Influence is not just a numbers' game

The concept of influence

Influence has long been the holy grail of social media, with the term being banded around and meaning many different things to different people. Most of the time, the concept of influence in social media is devalued, reduced to being synonymous with high follower numbers or page likes.

Isn’t influence “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”? Or so says the Oxford dictionary. If so, surely then it’s not just about how many people follow you but whether anything you say is likely to affect them.

Often enough the concept of influence is reduced to what social media listening tools provide, which at best is a cluster map of influence based on a number of quantitative variables. While there is nothing wrong with that, often the ‘why’ (i.e. why are these people influential) is missing.

Offline vs. online

We have long recognised and advocated the importance of using multiple inputs to decipher influence, first developing our framework within the healthcare sector, which involves looking at a combination of quantitative (Reach, Activity) and qualitative (Resonance, Relevance) measures. We have since applied it to a multitude of industry sectors.

We recently worked on identifying influencers in the travel sector and felt that despite using our framework it was sometimes difficult to truly assess people’s influence. There were bloggers with high follower counts and high number of blog visits, whose web presence was like an echo chamber. What we mean is that they tweeted solely to fellow bloggers and brands, and only shared each other’s content.

This resonates (pun intended!) with this 2012 blog post from a travel blogger which details ways that some professional (or wannabe professional) bloggers can appear influential without creating engaging content or building a genuine readership. This is a common phenomenon among tweeters which we highlighted recently.

So, in determining potential influence online, the person’s offline profile has to matter. Klout and offline clout have to be a joint consideration. Offline clout is very qualitative though, and therefore subjective.

We recently did some work to identify influencers in haircare and we came across Curly Nikki.

We identified her as one of the top individual haircare influencer/bloggers in the US because she also had a strong offline presence, having authored a book with 281 reviews on Amazon and making appearances at events. The key aspect to consider here is that influence is about potential and about the future. While machines can identify some of the factors to predict this potential, actual foresight is still, in my mind, a human discipline.

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