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The Chameleon Qualities of Social Influence – What the Future Holds

Agencies, businesses and the media are all eager to understand the role that influence plays in the social sphere so they can leverage it for competitive advantage. But agreeing upon a single definition for influence as a social media metric is proving to be a frustrating challenge – and one that lacks the promise of a satisfying resolution. The problem: There is no one-size-fits-all definition that can be ascribed to influence.

Influence has chameleon-like qualities. What it means will change depending on what you are trying to accomplish, whom you want to reach, and where you want to do it. There is no one, clear set of criteria to fit every situation and no one generic group of influencers to target consistently. The influencers you need to connect with can vary by industry, or even by product lines. For example, many people overuse the term influence, applying it to concepts such as “authority” that may be significantly different, and, as a result, tend to perceive the role of an influencer too broadly.

Influencers, if you tap the right group at the right time, certainly can use what authority they have to help spread your message and perhaps, convince others to purchase your products and services and feel affinity toward your brands. But this is only one of the many layers of influence. Influencers – especially online and even more so in the social sphere – are also critical to protecting and championing your brands, and helping you identify ways to deliver better customer service.  However, the ability of influencers to actually wield influence depends on many things they cannot control, such as the willingness of the network to be influenced.

So, clearly, given the complexity and fluidity – and even the unreliability – of influence, understanding what it is and what it means in relation to your specific goals is actually more important than trying to neatly define it. And determining how influencers may have affected the success of your campaign or program requires disciplined measurement after the fact.

Developing a hypothesis from the outset, based on what you want to accomplish and what population you want to reach, is necessary to obtain meaningful results when measuring outcomes. Following your campaign, you must learn how – and if – your message propagated online. This requires examination of many things, such as the following:

  • Volume: How much are people talking now compared to before?
  • Velocity in volume: What was the time profile in terms of volume? (That is, how long did the message “live” online, and when and for how long did it spike?)
  • Sentiment: What was the reaction to your message?

By tracking measures like those above, you will be able to see what impact influencers had on your campaign, and if it was statistically important based on your hypothesis. There is also value in tracking the same information for a few competitive brands to determine if they experienced any influence. Ultimately, what you learn through measuring your success can provide the insight you need to create more targeted, focused and effective campaigns.

As the desire to understand the role of influencers continues to grow, expect to see tools emerge for tracking and evaluating intelligence. For instance, not only will you be able to identify an influential blog, but also who the blogger is, and what the “emotion” of his or her post was. With advanced Social Intelligence, you will be able to better understand vital behaviors and characteristics of relevant influencers and determine what you can do to leverage their particular level of influence to produce exponential results for your brand.

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