You say Influencer, I say Influencer

When you say "Influencer" do you mean the same thing as me when I say "Influencer". A question I have been asking a lot recently and wondering why it is not being asked a lot more seeing as so many people are saying the word. As my team at Overtone has been working on new algorithms to determine key participants in online conversations, the question as to whether they are actually influential keeps coming up.

The most common definitions of Influencer?

Fluent: The Razorfish Social Influence Marketing Report discusses it in the context of brands engaging with their customers in a discipline they call 'Social Influence Marketing'. The Influencer here is the person who shares recommendations online (2% of their survey population did this daily) - these may be active in Social Networks, Review Sites or their own Blogs. The definitions they use are as follows:

  • Key influencers in specific fields have an out-sized influence on brand affinity and purchasing decisions on social platforms. Key influencers typically have their own blogs, huge Twitter followings and rarely know their audiences personally.

  • Social influencers are everyday people who participate in social platforms. These users are typically in your consumer’s social graph and influence brand affinity and purchasing decisions through consumer reviews, by updating their own status and Twitter feeds and commenting on blogs and forums. In some cases the consumer knows the social influencers personally.

  • Known peer influencers are the closest to both the purchasing decision and to the consumer. They are typically family members, or part of the consumer’s inner circle. They influence the purchasing decision most directly and have to live with the results of their family member or friend’s decision as well.

The Marketing Vox article How-To: Identifying Influencers, Neutralizing Detractors asks its readers to identify the top 50 people or groups that impact buying decisions for a specific product or service of theirs. The note also makes a quick mention in passing of detractors.

Another common technique is to examine a users Social graph on Social Networks such as Facebook, Myspace and Hi5 or to look at a user's Twitter following. Brian Morrisey's recent Adweek article Connect the Thoughts states, "Lotame attempts to use social data to get at influencers. It trolls social networks, blogs and message boards for users who have created content about specific topics. Then it expands the circle by adding in people who consume that user-generated content. Finally, it adds people who look like those content creators and consumers." and "33across has deals in place with social networks such as Meebo to acquire information on communication patterns. It looks for signals in how consumers interact and tracks those with whom they exchange instant messages or virtual gifts."

Kent Burbary's post The Dirty Little Secret of Social Media monitoring discusses how different social media monitoring tools work by analyzing different data sources and therefore produce different results.

Finally a term that I have heard mention increasingly is 'Social Shopping' - described here in John Bell's article What is Social Shopping Becoming - "As word of mouth is one of the most influential purchase drivers across many product categories, it only makes sense that we will all continue to push the intersection of social media and shopping"

Defining Influencer for Ourselves

As we embarked on our research project, there was nothing conclusive out there that provided a standard and reliable way of defining and identifying an influencer across the Social Web. So we went back to basics and asked the following questions:

  1. What is your Social Media strategy and how does it relate to your wider business objectives?

  2. What are your Social Media objectives and what channels should you be focused on?

  3. Within those channels, who are the people you need to reach and why?

  4. What characterizes those people and how can you reliably identify them?

  5. When you have initially identified them, how do you engage and energise them (or recover them should they be detractors)?

Here are a couple of example answers:

A gaming software applications company understands that certain active game players are also active participants in Online Community sites, frequently reviewing new products in minute detail. Not only do these customers have an influence on prospective buyers, they also provide valuable feedback to the games developers regarding storyline, graphics and gameplay. They are not classified by normal psycho-demographic profiles or traditional loyalty measures, but by their activity, content and sentiment inside the communities. The engagement model may include MVP status and advance copies of new games.

A manufacturer of personal money management software has seen a huge increase in expert users providing online support for novices. This is facilitated on their own user community site where they have seen users exceeding the technical skill level of their support organization.These expert users were saving the company considerable sums of money through reduction in call center activity. The engagement model will require a specialized support line to address the needs of the expert users - with a faster response and more technical advice.

At the Online Communities Unconference earlier this year, I heard much valuable advice from Community Managers as we discussed Identifying and Engaging with Online Influencers

A previous post on this blog, How to Manage Multiple Personas Online also discussed the issue of identifying people across different online communities - taking into account multiple personas and personal privacy concerns - something I believe will be a important issue very soon.

Overtone's Influencer Dashboard

Based on our experience of working with large forward thinking organizations in analyzing Customer Sentiment, we have developed a set of algorithms that help us identify the Key Participants in Social Media venues. However, whether an organization classifies them as influential will depend on their Social Media strategy and engagement objectives - which first requires some introspection and then gaining understanding of topic and sentiment within the discussions.

If you are interested in finding out more and perhaps testing your "influencers" against my "influencers" leave me a comment with your contact details (I which I will remove before I publish the comment) or message me in Twitter @gammydodger.


Gam Dias is VP of Product Management and Research at Overtone Inc.

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