Why Defining Influence is Easier Said than Done

In social media, Influence has been one of the metrics that has earned a top tier status in measurement.  There is a continual stream of discussion that centers on this topic and I’m not entirely convinced that the debate will ever go away.  Rather than join the stream with my own personal definition of what metrics I think it should entail, I’d rather focus on the industry challenges and why we’re seeing such a diversity of software and services.

The primary contributor to this industry challenge is definition.  Similar to Sentiment, Influence is riddled with many and sometimes contradictory definitions of what it represents.  Even if you exclude the  data points that are used to represent those definitions, the sheer number of definitional differences can be staggering.  The points of contention can be boiled into three buckets:  Audience, Actionability and Alignment.



When we look across the industry, influence measures can often vary on how the audience is measured.  Some focus more on the comprehensive reach of an individual and take into account measures that loosely approximate the passive potential readership of a given author.  Others look only at the social media-centric reach that the author has demonstrated to have.  “Demonstrated to have” brings us to the second bucket.


When measuring the graph-propagation of an individual, there’s two ways to look at it.  You can measure the potential actionability of an author measured by traveling the list of friends, followers, likes and other associations to gauge a degree of possible attention for every single post.  Alternatively or additionally, you can measure actionable audience— those that have displayed specific actions elicited by the influencer, through comments, re-tweets, direct hyperlinks and other actions that represent measurable behaviors on the social Web.  However, the closer you get to potential (as opposed to actual), the more you’re double measuring audience.


Regardless of how wide or direct you want to measure the impact audience represented by an author, the context of independent dimensions becomes critical to any brand.  How much you want to put a lens to the author context and how they align to things like Sentiment, Industry, Topic, Geography, Media Channel, and other dimensions becomes increasingly important in directed Influencer Marketing.  Building relationships with people requires more than audience and reach, but also an understanding of their profile or segment in which they have an audience with actionability.

Should we believe that a single number can encompass these concepts in a meaningful way?  Have we over-complicated this metric as the Rosetta Stone to unleash the power of the social graph?  Maybe it’s time to think of this in a different way? What do you think?  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

  • http://www.liberatemedia.com Tim Greenhalgh

    Thanks for the ideas, Enrico. I’ve always been guarded about measurement of potential, rather than outcomes/results. The social sphere online allows for this but, as you point out, the methodologies are inexact.

    We can ‘identify’ Influencers through breadth and/or depth of followers but whether the Influencer continues to carry weight online can possibly be gauged more accurately by the outcomes of their continued output. Brian Solis, for example, is only as good as his next engagement.

    There is also a danger of ‘giving over’ – a culture of dependence on Influencers that cannot be measured precisely in a way that is predictive.

    The imperative to engage online is, I think, a given and brands can harness the power of social through long-term, dedicated and responsive work. They can also lead, where they have something to offer that is useful, relevant and shareable.

    Detailed metrics offer comfort to marketing departments because they need to confirm control and ROI to the board.
    But, the price of that is a raft of measurements that rarely match the real, complex and rich experience of online engagement.

    We should trust our brand writers, our social monitors and the strategists that understand, listen, learn, engage and lead where needed.

  • http://www.visibletechnologies.com Enrico Montana, Ph.D., Director of Product Management


    Thanks so much for your comment. You raise some excellent points. As we evolve and participate in online communities, engagement becomes more comprehensive, moving from a responsive activity to a fully participatory and, as you pointed out, sometimes leadership role. Influence will always have a place, but the need for concrete and detailed metrics will continue to grow. We’ll probably see that these metrics will look very different in nature and measurement than the path to Influence.