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Real Influence Continues to Evade Social Media Monitoring Tools

It’s been noted by a number of social media sites that 2010 was the “year of influence” or perhaps better stated, the year that “influence” became a really, really hot topic.

Part of the reason for this is the rise of services like Klout that measure your relative “influence” on social media. Each of these sites has its own definition of influence, and its own techniques for measuring, ranking and scoring it.

Importantly, each site also has a similar set of limitations, which has given rise to a number of organizations that specialize in optimizing and increasing a person’s perceived influence.

Fundamentally, though, they are all molding and measuring your influence relative to other people that you connect with on a small number of social media platforms.

Now you may think, “Okay…if they cover Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I’m good with that.”

Sorry, Klout only measures Facebook and Twitter.

“Okay, but if they measure how many responses my blog gets, I’m happy.”

Nope. Most of them only measure clicks on your links, retweets and follows…the same stuff you can see every day on your own.

In truth, even if they measured more social media sites, or responses to your blog, that wouldn’t be good enough.

“The text book definition of influence,” said Brian Solis, “is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

Effect is key in understanding influence and its role in societies online and in the real world,” said Brian. “In social media, it’s the ability to cause measurable actions and outcomes. While popularity may help, this really becomes a study of the quality, caliber, and conditioning of an individual’s social graph where context plays an increasingly important role over time.”

Brian makes a great point, which I agree with: what these services really should be looking at is the quality, caliber and conditioning of an individual’s social graph.

I’ve been considering this for a while now, and while I agree completely with what Brian is saying, I’d like to take that a step further and add my own perspective, highlighting the current state of the technology for measuring influence and how it might be improved.

1. There are different kinds of influencers, and each is valued differently. Moreover, each type of influencer carries its own set of variables for influence.  Klout already has this down, to a degree.

For instance, Klout considers someone who creates and shares blogs on a daily basis to be a content creator. By all accounts, this is a highly valuable type of influencer, but you probably won’t maximize your influence simply by cranking out more blogs. Rather, as Brian noted, your blogs must actually influence your social network into taking measurable action. This means more than a simple retweet. Getting responses to your blog can be tough, but it may surprise you to know that’s really only one measure of effect.

For instance, it’s often easier to generate a comment or a share when you post your blog on Facebook. Similarly, retweets may be few and far between, but a single re-publication of your article by another thought leader may generate multiple new follows, which is extremely important.

It also helps to invite guest blogs from these influencers. This demonstrates that your blog resides at an important conversational crossroad.

Are these techniques for building influence being measured? Generally no, unless you have an expensive analytics platform and you are focused on a few targets rather than the grand social sphere. It’s a massive shortfall of information.

2. Conversations are a vastly undermeasured form of influence. It’s ironic that on social media, conversations are the must underrepresented metric for influence measurement. It’s often noted that the conversationalist is a key influencer type, along with the content creator. The conversationalist is a master at creating and promoting dialog. So for example, this person may organize and promote meet-ups using social media, or generate discussion groups using Google, LinkedIn or Facebook Groups. And while very little of this is measurable by current influence measuring sites, the ability to generate regular ongoing feedback to a Facebook Page is also important.

3. Some social media platforms are more conversationally oriented than others. This is sort of the flip side of the point above, but it should not be discounted. Quora and Help A Reporter Out are two very powerful sites for generating very high-quality conversations, but those conversations are not monitored by any but the most customized influence-measuring tools.

Similarly, LinkedIn Discussion groups were a disaster in as a conversation platform early on, due to the high concentration of affiliate spam, but they’ve done a great job of cleaning up the site in the last year and it is now just ok. There’s still a strong resistance to engaging in true conversation on LinkedIn Discussion groups, for the same reason people are reluctant to comment on corporate blogs: they simply don’t want to share information that could help a competitor get a foothold in the market. However, job-seeking discussions do happen and they are measurable, so if your business is in that market, this is again a great social media platform that has resisted formal measurement from an influence perspective. (I say “formal measurement” because the old affiliate marketing trick is to load up the discussion groups with an automated churn of blogs and then count each as a published article, and thereby a “measure of influence”.)

This leads nicely into my next point…

4. Not all conversations are equal. For instance, a discussion on LinkedIn Groups carries a different weight from a conversation using hashtags on Twitter, which is different still from a Twitter conversation during an online press conference. Again, some of these conversations are beyond the reach of standard measurement tools, but others are not…which may help to explain why events such as moderated Twitter chats (“Tweetups”) continue to exist even though they are impossibly incoherent as a practical experience.

Which leads, again, to another point:

5. Your social circle may not add up. That’s right fans, if your friends are not within the radar of social media monitoring tools, they probably are not helping to elevate your level of influence. You may have many friends on Facebook who never in a million years would think of using Twitter. Similarly, you may spend a lot of time and effort creating conversations in LinkedIn or Google Groups, or creating viral videos on YouTube, but Klout is not watching any of these.

Unless the platform developer can convince the influence-measuring service to include them, you might as well be, well, whistling in the dark.

This is one reason why people with high levels of influence are actively engaged on multiple social media channels – but not all of them. They simply know not to waste their effort.

I mentioned early in this blog that I think these social influence monitoring tools are “not good enough.” I hope now you understand why.

On the other hand, you should know that changing the situation to include more social media platforms and conversations might require quite a bit more information than many individual social media users are willing to reveal.

And this leads to perhaps the most glaring miss of all, e.g., only the most customized social media monitoring tools measure social gatherings. By that I mean real, person-to-person meetings and events. And since this is, after all, the nirvana of social media — bringing people together — it’s a miss that makes the software look painfully inadequate.

So the real question is this: How important is it to you, that you are perceived as influential, versus actually achieving influence in ways that make sense for you?


4 comments on “Real Influence Continues to Evade Social Media Monitoring Tools

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Real Influence Continues to Evade Social Media Tools « Siliconcowboy's Blog --

  2. Lou Covey
    December 30, 2010

    It really comes down to the quality your content. You have to be able to communicate an idea to the point that someone can make an informed decision, even if the answer is no. Klout is valuable, however, in that it does measure the conversation created. The problem is that not enough people value that metric.

  3. siliconcowboy
    December 31, 2010

    My point is simply that Klout really isn’t measuring that many conversations. If you’re active in social media, you’re doing and saying and influencing in many ways that are beyond the radar of most social monitoring tools. So they really have no clue how influential you are.

  4. Matthew Cain
    December 31, 2010

    One of the challenges for firms claiming to measure influence is just that. Can influence be measured in a meaningful comparable way?

    Ok, so Barack Obama is more influential than Sarah Palin. But is Sarah Palin more influential than Joe Biden? And on whom, on what issues and to what extent? Some people are influential on some people, some of the time, depending on the issue. But distilling this to an algorithm is probably a fool’s errand.

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This entry was posted on December 29, 2010 by in Art of Communication.
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