Who influences global influencers? (Part 2)

Who influences global influencers? (Part 2)

As global leaders met in Davos between 17 – 20 January 2017 for the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, the Netnograph team applied our unique technology to analysing and mapping online influence networks around the event. Our team used the Netnograph tool to analyse social media conversations, identify key influencers engaging with and prompting discussions around the event, and visualise links between them. This report follows the initial analysis conducted in ‘part one’.

We used the same metrics to measure influence as during the pre-event analysis (see Part one), and identified a pool of 8500 key influencers during the event itself. As before, these were measured according to the size and relevance of followers, levels of engagement and geographic reach. They come from a range of backgrounds, including politics, business, journalism, civil society and the arts, representing the different facets of the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos.


Netnography and graph analysis

The majority of influencers engaged with their audiences in English. However interestingly, the proportion of English content created by influencers dropped from around 90% in the week prior to the event to 67% during. This marks a significant increase in non-English language engagement with topics around the WEF, as compared with the week preceding the event, showcasing the more global and inclusive character of discussions. During the event itself, Spanish and French language posts represented 10% and 5% of social media activity respectively.

This statistic is even more remarkable when compared with the number of influencers based in a predominantly English speaking country – a total of 80%. Of this, 56% came from the US, and 24% from the UK. The next largest number of influencers came from The Netherlands (8%), then India and France (both 6%).

The top influencer during the event was the WEF itself, both in terms of activity and reach. The WEF successfully positioned themselves as the lynchpin of debate around topics raised at the event, using their social media and wider digital presence to prompt engagement across other influencers and the broader public. This is in line with their strategy in the week leading up to the event, when they were also the most influential player.

Besides the WEF organisation, not one of the top 10 pre-event influencers remained in that position during the event itself. Influencers such as Naomi Klein and NGO Oxfam – the third and eighth most influential influencers in the week prior to the event – were replaced during the event by a mixture of politicians, celebrities, journalists, and news organisations. The agenda during the event was therefore influenced by external political developments.

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Top influencers during the event


Identifying influencer networks

As well as analysing the data about levels of influence, the team also analysed networks between influencers during the event. The influencer network grew substantially during the event, with influencers engaging more with topics around the WEF, and more with one another. The pre-event and during event influence maps are presented side by side below. Each point represents an individual influencer, and each line a connection between influencers.

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Influencer networks in the week preceding the event


netnography, Netnograph, social network, influencers

Influencer networks during the event


The visualisation of the influencer network during the event clearly shows the increase in influencer activity and higher concentration of the discourse. From several non-linked clusters of influencers in the week preceding the event, the influence map centralised, with as many as 6000 of the 8000 influencers active during the event being linked. In both cases, the WEF was the key broker and link between the actors in the network, represented as the centre of the largest cluster in the week leading up to the event, and as the pink dot near the centre of the mass network during the event.

When we magnify the centre of the influencer network during the event to show more clearly the central players in the mass network, the three clusters are visible.

  • First, a cluster centred around the WEF organisation, including the WEF’s Spanish language social media channel ‘@WEF en Español’. The use of quality content in this additional language certainly contributed to the level of Spanish language engagement with the event overall.
  • Second, a regional cluster around the UK Prime Minister Theresa May. This includes influencers such as British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, UK journalists, and UK based NGOs.
  • Third, a regional cluster centred on Indian news anchor Shereen Bhan. This cluster mainly includes Indian politicians and media outlets, which prompted engagement in multiple languages.

Other top influencers are also visible at this scale, including new US President Donald Trump, and top international journalists. These individuals do not form part of one of the three main clusters, but are interlinked with them.


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Influencer engagement during the WEF’s Annual Meeting 2017

During the four days of the event, over one million Davos related tweets were posted.

The 8500 influencers identified posted an average of just under 1 post per person on each of the event, a significant increase on the previous week. The peak day for influencer engagement was day two, with over 7900 individual Tweets related to the event.


Given the breadth and geographic scope of the influencer network, this number is likely to have generated engagements numbering in the hundreds of thousands.


Political leaders as influencers

To understand a little more about the influencer networks around Davos, we conducted some further research into how senior politicians were talking about the event.

Analysing the personal and official Twitter handles of over 800 high profile politicians from around the world, we searched for instances of #Davos2017, #Davos, #wef, #wef2017, and #wef17 over the dates of the event. The total number of Tweets amongst the group was 469.

Of these, the official accounts of the South African, Colombian, and Belgian governments were the most active, with 34, 28 and 27 Tweets related to Davos respectively. The widest reach was achieved by Lundeg Purevsuren, Mongolian Foreign Minister, with Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, gaining the second widest reach.

It is interesting to note that the most impactful political leaders speaking directly about Davos were not those who were the highest profile, or most influential overall. This gives an indication of the depth and quality of the discourse prompted by the event, with a wide range of interactions occurring outside of the highest profile influencers.


How people are talking about WEF’s Annual Meeting 2017

As well as mapping influencer networks, we also conducted semantic analysis of the language used during the event in conjunction with the hashtags #Davos2017, #Davos, #wef, #wef2017, and #wef17.


Day 1 – 17 January 

During day one of the event, the most widely used linked term was ‘corrupt’. This was not related to a particular topic of discussion at the event, but was driven by a social media activist campaign against Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who spoke at the event. The next most widely used was ‘Xijinping’, referring to the speech given at the event by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. The third most widely used was ‘Brexit’.

It is interesting to note that several of the most widely used phrases and terms in conjunction with the various hashtags were in languages other than English. The Spanish word ‘educacion’ (education), and French word ‘mondialisation’ (globalisation) were trending higher than their English translations, indicating the breadth of discussion across the world.

The frequency of technology related terms such as ‘blockchain’, ‘3dprinting’, and ‘fintech’ indicate that the event organisers did a good job at stimulating discussion around some of the core themes of discussion at the event.

Word cloud, influencers


Day 2 – 18 January

Online discussion during day two of the event was heavily influenced by Serbia, with the two highest associated terms being “srbija” and “okorts” – relating to Emisija Oko, a high profile Serbian journalist with broadcaster RTS. Xi Jinping also continued to dominate discussion online, representing the third-most used phrase.

The fourth most used phrase was “hydrogencouncil”, relating to the launch at Davos of an initiative by companies across the world to invest in hydrogen fuel cells. The term was widely deployed on social media by large companies throughout the day, including Toyota, Shell, Alstom and Engie. This prompted significant online interest, and was an example of a well-executed social media campaign.

Word cloud, influencers

Day 3 – 19 January

Day three was dominated by the term “brexit”, which accounted for more Twitter activity than the next three most used terms combined. This was a result of a speech given at the event by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in which she reiterated her view of how Brexit will happen, a speech which generated significant interest in the UK, and across Europe.

The next three most widely used were “PE” (private equity), “Impact” – a term used widely by the event organisers, and “hydrogencouncil” – still trending from the previous day.

Word cloud, influencers


Day 4 – 20 January 

The final day of the event was overshadowed somewhat by the inauguration of US President Trump, who did not attend Davos. As a result “Trump”, “Trumpinaugural” and “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) were three of the most used terms in conjunction with the event.

The term “Brexit” was also high on the agenda, with other terms proposed and pushed by event organisers being much less widely used than expected.

Word cloud, influencers



In the two weeks preceding the event, over 90% of social media activity related to Davos was in English. However this dropped to less than 60% during the event itself. On day two, some of the highest trending hashtags were written in Spanish. The “WEF en Espagnol” Twitter account, run by the event organisers, was a key part of the influence network throughout the event. Similarly, there was a high volume of discussion about Davos in Chinese on social media platform Weibo. This engagement beyond the Anglophone sphere is a great achievement on the part of both the event organisers, and the speakers.

It is also interesting to note that some of the key influencers were connected on a regional level – a UK cluster centred around Prime Minister Theresa May, and an Indian cluster centred around news anchor Shereen Bhan. Other smaller regional influencers were present, and acted as diffusers of information to their region – for example CNN anchor Richard Quest.

The WEF organisation continued to be a key player in the influence network throughout the event, sitting at the centre of the complex web. However, the ability of the organisation to steer the debate, which was very well deployed in the weeks leading up to the event, was lost somewhat, with media organisations focusing more on “what speaker X said”, than on the overall themes, aims and goals of the event. This inevitably impacted discussion on social media.

Several global events, including the inauguration of Donald Trump, overshadowed the discourse about topics related to Davos itself. There was however a natural link between the external developments and the event discussions themselves – for example with Brexit.

It is interesting to see that this year, the companies and NGOs attending the event didn’t manage to set the discourse within a wider network. There is a clear opportunity in future for those attending to drive further the discourse and set the agenda around the event. Creative content delivery and advocacy involving external stakeholders can drive the engagement.



During our analysis of influencers, the networks between them, and the overall social media activity around Davos, we identified the following three key lessons for communicators.

1) A missed opportunity: There is more room for external leadership

Discussion on social media during this year’s event was very closely aligned with the topic on the agenda at the event that day. This is great from the perspective of the event organisers, but demonstrates a lack of engagement beyond the pre-agreed topics.

No company or organisation successfully created a vehicle to set the agenda, or to spark debate beyond “what speaker X said”. The event met its objective of being a place for interesting and influential people to meet, but did not go beyond that, to engage with challenging topics.

The key lesson? There is room for external parties to influence the agenda at Davos, and lead the debate. You don’t need to be invited to speak to get Davos talking about your issue – something which did not materialise effectively this year. Make your voice heard, and the event can act as an amplifier like no other.

2) Don’t underestimate the celebrities

Media coverage of Davos this year was focused on politicians and businesspeople – particularly the attendance of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the speech by former US Secretary of State John Kerry, and the speech given by Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

What this coverage missed though, is that whilst what these figures had to say was widely discussed on social media, they were by no means the only, or even the main, influencers online.

Of the top influencers we identified, two were celebrity activists: Shakira – Colombian popstar and social activist; and Jamie Oliver – UK celebrity chef. Both of these influencers reached and engaged millions of people on topics related to the event, and particularly their chosen topics of education and health.

Of course, we as communicators know that celebrities can help to amplify a message to the public, and many organisations now have celebrity ambassadors, making pleas for donations and calls to action. However, what is often underestimated is the value and specific influence celebrities can have over political figures and key decision makers. Encourage a celebrity to speak about your issue, company, or cause during Davos, and they can kick start the vehicle you need to set the agenda.

3) Don’t just stick to English

Despite being a global event, discussion at Davos is held predominantly in English. That’s fine for the attendees – a multilingual global elite – and is necessary to ensure the event is a functional discussion forum. The danger of this dominance though, is that is makes communicators forget we are speaking with a global audience.

This was demonstrated on social media. In the two weeks preceding the event, over 90% of social media activity related to Davos was in English. However this dropped to less than 60% during the event itself. On day two, some of the highest trending hashtags were in Spanish. The “WEF en Espagnol” Twitter account, run by the event organisers, was also a key part of the influence network throughout the event. Similarly, there was a high volume of discussion about Davos on Chinese on social media platform Weibo.

As communicators, it is tempting to write in English as the ‘global language’, and either leave translation up to local teams, or do no translation at all. However in doing so you risk losing quality control, and potentially over 40% of your audience. Don’t forget that you are communicating to a global audience – ensure you offer quality messages in several languages.

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