The Problem with Twitter Trust Metrics

Dec 27, 2009

Charles Green from Trusted Advisor just wrote a post about measuring trust on Twitter.

I think it’s an interesting measurement, but there are issues with it. He mentions the biggest one, saying

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The biggest problem comes not in the measurement, but in the subject matter. So it is with trust. In the TweetLevel tool, trust is largely a function of how many people cite you. That’s perfectly reasonable. People definitely hang on Perez Hilton’s words a lot more than on mine.

But it does beg a huge trust question: trust Perez Hilton to do what? To say what? To behave how? What is it that we trust about John Mayer–and is it the same thing as for which we’re trusting Oprah?

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That speaks for itself, I think. Nothing more to add there.

My biggest worry, however, is the possible effects this measurement may have. As much as I see the value of measuring something, a measurement like this brings a lot of false promises. Most importantly, trust is a very personal thing. What matters is how much each individual trusts you, it’s not a question of broad statistics, in my opinion.

The issue of a trust metric like that is this. Once you put a number to something, people tend to strive for higher numbers. It’s the nature of human competitiveness, kind of. And I fear that the more we put a number to trust, the more people will try to game the system just to get higher numbers, making more retweetable tweets, etc. And that could easily lead to even less personal interaction.

TweetLevel measures how often you’re cited, and that’s certainly valuable. But we need to not confuse this too much with trust. Yes, it’s probably a reflection that people trust what you say, and think you have valuable input. But do they really trust you? And I think that’s the main question. You can be having personal conversations on Twitter, things that others don’t retweet. Your trust metric won’t go up, but because your conversations are personal, the person on the receiving end gets to build a relationship with you more and gets to trust you. Is this any worse than being retweeted often? I’d say not.

A while ago, Chris Brogan wrote this:

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I’d go to Savvy Auntie because Melanie Notkin will give me advice that would help me buy for kids, where Amazon’s just too big to feel helpful in that regard.

I’d go to Wine Library because Gary Vaynerchuk will take the fear factor out of buying something I’m not educated about.

I’d go to Glynne’s Soaps because I appreciate Gayle and Jennifer’s efforts via social media, so it’s like buying from a friend.

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And I think that’s more important. What you do with the “trust” that you have. It’s all well and good having high numbers, with people retweeting you all the time.

But you need to remember to ask two things. Firstly, what are they retweeting? And secondly, how are you relating to those who are retweeting you? It’s not all just about retweets. There’s also huge value (perhaps more) in a personal relation, that cannot be captured from that.