Commentary

Influence Is More Than A Score

Web strategist Jeremiah Owynang recently tweeted a story from launch.is, which discussed a Windows 7.5 campaign that Microsoft ran. In this promotion, Microsoft collaborated with Klout to help promote the Windows Phone 7.5 OS by offering a free phone as a perk to users influential about Microsoft and technology. Users were also invited to an exclusive party where Microsoft showed off its new phones, as these influencers enjoyed cocktails and live music.

This marketing push by the software giant illustrates a growing trend by marketers looking to leverage the “influence” of a select group of people to promote their products and services. Unfortunately, this approach also introduces a number of serious questions.  

By devising clever algorithms, companies like Klout, PeerIndex, and PeopleBrowsr, have unearthed a new breed of influencers for brands to use as marketing vehicles. What makes these individuals “influential?” When you boil it down, they have earned their influence through high activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. They may be popular, but are they really “influencers?” More importantly, will their recommendations truly steer the brand preference or buying behavior of the masses?

Not as much as we think -- and here’s why.

Mobile phones are one of the many products that fall under the “considered purchase” category, meaning that people typically do a fair amount of research before they buy. That said, consumers will typically look to experts, or in this case, mobile phone experts (i.e. bloggers and journalists), to help them make the most informed purchase decisions. While we don’t know exactly Microsoft's target, other than broadly defined technology and Microsoft influencers, my gut tells me that a majority weren’t mobile phone experts.

This isn’t a jab at Microsoft’s marketing team or efforts, but a clarification of how an influencer is defined.

An alterative to looking at individuals with juiced up social media activity, is to navigate toward something more natural and credible. In other words, move the needle from the popular kids who just talk about technology, to the geeks, bloggers and thought leaders, who create objective editorial content that is engaging, organic and authentic.

In many cases, we are already seeing this strategy take hold in the marketing landscape. Rich Brome (Phonescoop), Marin Perez (Intomobile) and Noah Kravitz (Technobuffalo) are all influencers in their space. They are influencers because they educate the masses by writing engaging editorial that helps people make better purchasing decisions.

While they may have a bevy of followers on Twitter and Facebook, the key to their influence revolves around the content they create and the social media engagement that content generates.  Marketers can harness this content within their executions because amplifying the positive opinions of respected experts will have a powerful impact brand preference.

As such, rather than basing influence on follower counts and social media activity, marketers should re-shift their focus to identify their brands’ most influential authors and leverage their content to support the brand story.  The brand story is always more believable and compelling, when a respected third party authority tells it. The opinions of these influencers will have a greater effect on brand perception and buying behavior, which, if used properly, will help drive sales.

There is no denying that brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing programs; however, they must realize that influence goes beyond a score. It is about using content to establish a deeper and more intelligent connection with an audience. And it is those authors who are the true influencers that deserve attention.

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6 comments about "Influence Is More Than A Score".
  1. Andrew Grill from London Calling , January 26, 2012 at 8:41 a.m.
    Andrew Grill, CEO of Kred here. This is a great article - and identifies correctly that a single score is not the only way humans identify with each other, nor should it be how marketers find "influencers". Whatever platform is used, those using them must be aware of the ways scores are calculated and what the scores mean. I spend much of my time talking about @Kred to PR companies, brands and agencies and the "score" plays only one part. We go beyond the number to see what communities they influence and where (ie their local cities), as well as what they say by looking at our 1,000 day archive. Finding those "local rock stars" is what brands really want, not just professional tweeters and people who make a living out of competitions. At Kred's heart is the ability to identify who is most influential and has greatest outreach (ie is more generous and more likely to authentically share a message) in a particular community, and in a transparent and measurable way. We also reward offline influence, as we know that these local rock stars don't live online - they are real people with real offline achievements that are also of interest to brands. As these new channels, and new ways of measuring influence emerge, it is important to look beyond a single "number" as the only way to define influence. Andrew Grill CEO @kred @andrewgrill
  2. azeem azhar from peerindex , January 26, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.
    Interesting analysis - and very appropriate when you consider the top of the influence pyramid - the journalists and pro-bloggers with depth, knowledge and access. But one fundamental question is misjudged: "More importantly, will their recommendations truly steer the brand preference or buying behavior of the masses? " A service like PeerIndex certainly identifies the top influencers (the Scobles, Al Gores and the like) but what is much more interesting and untapped is identifying the mass influencers or the magic middle. These are not people who individually will steer the brand preference of the masses. Far from it - they are people who will in aggregate steer the preferences of the masses. The magic middle are the people we know - and know directly - in our social groups who do help form our opinions. Recent McKinsey research showed that word-of-mouth was the primary driver in 20% to 50% of purchases. Recent Telenor research showed that "a person with just one iPhone-owning friend was three times more likely to own one themselves than a person whose friends had no iPhones. People with two friends who had iPhones were more than five times as likely to have sprung for the Apple device." (Quote: Tech Review) And while there is no doubt people look to experts, they look to experts less than they used to - hence the growth, success and popularity of reviews and consumer ratings on ecommerce platforms (like Amazon or Tripadvisor). Social media has enabled each of us to manage multiple different groups: our smaller number of real word friend groups (each with smaller number of people); as well as a larger number of online groups (each with usual more people). And through detailed data gathering and analytics we can identify likely patterns of influence within those groups and communities. The question for brands is how can you identify the people in the magic middle - at scale - who can get first-hand experience of your products, and in doing so convert the people around them to be buyers or advocates. This is the opportunity presented by large scale algorithmic scoring. Blogger outreach, content seeding, those are problems that have been largely solved by marketers - through the application of PR principles, directories, manual research and a small amount of technology. best wishes Azeem Azhar Founder PeerIndex
  3. April Wilson from Digital Analytics 101 LLC , January 26, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.
    I've definitely met quite a few people who have learned how to game "Klout" in the hopes of getting perks, sponsorships, and brand recognition from it. While I really applaud the attempt to score influence, I'm not sure it will ever be possible at the user-level. For example, I might be influential when it comes to digital marketing measurement, but I also participate in many coupon discussions where I'm a small player with no influence. Using something like Klout could lead CPG brands to reach out, thinking I have influence in the "mommy blogger" space, but in reality, I don't. -- April @danalytics101
  4. Grant Crowell from ReelSEO.com , January 30, 2012 at 9:15 a.m.
    To me this article speaks to the importance of refining data of any social monitoring technology, and ascribing your own criteria (and that of your industry peers) on who actually are the key influencers with your specific market -- weighting popularity on one axis, and authority on the other. Aren't we really talking about context, here? To just go by a score as an all-purpose measurement for all things just doesn't make sense to me from a business perspective. This is why social technology is really beneficial when you have smart people who know how to utilize them properly.
  5. Alex Rivas from Appinions , January 30, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.
    I've seen some great perspectives on influencers throughout this page and thought you might be interested in learning about Appinions. What Appinions does is seek to identify influencers through natural language processing. Rather than limit our view to those who are active on social media, we process data that is both online and off, looking at over 4.5 million sources. It includes new media, traditional media, and social media to round out a true picture of influence. We also filter out the noise on topics and only identify people who have opinions on a subject that make people take action. Each infuencer is assigned a score that is unique to a topic of influence that is defined by individual users. This eliminates the exact problem April brought up in a previous comment of not knowing what a person is influential about. It also solves the problem of not being able to find "influencers" who are not active on social. For example, Warren Buffett is seen in our platform as an influencer on the topic of Tax Reform, despite his lack of tweets on the topic. Take a look and send us your thoughts! We always appreciate feedback!
  6. Peyman Nilforoush from NetShelter Technology Media , February 2, 2012 at 12:54 p.m.
    Thank you all for your comments. Azeem - you have an interesting perspective; however, I'd like to point out that while word of mouth may be a key driver in helping steer purchase decisions of the masses, the lager question we should ask is how this “magic middle” made their determinations in the first place. Through our own research and internal analysis, we have found that the opinions of niche topical experts have had the strongest influence on the community of early adopters and tech enthusiasts. In turn, this had a greater impact on the brand preference and buying behavior of the broader audience, which cascaded into more widespread adoption. We’re not talking about the Scobles of the world. What we are saying is that passionate writers who are experts in a particular category, such as phones, laptops, TVs, etc, are the ones that carry the greatest influence in tech today. All the best - Peyman