Measuring influence in the digital age: Impressions, likes and followers

April 29, 2011

Back in the days before Facebook and Twitter, before crowdsourcing and clouds, media relations professionals turned to spiral-bound directories to identify which publications would best reach a specific audience. The outreach was based on readership surveys that purported to tell you who was reading what publications. But those surveys disappeared around the time that we stopped dialing telephones.

When online media came along, PR people scrambled to find new ways to assess which sites reached their target demographics. The alternative to the readership surveys were panels set up by Nielsen, ComScore, Compete, Quantcast or Alexa with opt-in systems to record what people are really doing on their computers. The numbers varied dramatically, but at least you could find data for most of the major online news outlets.

The rise of social networking

But then there was Facebook. Because it was a closed and diverse network, it was nearly impossible to accurately count “impressions.”

People created Facebook pages and started confusing influence and relationships with Likes, forgetting that they were just counting clicks.  This doesn’t indicate whether there is an actual relationship with the brand. Never mind that most people hit Like because they were promised a 10 percent off coupon and never came back. Growing the number of Likes became the ROI of the day — except that it wasn’t ROI and wasn’t an effective measure of impact.
Along with Likes came another equally insidious metric: the number of Twitter followers. It became all the rage to grow your Twitter followers as quickly as possible.

So people figured out ways to auto-follow people and numbers grew faster than Justin Bieber’s fan club. Of course, most of those followers were faux followers, who essentially never pay any attention to what you’re doing, but the numbers were big and so bosses paid attention.

But, then, the numbers got too big. PR people, who were used to crowing over getting 50 great “placements” or increasing the numbers of  “media hits” from 100 to 200 per month, were now seeing 10,000 or 20,000 “hits” in social media. At first it was impressive, but when people started digging into those pretty line charts and bar graphs and realizing how much of this information was irrelevant, they became nervous and overwhelmed.
So if you only want to measure what matters, how do you sort the good stuff from the trivial when traditional directories aren’t accurate and can mislead you?

Consider the following steps:

Step 1: Choose your words carefully. Influence is not reach. The leader in this misnaming contest is Klout, who says it wants to be the Nielsen of social media and the arbiter of influence. I applaud its ambition, but that assumes that its magic number will tell everyone how “important” a particular outlet is. The problem is that any given outlet may be important to me, but impotent in a different marketplace.  And an outlet with anemic Klout scores may be incredibly influential in a niche marketplace.

Step 2: Behind all influence is action. Influence, according to dictionary.com, is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on the actions, behavior, opinions of others or the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions of another or others.

Please note that the operational words are actions, behavior and “produce effects” — in other words, Justin Bieber may have millions of fans on Twitter, but it’s a good bet that he is never going to produce any effect on my business. Now, if I was selling eggs and Bieber decided to go on an all “KDPaine brand eggs” diet, then it might be different. But the point is that influence is not reach, it’s the power to produce an effect or an outcome. So you need to measure a person’s influence score based on the impact on your business.

If you are a defense contractor, and there are only 200 people on the planet who can legally buy your product, then chances are it’s not the number of followers you have on Twitter that matters.

What matters is that you are reaching those 200 people and the 2,000 or so people who influence them.  That means that the reporters and thought leaders who have always written about your business are still writing about your business, you just need to figure out what blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn group or Twitter handle that they are using today.

Step 3: Behind every influencer is a real live human. Influence is not a list, and it can’t be used like those old media directories. Influence implies a personal, persuasive relationship between the individual and the audience who is being influenced.  Investor relations professionals would never dream of relying on mass emails to explain a new strategy to a financial or industry analyst. Today’s influentials aren’t any different.  You can’t substitute personal relationships for electronic ones. Do not rely on computers to figure out who is important.

For example, a lot of publicists assume that because my blog is called “The Measurement Standard,” I’m interested in your new, more accurate scientific probing device. I am not.

Read what the person has written or posted and understand what excites them. Figure out who is actually producing content that is relevant to your customers — survey your customers if necessary to find out where they get their information. Go through your old contact lists and track down anyone you’ve lost contact with.  And don’t just read blogs. Read the comments, follow the links and use analysis tools like Twitalyzer or Traackr to help determine the reach.

Step 4: Influence is not the Holy Grail. It is not some magical metric that will help you measure all of your results. It is not going to get you a raise or a gold star. If defined and used appropriately, then influence can help narrow the amount of chatter that you need to be paying attention to and help you focus your outreach efforts. You will still need to measure whether all of that influence resulted in any real outcomes.

Katie Delahaye Paine
Katie Delahaye Paine is the CEO & founder of KDPaine & Partners LLC. She also writes KDPaine’s Measurement Blog and publishes The Measurement Standard. Twitter: KDPaine, Skype: kdpaine.
Email: kdpaine at kdpaine.com


Barry Fleming says:

Nice article KD. measuring influence is most certainly a quizzical enterprise these days, and there are two distinct types of influence: subjective and digital Subjective Influence is the magical stuff of legend. The immeasurable stuff that gets immeasurable results. You see a work of art or a scene in nature that moves you beyond words - an emotional response. How do you measure that aside from traditional surveys and market research? Digital influence is another matter entirely - and you are correct that it's typically mixed-up with reach. And MarCom spends a lot of time trying to keep that mix-up going because if it doesn't, the cats out-of-the-bag. I prefer 'Digital Authority' over digital influence. And this is because 'digital authority' CAN BE measured via author/platform (Brand) reputation, author/platform reach, content engagement, and content resonance with an audience. No bait-and-switch in that approach. So, let's do away with fuzzy logic and math regarding influence. It's all hype. ~b

April 30, 2011

Nickolass Jensen says:

Hi Katie I couldn't agree more on these four steps and I can't help but ask you back: What kind of real outcomes are you aiming for with this post? Which metrics are you measuring and what defines success regarding this piece of work? It would be fun to see you could use this post as an example on how you would measure. I came her ONLY because your tweet about this post was retweetet by @erictpeterson and then retweetet once more by @jimsterne with the comment "Great read". The title itself wasn't appealing enough. Usually that means something is worth reading. So, now I spent my time both reading and commenting. Hopefully waiting for others to also read the comments, as you recommended. We all found it worth reading. So tell us: How do you measure whether it was worth writing? @nickolass (from Norway;-)

April 30, 2011

Krystal says:

When it comes to social media and blogs, we're having a tough time figuring out how to report back to the higher ups that our outreach efforts are worth it. We KNOW it's worth it and, luckily, know who the influencers are in our business. But, our execs are all about numbers. With traditional media, we've always reported media value (we get three inches of positive coverage, three inches of ad space would cost $X, so we got $X in media value). But, in this day in age, we don't believe that this is relevant. Realize this is the age old measurement problem and is probably three blog posts all in itself. I'll certainly jump to your blog to see if you've answered this question in the past.

May 4, 2011

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