There comes a certain moment in any good house party when you will find yourself slumped on a sofa, clutching a G&T and contentedly watching the general hilarity. You feel a bit like an anthropologist quietly surveying a microcosm of society.
There’s the Host, scurrying around trying to keep everyone in drink and Pringles. There’s the Mother Hen, usually found treating stains and consoling a sobbing, drunken guest. There’s the Loner who grabs a book from the shelf and smiles amiably at the general company. And right in the centre of the room, or on top of the coffee table, is the Exhibitionist, talking loudly to everyone who will listen.
Which of these people would you trust to recommend you a mobile phone? I bet it’s not the person who talks the loudest. In fact, nobody strikes you as being in any way pre-qualified for the job. Instead, you’d rate their opinion against a number of factors: how much you trust them, their knowledge of technology, their ability to listen to what you need, or even the brand of their trainers.
It’s common sense, right? And yet, many companies have fallen under the misguided belief that a person’s influence can be defined and measured, then harnessed to drive sales. This is dim. Or more fully, Digital Influence Measurement (DIM).
Recent years have brought a host of new tools which claim to rank an individual according to their influence online. Using measurements such as twitter followers, blog reach and search engine visibility, services like Klout give an ‘influencer’ rating from 1-100, and sell this information to marketers and PRs seeking fertile ground for their campaigns.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that there’s no value whatsoever in such services, but we should ‘proceed with caution’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Klout has come in for a torrent of criticism both from social media ‘doers’ and marketing professionals. Some of it is as amusing as it is provocative.
It strikes me that part of the issue is an ideological one. Much has been written of the democratising power of the web, cutting out the middleman and giving everyone a voice. Power to the consumer, down with the middleman, etc. Set that idealism against the gloomy economic inheritance of capitalism gone awry, and we can begin to see why Klout invokes such feelings of irritation. It takes millions of creative blogs, Facebook baby pics and friendly tweets and translates them into currency, which it then uses to rate your value as a consumer. Friends become ‘social capital’, stylish people are dubbed ‘tastemakers’ and algorithms define the value of your relationships.
That was phase one. Naturally, the technology is getting smarter and we are all becoming more adept at understanding its uses – and its limitations. Soon, tech ‘gurus’ will start talking about DIM 2.0 (*snigger), an evolved approach to digital influence.
I expect (or hope) it will look something like this:
There is no such thing as intrinsic worth
One of the phrases I repeatedly read in discussions about digital influence is “the worth of who you know”. But what really defines worth? Stephen Fry is a member of the so-called digerati and a hugely influential intellectual. But if you’re trying to promote a set of excellent new crochet pins, will it matter a shit if Stephen Fry hears about it through one of your influencers? Or take Joe Blogs. Maybe he updates Facebook 10 times a day and tweets every minute. Both will enlarge his Klout score, but will anyone really hear his worthwhile opinions amongst all the white noise?
Smart marketers take a more targeted approach to assigning value.
Voices vs influencers
Remember the loud one we watched at the party? He’s a voice, not an influencer. Says Pat Hurley from media monitoring service mBLAST: “We recently moved our terminology and focus away from ‘influencers’ and towards ‘voices’. They’re only influencers, for you, after you engage them and they use their voice for you! It’s all just potential influence until there’s engagement.”
Meaningful engagement turns voices into influencers, and eventually, advocates.
Many measurement services are refining their technology to hone in on a specific genre or topic, instead of a broad intrinsic value. The question moves from ‘Who is influential?’ to ‘Who is influential in the field of young urban fashion?’ Both SocMetrics.com and PeerIndex claim to look not just at whether a person is influential, but where a person is influential.
Think local and specific, not generic.
Start at the beginning
It might sound blindingly obvious, but many businesses make the mistake of choosing individuals with the highest Klout scores and directing all their attention to them. In his report on Digital Influence, Brian Solis says: “The problem is that many companies are looking at influence backwards, unknowingly or lazily relying on scores rather than understanding how influence is actually created and used. An important question for businesses to consider, however, is what does a score actually represent?” Brian uses the example of Rolex. If Rolex wants to find authoritative voices to promote its luxury goods, it would look for influencers in that area. Alternatively, it could look for voices to steer popular sentiment. Or for temporary brand uplift, it might look for the size of a network, regardless of relevance.
First decide what you want to achieve, then hand select the people best placed to help you achieve it.
Smart not spam
So you know what you want to achieve and which influencers you want to engage. The next step is to prepare a pitch that’s concise, interesting and relevant. For bloggers, it’s always worth taking the time to visit their site – sloppy research could turn those potential influencers into irritated people with a large audience to complain to.
A blanket press release will sink like a lead balloon. Nothing beats personal, meaningful engagement.