In May 2011, FINN released a ranking of the 100 most influential journalists on Twitter. We wanted to get an idea of how journalists used social media, and a list seemed like an interesting way to do this. After all, who doesn't like lists? Journalists, it turns out, like lists a lot. Especially when they're on the lists. Within an hour, our server crashed. We promised then that we'd bring an update some time later, to see how things evolved. It's been more than a year now. Klout lists showed up everywhere since then (some traditional media outright "borrowed" our very idea). But nothing beats the original, of course ;) Go easy on our server. (If you're not on the list but you think you should be, give us a call @kris10vermoesen).
We assembled a list of about 420 Belgian journalists, both French and Dutch speaking. We used the Top 100 Belgian journalists of last year as a starting point, and added journalists featured on third party lists like those by @bartvanbelle and @davanac (thanks, guys!).
The ranking is based on the Klout score, corrected for the percentage of influence that is derived from Twitter, a percentage that is provided by Klout.
Note: this is a rough way of correcting for the Facebook bias in Klout and probably overshoots. Heavy Facebook users are probably too severely downranked. A good example is someone like Michel Henrion (@michelhenrion), who has a 70+ Klout score without correction but ends up number 97 on the list. But on the whole, the list feels pretty accurate to us (feel free to disagree), and the number of heavy Facebook users was actually very small: the majority of journalists are ranked by Klout using only their Twitter activity. We included the PeerIndex score for comparison.
Our conclusions of the 2012 Twitter influence list:
First, it’s clear that in the past year, Twitter has become an indispensable tool for most journalists: they use it to promote their stories and media outlets (and themselves), discuss current affairs with influencers and stakeholders, and ask for sources, advice and opinions on the Twitter platform. This has implications for PR professionals as well: Twitter is now a prime destination to engage journalists, to do media catching and to pitch stories.
What's immediately clear is that Twitter seems bigger in Flanders than it is Bruxelles (FR) and la Wallonie. With the notable exception of Alain Gerlache (@alaingerlache), we did not find a French speaking, Belgian journalist with more than 10 000 followers. If we overlooked anyone, please give us a shout. If you have any data to suggest why this is, we'd love to hear from you in the comments. It might be that Twitter reached critical mass among French speaking journalists a bit later. Or it might be that the French speaking audience is still very much a paper audience. I must look into this further.
Last year, we wrote that “real world” influence did not necessarily translate into online influence. In the course of last year, some very senior journalists seem to have taken to Twitter, resulting in some drastic changes at the very top of our list: the top three is completely different from last year.
On the top spot we find Peter Vandermeersch (@pvdmeersch), formerly editor in chief of De Standaard (now editor in chief @NRC). Vandermeersch became a daily presence on Twitter and rose from 56th place to the top spot in the last year. Although most of Vandermeersch' tweets recommend NRC articles and can thus be seen as very promotional, he does make the effort to curate personally and add personal commentary to the linked articles. He also engages with followers, though minimally.
The fact that Vandermeersch is active in two countries probably helps him to climb to the top of the list. We saw this last year with Lia Van Bekhoven, who fell out of the top three this year but is still top ten. Another good example of this is Charline Van Hoenacker (@charlineaparis), number 2 on the list, whose activities in France and Belgium probably help her reach a bigger audience.
Eminence grise Rik Van Cauwelaert (@cauwelaert), former editor in chief of Knack, became one of the most active and interesting Twitterati in Belgium and deserves his rise from 14th place to 3d. Van Cauwelaert uses Twitter very effectively to promote his opionions in Knack and his radio interventions for ‘De Ochtend’, but also tweets impromptu opinions on Belgian current affairs and engaging with his followers. His rise to the top three is all the more significant because his influence sphere is limited to Belgium, unlike Vandermeersch'.
Last year, we wrote that to become influential, it was good to be specialised, preferably in cycling. Last year, the most influential journalist in the FINN list was Karl Vannieuwkerke (who by that time boasted more than 40 000 followers). This year, @vannieuwkerke tumbled all the way down to 22nd place. This is due in part to the new way of discounting “Facebook influence” and focusing on Twitter. It might also be that changes in the Klout algorithm now favor Twitterati who are generalists and who command very diverse followings, instead of a narrower range like cycling enthusiasts.
Twitter became more like the real world. Journalists who reach diverse segments rise to the top of the Twitter ranks, which is logical. This also makes it a lot harder for outsiders to make the list. Twitter is no longer a niche channel that you can dominate purely because you were one of the early adopters. A lot of “early adopters” that were considered prominent Twitter users last year did not make the list this year. This was inevitable. I have never bought in to the idea that social media would create a “flat” world, where every voice carried as far as other voices.
As I wrote on this blog before, thanks to social media, everybody now can claim his or her spot at the table. But the rules governing the table - who gets listened to and who doesn’t - are still the same human rules.
One of the oldest “real world” rules of influence is: if your are on television, more people will listen to you. If you don’t have a launching platform like television, getting noticed is plain hard work. And: if you are famous and you work hard at your Twitter presence, you will rise to the top of the Twitter totem pole. It's what makes @pvdmeersch and @vadderiVRT Twitter heavyweights, and the same goes on the French speaking side, where Charline Van Hoenacker (@charlineaparis, RTBF) claims the top spot: she is on television, plus she sends out a huge amount of tweets (4000+). She also blogs at Le Soir. Her first place should not suprise.
Actually, the top 10 falls apart in roughly two categories: there’s journalists with 4000+ tweets who can genuinely be labelled “Twitter journalists”. They are journalists who use Twitter as a tool - to develop and research stories, promote their stories and engage with their “Twitter community”. On average, these journalists have one follower per tweet that they sent (I always tell my customers that social media success is hard work, and it seems this also goes for journalists). Joël De Ceulaer (@jdceulaer) is the best example of this type of journalist, with a well deserved spot in the top ten.
The award for “hardest working man in Twitterbiz” should clearly go to Jan De Mol (VRT), who has 17000 tweets to his name for 1378 followers, or 0,08 followers per tweet. The second category are “celebrity” journalists with a significantly lower number of tweets, and often with a significantly higher number of followers. Yves Desmet (@ydesmet) has 47 (!) followers per tweet sent - 297 tweets for a whopping 14 200 followers. Desmet was a jury member in ‘Mijn Restaurant’ in the fall of 2011, which may help to explain the high number of followers and influence: every time a viewer mentions him using his Twitter handle, this would count for Klout as influence.
In a category all by herself in this department is Kathleen Cools (@coolskat), who has the lowest number of tweets in the top 10 (only 963), but has a very impressive following (13 000), or 13 followers per tweet. It’s obvious that her score is derived from her high number of followers, but also because she is so often mentioned by viewers of TerZake.
Political subjects in TerZake generate a lot of Twitter activity, sometimes accompanied by “call outs” by the viewers to ask this or that question, or to criticise or praise her interviews. Tweeting to @coolskat - you might even say invoking her name as some kind of patron saint - seems to have replaced shouting at the television set.
It would have been interesting to see how her colleague Lieven Verstraete (@listraet) stacked up against her this year - Verstraete and Cools were neck and neck last year in 29th and 27th place respectively. Lieven Verstraete however chose to leave Twitter in june 2011, quoting “Twitter sectarianism” as a reason to leave.
Although getting your face on television is tremendously helpful for your influence score, not all television is created equal. VRT faces and journalists outperform VTM faces by several lenghts: we count 8 VRT people in the top 20 versus 1 VTM journalist (Patrick Van Gompel). Taken for the entire top 100, the effect is even more clear - mostly thanks to a strong showing of the Sporza team (Vannieuwkerke, Schotte, but also Filip Joos and several others).
We’re already curious to see how the “Vier” faces like @gdcoster and recent Twitter convert @chdeborsu (, 6 tweets, 7000 followers!) will do in our 2013 ranking.
Lastly, Klout received a lot of criticism in the last year - sometimes rightly so. I personally think that trying to monetise Klout was a mistake. Klout tried very hard this last year to become a “real business”, on the heels of massive, mostly positive PR.
Klout tried to leverage this into a moneymaking business. To do this, the service tries to convince people to check in often, and to give out “K+” (influence points) to other Klout users. This gives the impression that by using the tool more often, the tool will give you a higher score. Also, Klout tried to convince users to link as many social media accounts (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn) to their Klout profile as possible.
To achieve this, it seems to reward Facebook accounts disproportionally high, and the scores now change daily (scores for our list were assembled in the week from 2 to 6 July and might have changed by the time of publication). This “gamification” of Klout led to a class of dedicated “Klout gamers”, who tried to increase their Klout score by specifically hunting for shortcuts in the Klout algorithms. All of which is disastrous if you want to be seen as a useful, objective measurement tool. On the other hand, when looking at this year’s list with discounted Facebook scores, I think it feels pretty accurate: the people in the top 20 are the journalists that are very active, get retweeted a lot and are active in important (political) discussions.
Somewhere inside Klout, a decent tool still lurks. The Klout people should just give up on the idea that they should become a hot startup that will end in a lucrative IPO.
Without further ado, here’s the list, by the way: