The business of influence

Earlier this year, Forbes published an article entitled Who Are the Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers, 2013? by Haydn Shaughnessy. It followed similar posts by Shaughnessy on The Top 20 Women Social Media Influencers, also on Forbes, and a similar Top 50 list 12 months earlier.

The article soon came under fire from certain areas of the web, including Mark Schaefer’s Grow blog and Jure Klepic of the Huffington Post. Additionally, there were numerous conversations across the web on the Forbes article, with the majority of people discounting its validation.

So why did a publication like Forbes receive such criticism, and what does the discounting of influencer results like the one on Forbes mean for influence marketing in general?

Popularity is Not Influence

This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but popularity does not equal influence. While having 100,000 followers on Twitter might be a nice statement of your social proof (hint: it’s not really), does that make you influential (another hint: no)?

This is where the majority of the criticism of the Forbes article comes into play.

In his preamble to the list, Shaughnessy shares the “algorithm” behind identifying the influencers, and that he uses Twitter measurement platform Peek Analytics. That should raise the first red flag – Shaughnessy is only defining influence from a single platform.

However, it’s Peek Analytics’ own description that devalues Shaughnessy’s article even more. From the Peek Analytics website:

Social Pull is not a measure of a single individual’s “influence;” rather, it is an audience-based metric that is a direct reflection of the quality and size of the Twitter audience that has been “pulled” into following an account or mentioning a keyword @name, hashtag, or URL on Twitter.

So, Peek Analytics doesn’t measure influence; they measure data based on interactions. So why does Shaughnessy use a tracking platform that doesn’t measure influence to create an influencer list?

It’s this flawed approach that the majority of the criticism around the web has picked up on.

…this is a suspicious methodology to define social media influence, and that is about as charitable as I can be. – Mark Schaefer

With their tired standard of measuring Twitter followers, PeekAnalytics adds nothing to the conversation of influence measurement. Similar to every other list that has been made based solely on Twitter followers, there is no attention paid to the metrics of comments on their blogs, content quality and other social networks. - Jure Klepic

…the thing that bothered me about the Forbes list is they clearly did it based on Twitter followers alone. There are two people on there I know, for a fact, they paid for their followers and don’t interact, engage, or build community. – Gini Dietrich

These criticisms, and others like them, clearly show that the social web has moved way beyond just numbers and a platform where spam bots are plentiful when it comes to defining influence in the truest sense.

Influence is Multi-Layered

The other core issue with the Forbes article is the very fact Shaughnessy limits measurement to a single platform. This is lazy analytics at best, allowing for flawed metrics to be used as a source of influence identification.

It’s also one of the reasons that an influence marketing survey from earlier this year of over 1,300 professionals highlighted the need for more accurate and informed data analysis, versus the approach currently taken by social scoring platforms.

Influence marketing survey key insights

For example, Klout’s algorithm only measures your public Twitter data – they need you to connect your other social accounts to offer any true accuracy. From a recent TechCrunch article:

Before we are able to incorporate any data into a person’s score, we need users to connect the network to Klout so we can begin to process the influence data.

So, much like Peek Analytics, they’re using a single platform to measure influence, as opposed to all the other social footprints you may have elsewhere. Klout competitor Kred is in the same boat:

To calculate your Kred, we analyze billions of tweets from the last 1,000 days. We add your Facebook actions when you connect your account.

While there’s no doubt Twitter is an important part of the social media ecosystem, it’s just one piece in a very large puzzle. And it’s this reliance on Twitter data only that dilutes the effectiveness of social scoring when it comes to identifying true influence based on behavioural change, as opposed to reactions to a tweet.

Influence is much more than the sum of Twitter’s parts. If we, as marketers and brands, are looking to truly understand what drives actions in people – the definition of influencing someone – then we need to understand much more than a tweet or social network update.

  • Situational factors – what’s affecting someone’s decision-making at any given time?
  • Peer factors – who offers the most influence based on where you are in that decision-making process?
  • Financial – can you afford to buy, or are you more logical and prudent with your money?
  • Emotional – tied into the financial factor, does emotion for a product override common sense, logic and lack of funds?
  • Familial factors – who’s the decision-maker in the family and how does this impact a brand message being accepted?

These are just a few of the factors involved into identifying where influence may play a part, and who the influencer would be to instill the next part of the equation and, by association, action.

Is Influence Marketing Losing Its Clout?

So what does this mean for influence and influence marketing moving forward? Has the potential of influence already been nixed before it’s even had a chance to reach maturity?

After all, the criticism of a respected media publication like Forbes, as well as questions being raised on current social influence outreach and its effectiveness at ROI, would suggest influence is becoming a tainted topic.

And, to a degree, it is. Lack of results (shared or perceived) harm the medium, as brands (rightly so) look for return on their investments, beyond simple retweets and blog posts that add nothing to the bottom line.

However, as the results of the influence marketing survey I shared here show, it’s not influence itself that’s broken, but the definition of how we identify who influencers are today, and what they mean for a brand. Brands are still looking to use influence marketing as a key part of their tactics; but they do expect more.

The problem is we’re still placing “influencers” – whoever they may be – at the heart of the marketing circle, and not always defining what the context is when it comes to filtering them for a brand.

Disruptive influence

A simple example – Lifestyle Blogger A has a well-read blog, and primarily attracts an audience of women between the age of 25-44. So it makes sense that a brand whose demographics are made up of this audience should work with that blogger.

But the audience has a very different make-up. Blog Reader A is a single mom with two young kids under three; Blog Reader B is a married mom with one kid aged ten and one teenager; and Blog Reader C is a mom who has a child of college age, who’s no longer living at home.

All three of these reader segments fall within the broad category of “women between the age of 25-44″ – but that’s where the similarities end.

Let’s say the brand sells toddler toys. Using a generic influence outreach campaign, the blogger might be successful at putting the brand in front of the Blog Reader A segment, but the message will be completely off-point for the other two, just-as-important segments.

This is the where the flaws of putting today’s definition of an influencer at the heart of the marketing circle appear, and why we need to move beyond this, and start putting the actual customer at the heart of the circle, and work back from there.

By taking this approach, we understand who the true influencers are – customers – and what they’re looking for, as well as who’s influencing their decisions at a specific point in time.

And if we can redefine influence to the people brands should really be taking notice of, and how to meet their needs and help with their decisions, we can reposition influence back to its true meaning and dispel its lack of effectiveness (perceived or real) currently “enjoyed” today.

A version of this post originally appeared on the official blog for the Influence Marketing book.

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18 comments
Ivan Widjaya
Ivan Widjaya

Although I have always been a fan of influence marketing, I get your point when you said that the main problem is that it cannot be measured. It cannot be measured in terms of ROI or retweets. It is something that is of quality and can be felt more than measured. But I still think it will still be an important factor in the future as communities always value influencers.

Jacob Roig
Jacob Roig

Today we are in an era where social media is a main factor that draws attention to the public. Given that situation, influence marketing plays a big role along with a good marketing strategy. In any social media platform comes a different type impact to our businesses. We to have to learn first what, who and where to focus on to be earn success. Great job breaking down these valuable information. Thanks for posting.

Kris
Kris

Hi Danny! Interesting blog and also this article. To be honest I never give much value to the Influence Marketing. Never thought it could be as influential as you describe it. Does influence marketing has a future? I am still in doubt to be honest but for sure it's an opportunity for many companies to increase their brand awareness.

That Guy
That Guy

As I am migrating my spending to a new town that has way more choices for everything in your day to day life I am noting how I learned of the place...except for using Yelp! in Sept to choose a restaurant everything was non-social media word of mouth and street signs I saw as I drove by. I truly think influence has to meet the 3 W's. Great Product/Service. Great Customer Service where every touch point is positive, and be the better value which doesn't have to mean cheapest. Obviously there are certain 'fashion' influences that require no brand relationship with the 'sales vehicle (in this case the influencer is the vehicle). But most influence is going to require a sales job by the brand advocate and to do that with any success you have to believe in the product or the brand ....and your best customers do. Then you take the person with the best Klout scores 8)

Cole Wiebe
Cole Wiebe

Hi Danny, You make a good point, that popularity is not the same as influence. I recently took on a new client with tens of thousands of followers across the top social networks and a Klout score of 72. Popular guy! Hardly any of that popularity, however, seemed to be translating into traffic to the company's website or converting into leads or sales. - Cole

Peter Johnston
Peter Johnston

In the old days, to influence people's buying, companies had to advertise to each and every one of them, multiple times (often enough to get the availability heuristic to kick in). Immensely wasteful - a vanishingly small proportion of people who saw each ad were in the market for that product at that time. It has to be shown repeatedly to reach a person even once. Now there is a much less wasteful way. Get it to some people and they will get it to the rest. Along the way it comes with their endorsement, which cuts through people's content barriers.. Mums, for example, click into a sphere of knowledge when they have children. They go to communities based around their shared interest, they build a network of trusted experts and another of websites, shops etc. for this sort of stuff. From their peers they decide who is trusted and who is merely trying to take advantage of the group. Like society, if you are on the inside in this network, you are made, on the outside is cold indeed. Companies and marketers haven't caught up. They are still using the wasteful advertising method of trying to reach everybody multiple times. This gets more wasteful every day as fewer and fewer people rely on it for their buying decisions. They still see social as media - another way to get their message to lots of people multiple times. What these analytics are measuring is the misuse of social by companies which don't know how to generate influence. It isn't a measure of influence at all, but a corrupted "hits" metric. As Ross Brawn of Mercedes put it "Bad data is worse than no data".

Sunday
Sunday

Hi Danny, Yes, influence marketing does have a future! This is because emotional and value goals attached to products drive customers to take action about a product or service. The Forbes publication readily undermines the true meaning of "influencers" but this does not mean that we ignore power of influencers. They are still very much relevant. I love your post for its in-depth content on the topic of influence marketing! Thanks for sharing!

Mark Longbottom
Mark Longbottom

I'd agree with Mila, also think some people mainly marketeers and the like should live a little and stop trying to make smoke screens as if they know something nobody else does, the reality is happening and many are not as influential as they think. Many of their customers and clients are far more influential and if they simply talked and built the relevant relationships they would get genuinely connected to that influence. Rather than assuming giving someone a load of stats and spreadsheets will do it for them. That's just my point of view, analytics are good but don't live your life by them so many have no life becasue of them LOL

Steve Ardire
Steve Ardire

Keep on pounding away Danny because people need to better educated to what constitutes real influence measurement and marketing.

Mila Araujo
Mila Araujo

Of course influence marketing has a future, it also has a past. The past is not based on social media, it's based on good old fashioned business and consumer word of mouth. Put a product in the hands of a person who has the respect of their community and peers, impress them wih your product or service, give them something to talk about- and voila - influence marketing takes off as that happy consumer shares the story of your amazing product or service. This happens over dinner conversation, at the golf club, while parents watch their kids soccer practices or ballet lessons. This happens any time a company gives someone something to talk about. Translate this into the online space: influencers with greater reach have a greater chance of putting the idea of a product or service into the hands I the real life consumer- influencers can increase exposure *if* the people who follow them actually listen or look at what they say. Because then the real life influencers - the people who might not have the high scores see the product or service and are new likely to use it or check it out- but the true value is being ready and having the products or service do the wowing once it's reached it's spot. It must provide value, give people a reason to rave or laugh or most importantly share... And the real work of influence is happening in the private networks - the Facebook feeds, the ballet lessons, the hockey practices - this has always been the same. And, it's powerful. Make sense?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hmm, not sure where I said it can't be measured - that's the exact opposite of my thinking... :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hey there Howie, It's funny - everyone says how social is the future of business and we all die (professionally) if we don't adapt or engage now. Yet (like you), my last major transaction (my roof) came about because I saw a sign in a garden on my street. This roofer has no social presence whatsoever. It's time for the evangelists and the hawkers of wares to get real and stop peddling their soundbites.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

And there's the crux of it right there, Cole. Followers and a score based on secret algorithms are one thing; relevance to your audience and context in the message because of that are completely different. The brands that understand the latter are the ones experiencing the ROI. Here's to more seeing the light.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Exactly, Peter. The problem is brands and marketers have succumbed to the sales pitch of the early adopter scoring platforms, who promise to get your brand in front of X amount of eyeballs, thereby resulting in sales. Thing is, it didn't turn out that way, primarily because the eyeballs belonged to followers of followers. There's no relevance between influencer and follower, except for the follow itself. There's no context in the message as a result, and because of this sales are crap. And yet people still buy into this false economy. Maybe next year we'll be having different discussions. We can but hope.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

I guess it depends how we define "influencers". If it's the social media rockstar influencer, we're primarily talking about popularity over actual influence. Now if only those making the marketing decisions would realize that...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

The smart marketers have been doing this for years. Funny how technology and access to more data only goes to show which ones take the lazy way out and highlight how little they really have to offer... ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Thanks, Steve - the journey has only just begun. :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Oh, you won't get an argument from me on any of your points, miss - that's been my whole mantra, along with others like your good self, for many years. But don't try and say that to the social media crowd who think everything starts and finishes with them... ;-)

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