Evening Standard: The V.I.T has arrived – that’s the Very Influential Tweeter

An article from today’s The London Evening Standard newspaper. Not to be taken too seriously:

The V.I.T has arrived – that’s the Very Influential Tweeter, by Mark Prigg, Science and Technology Editor

The age of the Very Influential Twitterer – the VIT – has finally arrived. The capital’s top users are being rewarded with free gigs, books and discounts, while experts even say your ranking could help you get your next job.

But rather than boasting hundreds of thousands of followers, or getting a celebrity to retweet you, becoming a VIT is all about influence. Firms such as Klout and PeerIndex are using complex algorithms to work out what areas you tweet about, and exactly how much influence you have.

As well as Twitter, they can also look at Facebook, your blog and even the pictures you upload to give you an accurate score.

The firms even publish scores on their site, so you can see exactly how you are doing, and how your ranking was calculated.

Azeem Azhar of London-based Peerindex, which ranks people based on their influence and interests, says the scoring is inevitable. “Having a mechanism to see how well you’re doing is valuable,” he said. “It’s about more than ego – companies of all shapes and forms are starting to use these scores to understand how they deal with people.”

Already PeerIndex has selected participants for a private playback – a sneak preview of his new album – from singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, and given away books and other items to the capital’s most influential in the hope they will tweet about them (although VITs are under no obligation).

“We were able to look at people’s score and find out who is passionate about music in London and then bring them along. It’s about getting to the right people, but getting them in the right way.”

PeerIndex’s top three scoring Londoners are Umair Haque, head of innovation at Havas Media Lab with 164,000 followers, fashion blogger Sasha Wilkins, who has 40,000 followers and goes under the name Liberty Girl London and Alberto Nardelli, who runs Tweetminister, which makes it easier to follow tweets from Westminster, and has 7,000 people following him.

For some, it could even mean the difference between getting their dream job or not. “Increasingly these scores can get you discounts, offers, and are even being used to filter CVs for a job,” says Azhar, who also thinks that in the future, firms could use our online standing to help us more effectively. “If you call customer services, firms can see if you’re an expert or influential and route calls accordingly.”

So how do you build your influence? Although the algorithms used vary between firms, Azhar says the key is to be genuine. “Getting a high score is about being yourself, you need to be seen to be an influencer. You need to engage with people, get them to engage with you, and focus on areas you really care about and can have a voice in.

It’s not all about having big numbers or being a celebrity.”

Joe Fernandez set up Klout four years ago in San Francisco. “I had jaw surgery in 2007 and my jaw was wired shut, so I relied on Twitter and Facebook. I realised how important it is to have your voice heard.”

Klout, based in San Francisco, works with brands like Disney, Nike and Virgin to target the most influential people, with plans for a UK office later this year.

“We’re measuring how influential people are, across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks, analysing what each post is about, and seeing who is driving the most activity. For users, there’s obviously the ego aspect, but some people really care about getting free stuff as well. However, the bigger thing is that as the social web is growing so quickly, for a lot of occupations having a network they can communicate with is key.”

Fernandez also has some advice for improving your score: “The key is consistency – you have to update, and not be afraid to share your thoughts, without getting too noisy and starting to overshare.”

However, as with all rankings, Klout has found users take things very seriously. “People do become obsessed – we actually changed the algorithm a few days ago, and we were instantly inundated with people asking what’s happening as their score went down slightly.”

Originally published 31 October 2011 on the London Evening Standard