December 8, 2011; Source: Nieman Lab | In this fascinating albeit somewhat older blog post by Megan Garber on from the Neiman Lab, the author takes on the question of whether the volume of your Twitter followers is a measure of your influence.

She uses the example of a tweet Alyssa Milano (the actress who played the daughter on “Who’s the Boss”) sent to more than 1 million twitter followers recommending the book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives.” Written by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, two social scientists, it may have been a poor fit with many of her fans because apparently not one of them bought it.

But being that the authors were social scientists, they decided to experiment more with the question of influence on Twitter so they asked Tim O’Reilly a supporter of the free software and open source movements with 1.5 million followers to tweet about the book and they sold one copy as a result.

Susanna York of Pew did significantly better, selling three extra books among her paltry 4,960 followers. This “low volume to impact” correlation suggested (of course) further study but Christakis has some ideas based on his admittedly anecdotal experiences and these have to do with the “epidemiology of action” or how behaviors spread. “If we’re going to exploit online ties, [then] measures of meaningful interactions will be needed [to determine] which online interactions represent real relationships, where an influence might possibly be exerted,” he said.

Christakis posits that “niches” might be more influential where you gather influential people and their followers and the influence is layered. “I’m not saying that Twitter is useless,” says Christakis, “but I think that the ability of Twitter to disseminate information is different than its ability to influence behavior.” The comments after the post are worth a look as well – deepening the open questions addressed in the post. We would love to hear what you think about the ideas presented here. Does any of it resonate? —Ruth McCambridge