Twitter lists: Like link popularity, they help gauge relevance and popularity

I attended the Integrated Marketing Summit in St. Louis last week. I hung around afterward a while talking with David Siteman Garland (@TheRiseToTheTop)of The Rise to the Top fame, as well as quite a few other St. Louisans passionate about Social Media. The summit, although designed to address the integration of all channels and media in marketing, instead largely focused on Twitter and social media strategy. This makes sense given the current popularity of the industry but more importantly, from my perspective, the relative lack of understanding about how to leverage social media for business benefit.

My background is in SEO, so to understand the emerging rise in popularity of social media, I am often taken back to my early days in SEO. I consulted small businesses on "What SEO is" and what it takes to get top search engine rankings. At the time, explaining link popularity was one of the most complex concepts to address, but it was such a critical piece of SEO success. In order to show the search engines that your site is important and should be ranked highly for your desired search terms, you need to focus on obtaining as many links to your site as possible (quantity) as well as ensure that these sites are also as popular and as relevant to your industry as possible (quality). The more links you have, the more popular your site will be in the search engines.

In a very similar way, you can use lists to which Twitter users belong in order to determine the popularity, relevance and legitimacy of someone before you follow them, or when looking across your Twitter network to identify experts and influencers - for any purpose. Take, for example, David's Twitter account. He has been included on 215 lists! If I click on "listed" in the right column of any user's profile, I can see what those lists are, and Twitter even bolds the list title so that I can get an idea of what David is all about. As I browse just the first 15 or 20 list names, I can tell David is a "social media marketing" guy who knows "business finances" and is either a "entrepreneur" or works with entrepreneurs (both!). He is a "small business blogger" who "Tweets" and also lives in "St. Louis, MO". Oh, and if you've ever met David, you'd already know he's quite the "conversationalist!"

While a large portion of Twitter users continue to spam their way to as many followers as possible in order to look important, the rest of us might consider shifting our attention on the one thing that is more difficult to spam: Lists. You can add as many followers as possible to your account and assume a reasonable % will follow you back, but you can't as easily ask hundreds of people to add you to their lists. It's a much more natural gauge of popularity. Plus, it's a new enough feature on Twitter that I am certain this insight will change as the features, functionality and ever-organic and evolving use of Twitter by its users grows. Lists are something to keep your eye on.

Big thanks to @TheRisetotheTop for contributing to these insights about Twitter lists.

See also: How to Use Twitter Lists (Mashable)