ARF Social Media Insights: Can Social Media Effectively Track Influence? - Lynne d Johnson - MediaBizBloggers

Thought Leaders

There's an ongoing debate about whether influence can be tracked via social media. At its core, the issue revolves around the lack of a common definition for influence. I'm on the side of quality over quantity, where influence is more about overall impact than number of followers or fans, or even clicks. 

Lynne's full commentary can be read at http://www.jackmyers.com/commentary/ARF/97963394.html

There's an ongoing debate about whether influence can be tracked via social media. At its core, the issue revolves around the lack of a common definition for influence. I'm on the side of quality over quantity, where influence is more about overall impact than number of followers or fans, or even clicks. There are definitely instances where quantity will trump quality, and in the advertising business those instances happen far more often because we measure in terms of ROI. Is social media helping us shift away from this kind of thinking?

I'm at a crossroads with this, because the current work that the ARF is doing with the ANA and WOMMA is to create a social media measurement guideline. For the ARF's stake in this project, I'm advocating heavily to build off the work of Razorfish's Social Influence Marketing Score and Altimeter's Social Marketing Analytics.

With the first, it's possible to look at both the online and offline share of voice (reach of conversations) that a brand has, along with sentiment or likability for the brand (positive, negative, and neutral mentions) to determine the brand's SIM Score. In essence, the SIM Score is an accounting of your brand health: think of it as your social influence market share. And it's a viable framework, given what it sets out to achieve.

With the other, Altimeter and Web Analytics Demystified developed a framework that considers social media measurement means different things to different people, and that no one social media analysis solution fits all. This framework looks at how a number of KPIs correspond to specific business objectives, including "Fostering Dialog," "Promoting Advocacy," "Facilitating Support," and "Spurring Innovation." For each KPI, such as "Share of Voice," "Advocate Influence," "Satisfaction Score," and "Sentiment Ratio," there is a numerical model.

These two frameworks lend credence to the idea that there are methods for determining influence via social media. But how can we understand or determine the qualitative side of social media?

Since it's the realm of the fuzzy stuff, it's often left to researchers who study consumer insights and behaviors. Yet for marketers this stuff is important too: It's not solely about understanding how many clicks an A-list influencer can drive, but also why that specific influencer drives so many clicks. If we're only looking at clicks, then we're looking at social media through the same lenses that we've used for measuring other forms of media. Those older models can't explain the phenomenon of someone (or a brand) with a smaller pool of followers getting more clicks on a link than one with a larger pool. How can those methods measure value and trust? Looking at Nielsen and Facebook's recent work on understanding the value of earned media, it seems high time we move beyond this mode of thinking.

Social media is becoming the space where we look closer at relationships and actions to determine behaviors. It's where influence is an outgrowth of the strength of relationships and connections. And while I strongly believe that numerical data can tell us the story of social media, it only tells us part of the story.

For instance, Fast Company magazine's recent launch of its Influence Project has quite a few social media pros up in arms. Amber Naslund, Director of Community for Radian6, questions the methodology writing:

"To me, influence isn't about popularity. Or even reach. It's about the trust, authority, and presence to drive relevant actions within your community that create something of substance."

The magazine's experiment is measuring influence by tracking links to a profile, as well as how many new registrants sign up because they've followed that profile. But is that influence?

In measuring social media, we have to listen, observe, and study to understand who the real influencers are. Influence isn't always driven online, but often it's driven offline. Here's where Razorfish's SIM Score (or perhaps Altimeter's Social Marketing Framework) can help us capture--along with the aid of engagement in a private community, an interview or survey--the offline component.

What Naslund's argument also bears to light is that we should think about separating influence from virability/viralness when we're measuring influence in terms of social media. Many social media failures (here and here) generated a lot of buzz that ultimately reflected poorly on the brand.

Let's consider what Geoff Livingston writes in his post, "The History of Influencer Theory on the Social Web,"

"So who's right? Where's influence, the uber-connected one percenter, trust agent, free agent? Or the person who lights the spark within his/her community of 150? Well, both are."

It's not always about how many people are telling your story or how many people they're telling it to, but it should be about what they're telling them and who they're telling. It's the quality of the story and the relatioships that will bring about engagement and connect you with the right influencers who will convert others to become brand advocates. That's how companies should look at developing relationships with consumers and potential consumers, and also how they should think about measuring those relationships.

Lynne's full commentary can be read at http://www.jackmyers.com/commentary/ARF/97963394.html .

Lynne d Johnson is SVP, Social Media for the Advertising Research Foundation. She can be reached at lynne@thearf.org and on Twitter: @lynneluvah.

Read all Lynne's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at ARF Social Media Insights - MediaBizBloggers.

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