Forrester Analysts Josh Bernoff and Augie Ray developed a framework that allows marketers to identify and measure how people who frequent and share information on social media sites influence one another. The two call it "peer influence analysis." They explained the concept during the Forrester Marketing Forum 2010 conference in Los Angeles Friday.
Bernoff, who co-authored the book "Empowered," scheduled for release later this year, and Ray built a formula to assist marketers in building strategies that attract three levels of influencers: social broadcasters, mass influencers, and social influencers.
The framework for peer influence analysis came together after surveying 10,000 people about their online social participation. The numbers, which come from social networks -- Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and others -- remain staggering. Through the survey, Bernoff and Ray managed to determine where and how frequently influence occurs.
From the peer analysis, Forrester estimates that within social networks, consumers created 256 billion influence impressions on one another about products and services in 2009. In social venues other than networks, such as blogs and product rating sites, consumers shared 1.64 billion influence posts.
Based on conservative estimates in which people view these posts, Ray and Bernoff believe the total number of consumer-generated impressions about products and services exceeded 500 billion in 2009.
Compare that with the approximate 2 trillion online ad impressions delivered during the same period last year, and it is evident that social applications now rival other mass media. "People make one-quarter as many impressions on each other as advertisers make," Bernoff says. "Plus, these impressions are more credible because they come from people who don't have a bias. They don't come from marketers trying to convince you to buy something."
About 11 million people are responsible for 80% of all the influence impressions left in social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Bernoff and Ray call these folks "mass influencers," crediting Malcom Gladwell for the term. In the accompanying Forrester report, Peer Influence Analysis, Bernoff and Ray describe mass connectors as 6.2% of the U.S. online population, or 11 million people -- generating 80% of all the impressions about products and services within social networks. Mass mavens are 13.8% of the online population, or 24 million people, who create 80% of all opinions about products and services in blog posts, blog comments, discussion forum posts, and reviews. The report notes an overlap of 7 million individuals -- or 3.7% of the online population -- between the two groups.
Connecting with these people will require marketers to first identify them. To get a stronger grip on how it works, Ray explains the three buckets of social mass influencers. He describes the social broadcasters as those who live among the top two brick rows of the peer influence pyramid. Consumers tend to gain awareness about products and services from social broadcasters, but trust them the least -- and tend to do more research on their own based on hearing or reading about the products. This group "hates PR" because they don't want to hear from you just when you have something to say, but rather prefer to build a long-term relationship.
Trust mostly comes from social influencers, the 84% of people in social media lumped at the bottom of the pyramid. These social influencers comprise friends, family and peers they also know offline. Ray describes this group as people who are not as technically savvy, and who require marketers to make it "drop-dead easy" for them to share information.
Mass influencers live in the middle of the pyramid. They provide 80% of the impressions in social media about products and services, but they only make up 16% of the people. Mass influencers number in the tens of thousands to millions of people for each brand. Promotions must engage these people because friends turn to them for opinions before making a purchase. It is important to understand this group's characteristics and size. And that, Ray says, requires a new way of thinking about marketing and influence.
Ray pointed to a GameStop promotion that asked consumers to upload their picture in a contest to become an avatar in the next "Guitar Hero" game. Gamers not only uploaded their picture to enter, but invited their friends, who voted on each other to win.
The Web has turned people into influencers, "marketers of ideas" -- similar to the way television commercials, radio and print turned BMW into a performance car or Tide detergent into the clothes whitener miracle worker. Word of mouth isn't random, but something measurable, as demonstrated by Bernoff and Ray. Peer influence analysis lets marketers measure how people affect one another. And marketers will need to figure it out.