The question was: " What do you think is more important for attaining power: followers or who you follow?" It was directed at me as I sat on a panel at the Social Media Summit, produced by London-headquartered Lewis PR.
It took me by surprise and one live tweeter accused me of skirting the issue and not understanding about power. I disagree with his assessment but that's besides the point.
It took me by surprise because most people who follow me know that I see social media as all about the conversation; not power. It involves personal and corporate branding issues, but not power. It even is about influence, which may touch upon power but it is not the same.
The way social media works just about the same way computer networks work. They both adhere to Metcalfe's Law, which loosely stated says the value of a network is determined by the sum of your users. It was true for telecommunications and it seems to me to apply very clearly to social networks as well.
But value for the individual simply does not translate into power. The power is in the sum of the users on the network. In social media, each of us is a node and the more nodes we connect with has something to do with power.
But each of us matters very little to the sum of the massive networks we connect with. If some one with five followers leaves a network it matters very little. If someone with over a million users departs, it may get noticed for a short while, but the power of that network stays close to the same. Why? Because those millions of other people are still there, are still connected; still contain nearly all the knowledge, data, wisdom, ideas and energy as they did prior to the departure of that one really big node.
Networks have great power in social media. People don't, not really. Each of us is too easily replaced.
We can, however, benefit greatly from the power of the networks we join. As to the specific question, almost everyone who has examined twitter believes that in most cases there is greater value in who we follow than in who follows us. Those people are out newspapers. They are our source of much inspiration. We care about people and those people give us all sorts of valuable stuff.
Social media is about so many things. But if you have come to it for power, I really think you'd be happier going to work for an Electal utility.