Feature Friday: Finding New, Influential Partners in Your Social Media Marketing
Guest post by Mark Meloon
Studies have shown that staggering 90% of people rely on peer recommendations when making purchases. But not all recommendations have equal influence. If you were able to determine the individuals that weld the most influence among your target market, you could conduct a laser-focused campaign to cultivate them as Brand Advocates. The result would be a very low-cost pseudo-grassroots marketing effort that could influence segments of your target market that your current campaigns do not and convert them into buyers.
Determination of so-called Influencers; however, is considerably more difficult than it initially appears. Analysis of the enormous amount of social media data necessary to identify these individuals requires a precise mathematical definition. There are a number of approaches to computing influence. The analyst must determine which is most appropriate to accomplish the marketing goals.
A popular way to measure the influence of an individual is the various social scoring measures. Services such as Klout and Kred provide a numerical determination of one’s influence by analyzing the past effects of their social messages. There is an implicit assumption that their future results will be much like the past. In effect, this approach assumes that influence is an intrinsic attribute of the individual and is independent of context. So my Klout score of, say, 70 would apply whether I was tweeting about quantum relativistic field theory or underwater basket weaving.
A different approach to calculating influence is taken by the science of social network analysis (SNA). SNA presumes that the position of an individual in a network is the primary determining factor of the role they play and intrinsic attributes of individuals can be ignored. In other words, it is factors such as whom someone is connected to, how many people they are connected to, and how many different social circles they are a member of that determine their influence.
SNA provides several “centrality” measures of influence. The eigenvalue centrality of an individual computes their influence as a function of the influence of people they are connected to. Don Corleone, the head of the Corleone crime family in the movie The Godfather, only communicated directly with his sons, who then carried out his orders. He was a man of considerable influence due to his high eigenvalue centrality.
Individuals with a high betweenness centrality occupy a position in the network that connects two groups that would otherwise be disconnected. They are sometimes said to “span a structural hole” in the network. Thus, they serve to regulate the flow of information between the groups. This unique position affords them considerable influence. Studies of corporations have shown that employees who position themselves to span structural holes in the social network of the company and know how to take advantage of the position achieve greater career success than those who do not.
Since influence exists in language, some researchers propose the use of computational linguistics for identifying Influencers. Social listening and monitoring tools can identify where and when an Influencer is mentioned in social media. When combined with sentiment analysis, a computational method for parsing the text and inferring the author’s judgment about the subject, one can measure the likeability or respectability of a potential Influencer. While likeability is not the same thing as influence, it is an important factor, and can be used to form a more accurate influence metric.
A novel model of influence can be found in the fascinating book Influence Marketing by Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella. They distinguish between macro-influencers, people with many relatively-weak connections, and micro-influencers, those who enjoy a connection with someone at the point of decision making. The influence a nurse or doctor has on your decision regarding medical treatment is due to the timeliness of their connection to you, not their Kred score or betweenness centrality. Brown and Fiorella argue that these micro-influencers are key for marketers to focus on.
As social media becomes more integrated into our lives, leveraging the social media influence of your Brand Advocates will become an even more important component of your marketing strategy. Marketing thought-leader Jay Baer goes so far as to state that Influencers can be thought of as human TV stations and magazines! With so many ways to calculate influence, the human analyst plays a crucial role. They must have some understanding of the mathematics behind the metrics, possess a good working knowledge of influence, and be able to communicate effectively with the client to determine which metric is most relevant for their goals. Organizations that are best able to perform influence marketing stand to gain a significant marketplace advantage over their competitors.