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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.

 

Audience

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.

Actionability

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.

Alignment

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.

Tags : social media

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