also has been great for my business. Where many businesses get it wrong is they approach it like they would traditional media such as TV, and just put up “Ads or commercials” for their business and forget that the real value is in interaction with your audience. The more followers you have the more chances you have of meeting interesting people. As Gary Vaynerchuk would say it’s about caring. Most of the relationships I have built on Twitter are not with marketers but people and businesses that I just “connected” with because we had similar interest or they needed my services or I saw value in theirs. For business purposes is important to have a strategy with using social media with the knowledge that it is more about interacting than advertising. Although done correctly you can run a hugely successful marketing campaign through social media. Look at what Burger King did with the Whopper sacrifice. Bottom Line: Think about what your company goals are and devise a strategy to leverage social media appropriately. If unsure of how to chart the waters it would be a great idea to hire a consultant or company that understands the best practices of social media.

    [Ed. Note::  The writer of this comment is a marketer trying to sell himself here.  Rather than just remove it as spam, I’ve decided to make an example out of this comment as a warning to marketers not to try to spam my blawg with their garbage.]

  11. SHG

    I would like to say how rare it is to have some inane marketer try to post his insipid bullshit in my comments.  I would like to, but I can’t.  Unfortunately, dear Doug, you’re just one of many who try to promote themselves with their meaningless garbage.  If nothing else, you’ve now conclusively shown that anyone foolish enough to think that a consultant can help them to do what they’re too stupid or incompetent to do on their own, will at least know to avoid you at all costs. 

    Ridiculous comment. Dumb move.  Clearly, you are one marketer to stay far away from.

    Don’t ever try to sell your garbage here again.

  12. Andrew

    I have had this thought before myself, that only marketers use Twitter and are marketing to other marketers – basically an industry sausage fest. However, after listening to a few TED talks about Twitter and giving it a second glance, I have changed my stance.

    When you look at how Twitter influenced the Iran elections, when you recognize that the news about Michael Jackson dying and so many other events broke on Twitter first, when you see that with the single click of a button you can get a message out to 20,000 people in less than 20 seconds – THAT is powerful.

    Whether you or I pay attention to Twitter conversations or not doesn’t matter, because there are millions who do; it is the democratization of technology, the people have decided.

    Is Twitter an appropriate technology for the legal industry? I won’t pretend to understand your business, except to say that if people who have money is your target market then it definitely would be an intelligent medium to communicate with people through.

    If you already have all the business you can handle and find yourself working 24/7 as it is, then you don’t need more marketing right now – you just need to expand your practice so that you can service additional clients.

    In any industry there are obvious merits in hard work, competence, integrity and client service: giving people your best has always been the surest way to building a solid client base.

    In that same vein, I see no reason why you cannot give people your best through social media platforms like Twitter. There are millions of people who use these mediums to communicate, and by the law of averages many are facing legal challenges every day.

    If you aren’t out there answering questions, offering your advice and services to help people, then someone else will be, and you won’t be the one that gets the business.

    Lastly, swearing and berating those who care enough to spend their invaluable time starting a conversation with you is a great way to publicly demonstrate to others that you have no regard for the emotional well-being of others. If you would exhibit this attitude on Twitter and Facebook, then I definitely recommend you NOT use these social mediums EVER.

    By the way, I heard about your blog through Twitter :P

  13. Google Averse ATL Undergrad

    The strongest assertion is made without any evidence: you refer to “integrity” as “a fundamental requirement” of a successful law practice. A reputation for integrity is not integrity; also, honest lawyers are not known to make money. What you’re really saying here is that as a lawyer you value integrity. Which is self-promotion that has substantially nothing to do with Twitter. And thus the behavior you are complaining about is simultaneously your practice. Your lack of honesty makes you a good lawyer.

  14. Kael Garvey

    Now, you two just made me laugh out loud. Scott, I don’t know if you were trying to be funny in your Reply, but there is something really funny about you pointing out that you really like Adrian, that he knows it, and so its OK that I beat the kid over the head. Dry, but funny.

  15. Kael Garvey

    Very True. However, there is likely some value for the marketing bunch in simple contact in large #’s. I, on the other hand, am like you. I look for interesting content, then I share it. Often I write about it. I think you are truly influential when people are sharing ‘your content’, not just you RT’s from someone else. Anyone can take the time to get a huge twitter following, like you said, Scott. However, if they do that, David & I will likely pay them no attention, right David. We will follow guys like Scott, who produce a new angle on content that is out there or who provides wholly new content for thought & discussion.

  16. Mark Bennett

    Some things are self-evident. Others aren’t, but don’t have to be proven by our host to every yahoo who stumbles in the door.

    What does a guy who is afraid to attach his name to his opinions know about integrity? Your anonymity and your (unsupported) assertion that honest lawyers are not known to make money speak volumes.

  17. Google Averse ATL Undergrad

    “Integrity” is an ambiguous term. In context it had nothing to do with Twitter marketing. This was my main assertion, which you did not respond to. Instead you make an ad hominem attack. Yes, I excercise the priviledge of anonymity on the Internet. I don’t see what this has to do with integrity; I am not misrepresenting myself– I am simply choosing to not publish my name. Perhaps you will now respond with a critique of my spelling?

  18. SHG

    You make two fundamental errors. First, you assume that your thoughts are inherently worthy. They aren’t.  Second, you assume that you are entitled to a response simply because you ask. You aren’t.  Your anonymity, combined with the foolish assumptions in your comment, undermines any value you believe you’ve added as well as any moral authority to demand anything of anyone.  The problem is that no one else thought what you had to say was worthwhile.

    And you received everything you were due.  That’s that.

  19. Mark Bennett

    My apologies. You’re one of those children who think that every muttering deserves the rapt attention of the grownups in the room.

    So here you go:

    Your assertion began with nonsense—that a single word in Scott’s post was “the strongest assertion”—and ended with bullshit. In between, there was no substance worthy of response or discussion (“honest lawyers are not known to make money”?).

    That you don’t see what “Google aversion” has to do with integrity explains much: honest men very rarely wear masks.

    You blame Scott for not supporting providing evidence for the need for integrity in a successful law practice, and in doing so only reveal yourself: to honest people, the need for integrity in a successful (as honest people define that term) law practice needs no explication.

  20. Google Averse ATL Undergrad

    Once again you do not respond to the main question: what does integrity have to do with Twitter?

    Mature men don’t attach controversy to their names without reason. You would not expect me to put on a job application the fact that I habitually criticize bloggers; why then would you expect me to catalogue these criticisms for a potential employer?

    There seems to have been a miscommunication. I do not fault Scott for his hypocrisy. I find that in his postmodern narrative, form creates meaning.

  21. SHG

    Once again you do not respond to the main question: what does integrity have to do with Twitter?

    That was never your question, main or otherwise, and integrity has little to do with twitter. Integrity has to do with being a successful lawyer.  It seems you’ve been tripped up by your effort to persist in a foolish point, but it’s of no more greater importance than you are.   You’ve tried to prove how insightful you are and failed. Now let it go.

  22. Mark

    Reading these comments brings a couple of things to mind.

    First, I had to chuckle when reading the comments. I write the original post and get 4 comments. You comment on my post and get a 4-day conversation. That would be a marker of influence. Congratulations on having such a popular blog, Scott.

    Second, one of the reasons your blog has grown in popularity is that you call it as you see it. Your comments about Adrian are emblematic in this regard. You like the guy but you don’t like some of the things he does. By being honest on both fronts, your readers find value. You have repeatedly done the same to Avvo, and I think it’s great bc its honest. Nothing drives me crazier than those who claim to be truthful or objective and then slam a product or service because they have something to hide, are a competitor, take a lot of money from a competitor, etc. In the Avvo world, I am happy for any and all constructive criticism re: Avvo ala there is not a lurking undisclosed interest.

    Finally, Twitter-mania is alive and well, as demonstrated by all of the conversation my simple blog post has generated. All sorts of alternate formulas have been offered – including the number of retweeters as a measure (see the comments to my original blog post ). I will close by saying that of course there more precisely ways measure Twitter or social media influence in general. However, no one ever talks about those things (e.g., number of retweets or followers paying attention, etc.) – they talk about the number of followers they have. I have seen it held up as a badge of honor innumerable times. And 999 times out of 1000 the number of followers someone has is irrelevant – that’s all.

    Btw – feel free to follow me on Twitter: @mark_britton :-)

    Mark Britton
    CEO, Avvo

  23. SHG

    Oh please.  People just come here because I’m so darn lovable and treat them with such sincere concern for their emotional well being. 

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