If you want to win friends and influence people in the Information Age, it’s better to be a dead Prime Minister than to be Malcolm Gladwell. Or such is the case on PeerIndex, a site that seeks to measure the influence one has online. Users enter a Twitter handle on the site’s homepage, and up comes a score between 0 and 100. The median score for a Twitter handle is 19, the company says. Gladwell, best-selling author and staff writer for The New Yorker, ranks in at an above-average 31. A satirical Twitter for Winston Churchill outdoes him for influence, though, scoring a 35. Both Twitter accounts have been inactive since 2009.
The matter becomes more interesting when one takes a wider sample. Stephen Saland, the Republican New York State Senator from Poughkeepsie, the same Senator Saland who cast the crucial 32nd vote to make gay marriage legal in New York State, rates a flat zero. President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign Twitter, which sometimes features pithy 140-character missives signed by the Commander-in-Chief himself: 66. Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, comes in at 45. Former NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress created a Twitter handle shortly after being released from prison on June 6, but he does not yet have a PeerIndex ranking. They are all upstaged by @MsRebeccaBlack, though, who recently let the world know that she was “Eating colored tacos with my family.” Her score? 81.
The science of scoring online influence is still imperfect, said PeerIndex founder Azeem Azhar. “This is a very well established problem in an emerging field,” Azhar said. “You only measure what you’re looking for. Right now, we are looking at a very, very particular social platform. And that just means that there are certain things we see more often than others.”
Azhar says that there is a difference between the kind of online influence that his company is measuring right now and the influence exerted by someone like Gladwell, whose Twitter account is effectively inactive. His company is working to bring these non-tweeters under their rubric, Azhar said. “These are the people who don’t tweet or Facebook very often, but when they write a book they create a whole new industry,” Azhar said. Azhar’s personal Twitter account, which he says is inactive, rates a zero on PeerIndex, but his work account scores a healthy 71.
Part of the reason services like PeerIndex are worthwhile, Azhar says, is because they allow marketers to better position themselves based on how people decide to purchase a product. There was a time, Azhar says, when marketers thought that consumers made their purchasing decisions in a linear manner. They started with a need or a desire, talked to some friends, looked at Consumer Reports, plied the guy at the dealership or computer store, and then made an informed choice. “They don’t make decisions that way,” Azhar said. “They make decisions in a much more organic and circular way. The goal to something like PeerIndex is to help take the risk out of the marketer’s toolkit so that they actually do have a measure around the interaction they’re going to have.”
As for Senator Saland and his constituents, Azhar said, PeerIndex isn’t something they should look at when it comes time to go to the polls. “What you can currently say about him given what we currently do is maybe his Twitter profile isn’t as effective as, say, Arnold Schwarzeneger’s” – Saland has tweeted twice over the time he’s had the profile – “so maybe that would interest him.” @Schwarzenegger? 62.