MarketingSocial Media

How Do You Evaluate Influence?

Marketers and PR professionals are facing an explosion in the quantity and diversity of influencers – the people with real and measurable impact on the decisions other people make. Social media has fueled the rise of influencers in all shapes and sizes – but how do you measure influence? Some might say by an arbitrary, numerical score. Others might say by the number of Followers or ‘Likes’ somebody has. I don’t know what I think, but I do know I’m probably not buying a toaster if Justin Bieber says it’s great.

I think you need more than a number to determine influence. This is a similar argument that I have about Google Page Rank. TechCrunch has a PageRank of 8/10, while Consumer Reports has a PageRank of 7/10 – who’s opinion matters most when thinking about whether or not to buy that iPad? It depends on more than a numerical score, doesn’t it?

So how do you measure and evaluate influence? The measurement of influencer voices has become a hot topic in the marketing and PR worlds because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do.  It’s hard enough to identify the would-be influencers in the first place because they’re no longer wrapped up in neat little bundles of industry publications and mainstream business magazines/newspapers.  Social media, blogs, and other online media have made influencer identification dramatically more complex.
Granted, anyone with an audience has some level of influence. It might be influenced by over 2 people or two million, it influences nonetheless.

Today, influencers are found among the authors of millions of blogs, tens of millions of Tweets, and even in the comments sections of blogs and message boards. But who are the key influencers who can really move your market to take action?  It’s possible that the most important Influencers for a particular company, product, or service have nothing to do with the traditional media contacts that every marketer/PR pro has on their Rolodex.

Once you actually find all of the folks who are talking about your market, your products, or your people, then you have to figure out which ones are really influencers. Here are a couple of factors to consider when evaluating relevance:

  • Topical Relevance: do they actively write about your topic of interest, creating analytic content that addresses your precise market?
  • Authority: do their voices reach a relevant audience for you? Does the audience respect his/her opinion?
  • Ability to Drive Action: even if a would-be influencer writes about your topic – and does so authoritatively – does the influencer have the ability to drive your audience to action (e.g. make a purchase)?

Understanding how a potential influencer ranks across these areas is important for evaluating their value to your communications program. This information is not yet at the fingertips of most PR and marketing professionals. You won’t find it from your clipping service, it’s not in your PR software and it’s not a Google search away.

I have no doubt that many vendors are working on new and improved ways to measure, analyze and track influence, but there isn’t much out there today. There are services like Klout that assign a numerical value to somebody based on a myriad of factors like Twitter Followers or Facebook Friends, but these types of tools are in their infancy as solutions and are based strictly on popularity and not relevancy (my opinion). I like Klout because I don’t have something better to use… yet.

There are other solutions out there that help marketers target audiences based on the typical ad targeting categories (age, gender, geography, and interests), but again, they don’t provide enough data to accurately predict influence. And it’s the wrong way to guess at influence.

Much like the age-old debates that still exist over the best way to measure public relations results, I fear we’ll have the same challenges finding the right solution to measuring and evaluating influence. There will be many different ways to do so, and a lack of consensus between marketers and PR professionals.

I’m optimistic that new services will come out to help us better evaluate and target influencers, and to measure the impact those influencers have in driving action. For example, there’s a new service coming out from mBLAST, that will look at influencer identification based on algorithms to analyze the reach and impact of an influencer’s voice (without using an arbitrary score that applies to all situations).

For example, using the mBLAST tool, there may be two influencers who write about smartphone apps and both have all of the prerequisite authority and ability to drive action.  But one may have more influence over the Android market while the other is big in the Apple space.  So a score is less relevant than the specifics of his/her true influence. Only a solution that uses topical relevancy can dive deeper into targeting.

While we’re in the season of 2011 predictions, I wanted to get the concept of topical relevancy out there when evaluating influencers. I think we’ll see influencer targeting heat up in 2011 and more and more solutions enter the market to help PR and marketing professionals. I don’t think we’re to the point where anyone can say what the right or wrong way to measure influence is, but it’s time to start having that discussion if you’re not already.

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