I read an article yesterday from The Telegraph on how celebrities on Twitter have little influence. It made me question what the real indicator of influence on Twitter is. That article clearly proves that the correlation between followers and influence is overstated or just non-existent. The article goes on to say that ‘experts’ in their field are the most influential.

So for example, @Scobleizer I would safely bet has a high level of influence with regards to business, startups and social media. @Mashable probably has the social media news industry on lock on Twitter.

But beyond the major players in their industry, how do you find influencers?

The answer to this question is a lot more difficult to answer than it would seem. Let’s look at tangibles… follower count, tweets, retweets, lists, mentions and engagement.

Follower Count – It’s a number. It’s an indication of how many people are open to your message. But the study proves that numbers don’t indicate influence.

Tweets – Again, a number. But more tweets or less tweets might not indicate influence.

Retweets – Retweets in general seem to be less used, and the majority of them seem to be comedic in nature. So does a Retweet indicate influence? From my perspective, it just indicates a great tweet.

Lists – Lists are rather strange. They are used to split people up, but how often are they used? Personally, I use lists to reward people for engaging with me, but I rarely use them to view timelines. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think the value of a list is very high, especially in determining influence.

Mentions – People interact with you. It indicates a social appreciation. Social currency. But if someone mentions you, does that say you’re influential? Well, again, we take the celebrity situation – they get 1000s of mentions daily but they have little influence. So maybe it doesn’t.

Engagement – You interact with people, likely with people who interact with you. Establishing a relationship with them. It’s a back and forth. They get to learn about you, while you learn about them. A trust is built. And from trust comes influence. Above anything else, Engagement is the clear front runner to influence.

To prove my point, let’s propose a hypothetical..

1. You have 100 followers who you engage with daily. You might have met them in person, but you certainly engage them in other ways – perhaps you’re friends on Twitter or you talk often on Skype. The fact is, these 100 people all trust you.

2. You have 15,000 followers who you try to engage with. Some more than others. You have a well established trust/friendship with 30 people and look forward to their tweets. And the majority of your followers have engaged with you atleast once, but the trust isn’t established.

3. You have 100,000 followers but you don’t engage. You put out lots of content, but have established no relationships with anyone in any consistent manner. You are retweeted from time to time, but besides that, people don’t really engage you either.

Who’s the most influential?

Most likely, #1 is the most influential. Trust is a necessity to influence. If people don’t trust you, why would they listen to what you have to say or have to offer? They won’t.

The lesson… influence is about trust. Trust is established through a relationship. A relationship is established from engagement and interaction.

Thoughts? Please comment below (plus you’ll get entered into the Marc Jacobs draw!)