Social Media Twitter

Who is the twitority online?

Question for you, leave me a comment at the end of the article with your answer.

Who is the twitority? (AKA Authority) ?

In short, firstly, twitority is a tool that lets you search Twitter posts and then filter the search results by authority. Check it out for yourself at

Back to the question, it’s not a trick. Are you an authority figure? If you said Yes, then in what? Who says? What qualifies the classification as an authority? Similarly, if you said No then why not? Chances are you’ll be more educated in your field than most if your job is in a space when your knowledge is important to your company. You’re an educator, so yes, you are an authority.

I’m fascinated by the idea of authority on an online space which is completely open and unmonitored. The idea of authority to me brings more questions than it answers.. There is no right or wrong answer so we’re going to try and shed more light on the situation with a host of quotes from various individuals who have authority in their fields.

Before that, let’s take school as an example of a place where there is a definite line between student and authority. Authority being the teacher or headmaster/mistress. Students are at school to learn and the teacher is there to impart their learnings, knowledge and wisdom on their students. The teacher has the authority to merit or discipline the student and the head of department or headmaster/ mistress has the authority over the teacher to overrule their decision. In it’s simplest form, that’s the hierarchy of school. Same can be applied to a business environment. CEO, Head of Dept X, Manager, Exec.

So when we’re used to hierarchy and authority, how can we apply this to an online space?

We can’t.

On the internet, it’s a free for all. Everyone is deemed equal. In turn, everyone is a specialist in something. Regardless of age, background, job title, online you can find out as much as you want about anything! When you’re looking for advice on buying a product, where do you look? The Internet proves to be the most important source for researching consumer electronics information for example, according to a survey conducted by Synovate on behalf of Microsoft Advertising.

Who are the people to ask for a valued opinion? How does the definition of authority differ and what can we learn? Here’s a few ideas.

“Authority is based on perception. Once an environment of trust is created between people or people and companies, authority can be authorized! As it is all relative there is no one single source, just 5 billion sources with a number greater than zero perceiving and therefore regarding each as an authority or not.”

Jonathan MacDonald

Completely agree. It’s all subjective.

“Page rank is a surrogate for authority already based on the amount of inbound links as a vote.”

Ged Carroll

One way for assessing authority currently is through the Google Page Rank. What is a Page Rank? It reflects the importance of web pages by considering more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Pages that Google believe are important pages receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results.

“I think trying to apply authority to twitterers based on followers is like trying to build a house out of spongecake.

Authority is EARNED and I just INHERENTLY know now whose word to trust on a particular topic when advice is sought.

It’s far more complex than being able to have an algorithm applied to it – any such algorithm’d be flawed. In fact so flawed as to be misleadlingly useless.”

Drew Buddie

All good points, especially the house built out of sponge cake!

“It depends if they can truly measure authority by topic and not assume if you have lots of followers you have authority on all topics.”

Kerry Gaffney

Nail. Head. I really believe in this.

“Calling me an idiot will increase your popularity but not your authority.

Explaining why I am an idiot will increase your authority but not necessarily your popularity.

If I call you an idiot I will be neither authoritative nor popular. Life isn’t fair! :-)”

Robert Scoble

Following on from Kerry’s comment above, let’s take a well known example in the online world, Robert Scoble. I’ve got nothing at all against the guy, he’s one of the social media pioneers but I’m betting that the large majority out there would see him as an authority on anything and everything because of the numbers that read his blog or that follow him on Twitter (45,962 on last count). He puts it an interesting way himself above.

“You can only quantify authority so far in my opinion – so what if someone has 1000 followers, how many are actually listening?”

Paul Borge

This is key and brings me back to thinking about the old adage of quality over quantity. Also, links to my thoughts about ROA (Return on Attention) over the traditional ROI (Return on Investment) in Social Media when I spoke with Jamie Burke at P2PR in a previous blog post. In brief, my thoughts were that a project can be more successful by targeting the ‘right’ 100 people, instead of going for a general 1000. The ‘right’ 100 can in turn send the information on to 10 of their friends and so on, it’s a domino effect.


“Popularity over time = Authority. Unfortunately it is meaningless. In 1905 who had more authority Einstein or Newton.. and who was right?”

Anton Mannering

He’s got a point..

What’s your view? What do you think about the idea of a search engine based on authority? Is authority subjective? Is there a universal authority on topics?

13 replies on “Who is the twitority online?”

Hi mate, yep, this is a toughy, and something that the entire PR industry has wrestled with long before t’internet. What makes a piece placed in The Observer more valuable than a feature in a trade magazine? Who has the most authority on a particular subject or a more likely question from a client’s perspective; ‘how much authority do they have over my customer’s buying behaviour?’ To judge against advertising equivalent rates is fundamentally flawed and likewise online, to judge the success of a PR placement on the number of site hits is flawed too. All a bit obvious but if a convincing metric was ever created, I’m sure you’d see more ad budgets spilling over into PR. No, let me rephrase that- not just PR but content creation too.


This so deserves more than a comment so I’m including a link to it in an expanded response on my blog later today β€” my first post of the New Year.

You’re right. It cannot be measured. And even if we could measure it, I suggest we don’t. Influence, authority, and popularity stand to lead us away from the truth, not toward it.

One thing you might want to add to the mix is that authority is not just subjective, it’s situational. Another source for inspiration is Walter Lippman who struggled with these same questions well before computers, let alone social media, was even a glint in the eye of anyone.

All my best,

Since there is no real authority on the web (that is universally recognized as such) giving out badges to people based on universally recognized and respected metrics, there’s no way to nail down authority authoritatively.

To me, its about respect, reputation (a much better measure that’s even harder to “measure” than authority), and a long trail of work in an area.

It comes down to how well you can recognize good work, someone with an obvious reputation and following, and praise from respected leaders in a niche. It really is your gut, in the end, that tells you who to follow I think.

There are a few tools like this now and I don’t believe that any of them has yet found the ‘right’ way to judge authority – if it needs to be judged.

There are, in any industry, thought leaders and people, who look to them to learn from. But I don’t think you can learn who these people are without taking the time to read what they’re writing and what they’re talking about, and that is surely half the fun?

Graders and rankings are all very useful if you are new to an industry and you really have no idea who you should be listening to, or in twitter’s case, following. But, why not just ask other people in the sphere who and what to read?

That is the joy of the current social media sphere – I know that I can leave a comment here without fear of being ignored or finding myself isolated because of my view about xyz. Indeed, someone may reply with a helpful link or thought for me to mull over, before I post next time.

At first impression I would think it has no worth. You could easily just blast out tons of crappy updates with keywords. If it calculates those top authorities by additionally seeing if their followers also use those words, then maybe you have something. Still could be manipulated though with just a little effort.

Find myself agreeing with Dirk the Cow and Guillaume makes a good point re relevance.

How about taking this post as a case study (great post by the way!)?

Hmmm, six comments on this post (including my own). A popular post this (it is a ‘specialist’ subject after all), but, I’d say, an authorative one as well.

Why? A handful of people have read it, and have had enough of a POV on the subject to actually engage with it.

They will probably link back to it from their own blog/Twitter etc. meaning others can come and find it more easily and join in the discussion (or at least have a read).

Everyone so far seems to have spent a bit of time thinking about the subject, rather than simply posting rubbish straight off the top of their heads. Each comment has added to the original post.

So, for someone looking to understand the ‘problem’ of authority, this would definitely be a post worth their while reading… and one that could well keep going for a while yet!

In summary (apologies for waffling), useful, considered and thought provoking content, that triggers others to add their own thought-through points of view, and which is visible to people who are interested in the topic and provides some genuine insight = an authoritative posting.

A few of those types of post = an authorative blog (so long as the ‘right’ people i.e the ones passionate about the topic and who find the dialogue relevant, are always in the know to find it all and contribute).

Simplistic it may be, but it beats saying – 500,000 readers means authority. Leave that to the offline PR world πŸ™‚

So with Twitter I’m seeing the vertical hierarchy being replaced by a horizontal one whereby we are all equals and we can converse with peers. I’ve also seen those with authority as you described have tremendous influence over a blog post. You noticed that your traffic zipped up when Guy Kawasaki re-tweeted your post so you have first hand experience of this, I also experienced the same when Scott Monty re-tweeted one of my posts so I look to measure those who subscribe to my feeds and time spent reading posts to see the ‘quality’ of the ‘quantity’ referred by those with Authority / Influence. Drew Buddie’s comment I agree with as authority is earned which is why Scoble, Kawasaki etc… have a high number of followers due to their commitment within their field over a long period of time. They have developed and produced theories that have been tried and tested, therefore building up a reputation through word of mouth collecting a supporting mob.

I personally believe that cream rises to the top in any field and this is through hard work, dedication, natural ability and the stars being alligned at the right moment. If authority is earned through trust, then trust is synonomous with loyalty and mutual relationships built up over time.
I am digressing from your post here but your post raises issues across many areas including philosophy.
I’d like to know if Twitter users like the idea of an authority being present just the same as people like authorities in religion and faith? Those who understand social media believe in the fundamental principles of equal voice but I’m looking outside the echo chamber of us all.

The upside of the interwebs is that masses of information are constantly available to us. The downside is how do we manage it, trust it, and in many cases even learn of its existence? For that I prefer the term “curator” to “authority.” Those who can reliably highlight the best, brightest, most original content / news / thoughts and present them in a timely, cogent fashion are the real leaders. I agree with Guillaume that such leaders may be more topic-based than raw number-based. Don’t we each follow different bloggers or critics for different reasons?

I agree with Warren, there’s a lot of stuff flying about numbers which is often – not always – meaningless.

To take myself as an example, I have 800 Twitter followers, and probably like you, every morning I wake up to find a few more have randomly been added.

So what does it prove? Absolutely nothing.

And until I took the necessary step of installing Tweet Deck and grouping 100 odd people I want to track and engage with, I found that past the 300 or so mark, the more followers I had, the less ‘authoritative’ I was actually becoming. A case of more really being less.

That’s because my Twitter feed was just one long ticker-tape style stream of comments. Conversations I was having with people beforehand suddenly stopped – let’s face it, no one can have a real conversation with 500+ people at once (I forget the name of that study that showed we can realistically keep up with 150).

Similarly with blogs. You and I can both attract a lot more additional visitors to our sites simply by doing something like stumbling a post. But, again, it’s largely meaningless. It’s a number that has nothing to do with engagement and hence authority.

Again, much better to have several dozen people come and visit and interact with you, than several hundred who just appear once never to be seen again. Quality vs quantity and all that.


Very provocative post and I agree with you, authority is such a subjective thing. To think that one has more authority because he is more popular or has more followers is just bunk. Just because you have a lot of followers doesn’t mean that you are trusted.

Ahhh authority, such a tricky beast to pin down in the real world, let alone online. Working out who is or isn’t important is going to be such a key PR skill over the next few years, until there is a decent tool developed, unfortunately twitority isn’t it. I had a very brief look at it this morning and it seems to be confusing popularity with authority, which will undoubtedly lead to some twitterers being mis-pitched and yet more, deserved scorn, being poured onto our industry.

I thought we were all equals, but some seem to be more equals than others! lol Authority is completely subjective and only relevant to an issue or a topic, so how can we end up with a toll like this??

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