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Following Arkansas Business

Does it matter how many Twitter followers you have?

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In what can only be described as the journalistic equivalent of a kindergartner taunting the other kids on the play ground with a loud "nanny-nanny-boo-boo," Arkansas Business published a story last week extolling its masterful use of the social networking service Twitter.

The article, which appeared under the headline "Arkansas Business Publishing Group Has Key Presence On Twitter," said that "... compared with other prominent media outlets, Arkansas Business tweets are clearly reaching the most people, with 8,179 followers last week ... @ArkansasOnline, the online presence of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has 4,409 followers. Arkansas Times Editor Max Brantley, meanwhile, who tweets as @ArkansasBlog, had 3,387 followers last week. Stephens Media Group's @ArkansasNews had 2,911 followers."

The story seemed a little odd to us for a couple of reasons. Horn-tooting aside, it's not very easy to get a handle on social media influence. To say that one outlet's tweets are "clearly reaching" more people is difficult at best. The article also left out local TV news outlets that do pretty well on the social media service (KTHV has over 7,000 followers, for example).

That's not taking anything away from Arkansas Business. It has a very active and informative feed. Like its name implies, Arkansas Business' tweets are all business, usually consisting of a simple headline and a link. But we did find it curious that a niche publication had a far greater number of followers than the statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A couple of factors are likely at work here.

One, if you're interested in Arkansas news, whether you live in the area or you're an ex-pat who wants to stay informed, AB's Twitter feed is a good place to look. It's updated many times a day and often links to AP content, something a lot of other feeds don't do. Also, most D-G articles are still behind a pay wall, which probably discourages a lot of followers. Arkansas Business is also "listed" more than any other news outlet in Central Arkansas. Twitter users can create lists like "Arkansas News" or "Business News." Users can then follow the lists and receive all tweets included therein. AB is listed 433 times, followed distantly by KTHV and KARK at 263 times each. That can definitely help build followers.

Lance Turner, interactive editor at Arkansas Business, says the weekly high number of followers is due simply to being on Twitter early and often.

"We've never really promoted it," Turner says. "In fact, we've talked a lot around here about how we just don't really promote our social media stuff all that well, in print or online. I think with Twitter we've been lucky, and we were breaking a lot of news. We were on it when [former state Democratic Party chief] Bill Gwatney was shot. I was on it at that time. When news was breaking on that I was putting out updates on Twitter and I think that helped."

Of course the real question is this: Does your number of followers even matter? The experts say no. Even Evan Williams, one of Twitter's founders, has said that the number of followers can be a fairly flawed measurement of someone's impact on the social networking site. Someone with a smaller number of followers may interact with other users more, have their tweets re-tweeted more often or update his account more frequently, making him a more "influential" user.

One company has tried to get a handle on who really has an impact on their Twitter network. Twitalyzer has come up with a measure called an impact score. It's a 0 to 100 index that takes into account the number of followers, the number of times a user is mentioned, the number of times a user is re-tweeted and the frequency with which they update their account. An extremely influential user would have a score close to 100 percent.

How do local outlets measure up? When you look at Twitalyzer's impact score, KTHV and KARK (both come in at 2.7 percent) rank as more influential than Arkansas Business (1.7). The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also comes in higher at 2.6. The Arkansas Blog account (@arkansasblog) comes in somewhere around the bottom, with a score of 1.2 percent. So just judging by followers may not be the best way to compare meaningful influence. As for my own personal account? It's pretty bad, piddling around 0.3 percent. Please follow me at @gerardmatthews.

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