It's the holy grail of measurement. If a marketer could just identify this magic formula and apply it, than everything else would fall in line.
The problem is that influence is a lot like a recession, you can't really identify that it was happening until it is over. It's not easy to measure in real-time.
In a new whitepaper by Jonny Bentwood, a PR consultant for Edelman, Distributed Influence: Quantifying the Impact of Social Media (pdf) they attempt to begin to address an approach measuring influence. The white paper is based on a roundtable held last year with a number of blogging and industry luminaries.
In The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, he refers to these influencers as Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. The roundtable attempted to define influencers as:
- Meme starters: someone who forms an opinion or idea and broadcasts it to a trusted but small network
- Meme spreaders: Someone who likes to share opinions and share them first, usually with a much larger network
- Meme adapters: One who reforms the opinion for a niche network
- Meme commenter: One who shares the opinion by commenting online and possibly sharing offline
- Meme readers: A vociferous consumer of information likely to spread the information offline
One can quibble over the use of “Meme,” but if you don't like the terminology it can easily be replaced with the word, Idea. I need to give more thought to this definition, but I think they made a good start on identifying the various players.
Ecosystem of Influence
Furthermore, they attempted to define what I will call the Ecosystem of Influence, or the process by which a person is moved to action, as Attention – Engagement – Influence – Action.
And that is the crux of the issue, how are ideas formulated, spread and adopted?
Unfortunately, the 16-page paper doesn't deliver this magic bullet that marketers are looking for, though they do try to propose a formula:
Volume and Quality of Attention x Time
Size and Quality of Audience
However, the author doesn't define the terms of this equation to my satisfaction. What is attention? What is time? How do you determine the quality of the audience? Is volume inlinks, output or a combination of the two?
The white paper evokes many more questions than answers, but here are the points on which I agree:
- Influence is much more complex than popularity
- Just measuring blog metrics will not bring you to an accurate measure of influence
- An influential person is a product of his or her network, who by their responses assign influence (in other words, influence is symmetrical)
- We need to start to measure outcomes (what results in an action)
What About Relationships?
One gaping hole in the paper was a failure to mention the importance of measuring of relationships. For instance, a person may quite influential to his or her own network but have little cross influence into other networks.
Right now, the closest thing we have to be able to do this is measuring the number of friends in a particular social network, but even that is disingenuous since a person with a 150 friend network of people he or she knows well that are also influential in their own right might be able to move the needle much better than the person will 1,000 friends he doesn't know at all.
In other words, you aren't influential unless the people you are hoping to influence have a level of trust in you. How do you measure that as an outside observer? There is an instrument for determining your organization's influence, but what about a blogger's?
Certainly it isn't available in the open source information that we currently have today.
The whitepaper is careful to say that it isn't intended as a standard, and even that a standard might not be possible, which is my view. However, it does start to suss out what we need to consider as we struggle to measure influence online.