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Bits & Pieces?

Bits & Pieces

I participated in a great #smmeasure (Social Media Measurement) Twitter chat yesterday. The topic was online influence and how to use it for social marketing purposes, a personal favorite. After the chat, several people asked me to define influence and explain how to find the right individuals. Since it seems that more than one person is interested in the topic, I decided to share my thoughts here.

First, what exactly is influence? Brian Solis has a great definition:

“Influence is the ability to cause desirable and measurable actions and outcomes.”

Sounds great right? Who wouldn’t want to cause desirable and measurable outcomes? In reality it is hard (should I say almost impossible, unless you use fMRI) to measure the changes one person triggers in the behaviors of others. Instead, online influence is almost always measured by impact, reach, visibility or authority.  However, online influence should not be confused with popularity. Influencers can be popular (e.g. Robert Scoble) and popular people can be influential (e.g. Kim Kardashian), yet not all celebrities are influencers.

How can influencers help with your social marketing goals?

They can help you increase awareness and/or share of voice, improve sentiment or increase positive sentiment, and sometimes they can even increase sales. Using influencers in campaigns leverages the power of third-party credibility in a very cost-effective way.

How do you find influencers?

First you need to define your audience and research which platforms they use. If your audience is teenagers, influential bloggers won’t help you achieve your objectives. If your audience is German businessmen, approaching  influential Xing users is a much better option than influential LinkedIn users.

After that, you need to define the topics and keywords within which you are looking for influencers. Is it a certain industry? A specific genre of music? Be as specific as possible.

The next step is to research the topic for volume. Some industries are much more social than others, thus they produce more activity. It is much easier to find individuals with high Klout or PeerIndex scores within the marketing industry than among mechanical engineers. The idea behind this step is to establish realistic expectations for the next step: using social/online influence tools.

With dozens of online influence measurement tools, how do you know which ones to use? Good question! And I don’t have a good answer because all tools are in their infancy stage (unfortunately). My solution is to use Klout and PeerIndex for multi-platforms rankings and then compare the results since they have different algorithms. If I am looking specifically at blogs, I’ll check Technorati. I look at TweetLevel (because it gives a trust score) and Twitalyzer, together with Klout and PeerIndex, when I am focusing specifically on Twitter.

Finding influencers is much more than relying on tools with obscure algorithms. You need to do some manual labour too. First, you should research each individual and see if the content he/she shares is relevant to your brand/product. Establish if they reach your audience in terms of demographics. Determine if you’d like these individuals associated with your brand/product. The process is the same as selecting a celebrity to endorse your brand.

What do you do after you discover the right influencers?

Engage with them. I know it is a cliché, but people say it for a reason. Build relationships with the individuals you want to reach. Comment on their blogs. RT their tweets. Ask them questions about things they find interesting. Send them articles they might find interesting. Help them before you ask for help. Give before you get.

After all this hard work, it is time to ask an influencer for whatever you want from him/her. That’s why you need an influencer, not just another friend. A few things to consider during this final step:

  1. Reach out to them using their preferred channel of communication. If they prefer e-mails then send an e-mail. If they prefer to be taken out for coffee then take them out for coffee at their favorite place.
  2. Focus on the influencer. What’s in it for him/her? How will your request help him/her? Will it be interesting to his/her audience.
  3. Personalize your request. Seriously! No one likes receiving mass e-mails that start with Dear Sir or Madam.
  4. Get straight to the point without long overtures. No one has time to read five pages. If someone is interested, he/she will contact you for more information.

What are your options if you don’t have time to build a relationship?

It happens. Actually that is the more likely scenario. So what do we do? Here are a few options: ask for an introduction from someone who knows the influencer well and/or optimize the request in a way that will really benefit the influencer.  If all else fails, give him/her a blank check. Not sure if that works, but you never know.

How do you find and approach influencers? What are your secrets?

P.S. I know this just scratches the surface. Let’s dig deeper and discuss more specific details in the comments.

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Social Influence

Last week Advertising Age published an article on the possibilities of using Klout score and other online influence measurement tools for marketing campaigns. The author, David Teicher, mentioned the Palms Hotel and Virgin America as examples of companies using online influencers to promote their products and services.

Although it was refreshing to see that more companies equate online influence to something more than the number of fans, likes and follows, there are still some issues to consider when planning a campaign around online influencers.

First and foremost, online influence should be measured across all platforms a person uses, not just Twitter and Facebook. Although PeerIndex includes blogs into its influence score and Klout is working to integrate LinkedIn, MySpace, Digg and YouTube, there are dozens of other networks to be included if a measurement tool strives to provide a single number as a significant indicator about someone’s online influence.

The other technical issue to consider is the difference between the total number of conversations and impressions an influencer creates across all platforms and the number of unique conversations and impressions across all platforms. Some people use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, just to name a few, for different purposes, thus they have different audiences. For others, all platforms serve the same purpose and such individuals engage with the same audience on several platforms.

But beyond technicalities.

Online influence is relative and highly contextual. Someone’s influence depends on the category/industry/topic he is trying to be an influencer in, so to speak a highly credible expert. How do we know if a user is influential unless we compare him to someone else? But we can’t compare apples to oranges. We need to compare people who are in the same field/topic. Online influence doesn’t simply depend on someone’s area of expertise, but also on what others in this industry are doing/talking about: how many people talk about the same topic, how many conversations each one of them initiates on average, what is the depth of these conversations, how much information each one shares, etc. If John is one of the few online active people in industry XYZ, even a few clicks, mentions, retweets and comments will make him influential.

As (buzzword alert) propagation planners say, it is not about reaching influencers; it is about reaching and engaging the right influencers. Engaging people influential in the HR field, even if they have a Klout score of 70, to promote fishing equipment is wasting money. Targeting people influential among fishermen, even with a Klout score of 20, is a much better idea.

In all fairness, Klout does allow you to search for influencers within certain topics, but there are two problems with it. First, it still provides a single number to rank all users, not a number within an industry. Second, users have to sign up for Klout for others to see their score. Although it might seem ridiculously irrational to some of us, there are people who tweet and blog for reasons other than influence and sales. PeerIndex, on the other hand, can compare a score within a topic, but it compares it only to users with whom you engage, not to all users within the selected topic.

The bottom line is that all online influence measurement tools are still in their infancy stage and if we want to create marketing campaigns around online influencers, we need to focus on something more than a single number ranking credibility across one or two platforms. We need to identify influencers within specific topics and industries with specific demographic and psychographic characteristics.

Just my $0.02.

What would you add to all these issues and considerations? How can we use influence measurement tools effectively?

Image : Stefano Maggi

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