What does it mean to be a person who is influential? I think most people say it’s about the ability to be persuasive. And that’s a tough quality to measure. But my many friends in the media try it all the time. Influence is often assumed to directly correlated to the size of an audience someone has – if a large number of people pay attention to what a person says – voluntarily or involuntarily – that person is said to be influential. A magazine is thought to be influential based on the number of readers it has. The same is true with books, movies, etc.
LinkedIn has a measure they call “Top Influencers This Week”, it’s a box that displays the names and pictures of the individuals LinkedIn has determined are the most influential among LinkedIn users. I ‘ve been noticing this feature lately because of an online discussion I’ve been monitoring within the Mensan community at LinkedIn. The discussion is on the topic of the U.S. Constitution, citizen’s rights, gun control laws, and the aftermath of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT. I made the mistake of posting a comment or two at the beginning of the thread, which I generally don’t do, I try to stay out of political discussions at a professionally-oriented site like LinkedIn. But there were a few fundamental misrepresentations of U.S. law that I figured might be a typo but were important to address, so I did. Big mistake. My email inbox has been flooded since with every comment since then, and even though I’ve gone back and deleted my original comments to try to get it to stop, they continue – I just received another two dozen comments in my inbox this morning. Maybe there’s a “follow this discussion” box I can uncheck somewhere, but I haven’t looked yet. But I digress.
Watching this discussion is making me aware of the LinkedIn “Top Influencer” feature. The person who originated the discussion thread is currently listed as the number two “Top Influencer This Week” at LinkedIn, if I’m reading this correctly. Another person in the discussion thread, who I believe has originated other discussions elsewhere on the site, is listed as the fifth most influential as I write this.
Here’s the problem: those two individuals are clearly in the minority of the discussion. They aren’t influencing anyone, they are provoking most of the responses, and most comments are at odds with the two “top influencers”. The reason LinkedIn charts them as “Top Influencer” is merely because they started a thread that got a lot of people involved. But the majority of those people who are involved are arguing against the positions of the two “Top Influencers”.
So are these folks really “influencers”? Perhaps LinkedIn should rename that feature “Top Provocateurs”, because that’s really all that is happening there.
So beware: just because you’re told someone or something is at the “top” of any chart, be sure you know what the metrics are based on.
I hope I’ve managed to influence your thinking on this important aspect of data analysis.