5 truths about influence, regardless of metrics

Let’s look beyond the buzzwords and focus on the essentials.


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With all the recent talk about measuring influence in this way or that, sometimes people aren’t seeing the forest for the tweets. No matter how you measure it, here are five things to keep in mind about influence:

1. Influence is more than social media.

Read Jon Berry and Ed Keller’s The Influentials to learn about who and what really influences behavior. It’s a wonderful, data-driven analysis.

2. Influence is not reach.

The leader in this misnaming contest is Klout, who says it wants to be the Nielsen of new media. Essentially, what they are calling “True Reach” is their version of impressions—and just as worthless.

I applaud their ambition, but that assumes that their magic number will tell everyone how “important” a particular outlet is. The problem is that any given outlet may be important to me, but impotent in a different marketplace. An outlet with anemic Klout scores may be incredibly influential in a niche marketplace. (Never mind the problems Klout has with bots that game the system, see “Klout Is Broken”.) Here is a list of recent posts discussing Klout.

3. Behind all influence is action.

Influence, according to dictionary.com, is “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.”

Please note that the operational words are “produce effects.” In other words, Justin Beber may have millions of fans on Twitter, but it’s a pretty good bet that he’s never going to produce any effect on my business. The point is that influence is not reach; it’s the ability to cause action—the power to produce an effect or an outcome.

So if you are a defense contractor and there are only 200 people on the planet that can legally buy your product, chances are it’s not the number of followers you have on Twitter that matters. What matters is that you are in some way, shape, or form reaching those 200 people and the 2,000 or so people that influence them.

4. Behind every influencer is a real live human.

Influence is not a list. It can’t be used like those old Bacon’s directories or MediaMap lists. Influence implies a personal, persuasive relationship between the individual and the audience being influenced.

No IR or AR professional would dream of relying on mass e-mails to explain a new strategy to a financial or industry analyst. Today’s influencials are no different—they are frequently the same people you used to try to influence when they were in their old media jobs.

So why suddenly, just because technology enables it, do people think they can substitute personal relationships for electronic ones? I’m not saying you necessarily have to have person-to-person or voice contact, but at the very least you need to read what the person has written or posted, and understand what gets them excited.

If you just rely on words, you will assume that, just because my blog is called The Measurement Standard, I’m going to be interested in your new, more accurate mechanical probing device. And you will get marked as spam and derided forever in the Bad Pitch Blog.

5. Influence is not the Holy Grail. It’s not even the Golden Goose.

Influence is not some magical metric that will help you measure all your results. It is not going to get you a raise or a gold star or a place on The Measurement Standard’s Honor Roll of Measurement Mavens. If defined and used appropriately, it can help narrow the amount of chatter that you need to be monitoring and help you focus your outreach efforts. For more on this, read Don Bartholmew’s excellent post Measuring Influence in Social Media.

Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, and publisher of The Measurement Standard newsletter, in which this article first appeared.

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