Am I really more influential than Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg?

He’s Deputy Prime Minister. He chairs a clutch of Cabinet Committees. He’s got a civil service staff and a dedicated press team. A few weeks of the year he’s running the country, nuclear submarines included. I’m me.

But stick our Twitter accounts into standard and popular influence measuring tools such as Klout or PeerIndex and most days you’ll find me being rated more influential online that Nick.

At this point you could give up reading, muttering a joke either about Twitter or the Liberal Democrats, but it does raise a serious point. Quite what is the online influence that these tools seek to measure? It’s not even that Nick Clegg’s influence is offline and mine, in its own little way, is online. Because if Nick Clegg does or says something, it frequently spawns a host of online coverage and commentary that – as it should – swamps my own online visibility.

Yet Klout says it is the “standard for online and internet influence” whilst PeerIndex says your score is “a relative measure of your online authority”.

So what are Klout, PeerIndex and others measuring? It’s not influence in the normal use of the word. Nor even online influence. Rather it’s better to think of them as measuring how well or not someone is using Twitter.

Nick Clegg’s own Twitter presence is pretty minimal, with infrequent tweets and little interaction. My own has a much smaller audience but is far more active, both in speaking and reacting online. There is something there that indexes can capture even if talking of “influence” or “authority” muddies the waters.

A better way to think of what they are measuring is the degree to which someone is utilising the opportunities Twitter can offer them. Nick Clegg might have much the greater influence, online and not, but rightly or wrongly has decided not to put the resources in to making that much of the opportunities Twitter could offer him. When it comes to punching above or below your weight, he throws fewer punches per kilogram than myself.

That is something useful to know, and when you’re comparing similar people (e.g. national politicians or digital people in PR firms) then it also makes for useful comparisons between people. But when you’re comparing very different sorts of people, it becomes a meaningless comparison – especially if some but not all the people in the comparison have a significant ability to generate online coverage from offline activities.

UPDATE: There’s a thought-provoking analysis of other aspects of Klout on Alex Braunstein’s blog.

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