White paper – distributed influence: quantifying the impact of social media


White Paper I am delighted to share with you a white paper outlining the thoughts and views of several key stakeholders who met late last year to discuss the issue of measuring online influence.

Download: “Distributed influence: quantifying the impact of social media” (PDF)

The catalyst behind this document was the publication of Edelman’s Social Media Index in July 2007 with David Brain. This attempted to propose a new way of calculating an individuals online influence beyond the ‘traditional’ method of analysing a blog’s inbound links to incorporate other social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

The white paper aims to address this issue. It is not written as a fait accompli but rather as a contribution to the conversation. In the true spirit of social media, the roundtable and consequently this white paper, discussed far more than the original question regarding how to measure online influence but also focused on:

  • defining influence in the context of social media
  • is influence what we should measure?
  • should marketers target influencers or the easily influenced?
  • what can we be selling that is better to buy than impressions?
  • what are the origins of influence?
  • the move to micro communications
  • being cautious – things to be aware of when analysing influence
  • a formula to understand influence
  • what makes this actionable?
  • what next?

In completing this, my thanks go to the many people who left insightful comments on the various blogs as well as the smart group of individuals who took part in the roundtable, namely:


Jeff Jarvis, Buzzmachine

Steve Rubel, me2revolution

Keith O’Brien, PRWeek


Henry Copeland, BlogAds

Industry Observer

Peter Kim, Forrester

Charlene Li, Forrester

Interactive Agency

David Dunne, Edelman


Max Kalehoff, Nielsen Buzzmetrics (now with Clickable)

Advertising Research Foundation

Sarah Petersen, StrategyOne


Richard Edelman, Edelman

Jonny Bentwood, Edelman

Rick Murray, me2revolution


Dr. Walter Carl, Northeastern University, ChatThreads

I welcome your thoughts and comments about this document. My aim when writing this was to continue the debate that the original post sparked – I realise that there are still many questions left unanswered and several more that have now been raised but I hope that this white paper will help clarify some of the complex issues that social media raises.


77 Responses to “White paper – distributed influence: quantifying the impact of social media”

  1. I haven’t been through the entire paper yet, but I’m extremely pleased to have a structure and a vocabulary laid out to help us think about the space, learn systematically, and go forward more effectively. It also helps when we’re called upon to explain it to others.

  2. Reading it now… big fan of this discussion (measurement and social media), and interested to see where this doc leads.

    Any chance you might make this PDF into a series of blog posts so we can comment on the individual sections??

  3. Thanks for the links and comments.

    Sean – I think that is a great idea and will happily create a series of posts so that people can comment on individual sections.

  4. My download was illegible – a compatability issue with macs perhaps?

  5. Hi John

    Not sure why you can’t download the pdf. As an alternative I have emailed you the document to the address you gave when posting this comment. If you cannot open this PDF, let me know and I will send it to you in a different format.

  6. Can’t wait to read it. I’ll comment on it afterward. I’ve been studying ROI formulas for social media over the past two years and have tons of data to share if you like. Specifcally web 2.0 social distribution. This is such an important and growing area. Thanks for writing the report.

  7. Great stuff! Blogs are OUT. Social media is IN. Change is good. But it will also lead to interesting challenges when it comes to marketing. Thanks for writing a wonderful paper and for taking time to publish it.

  8. Really interesting document (I had no trouble getting it on my mac). It does demonstrate just how hard it is at the moment (and will be going forwards) to demonstrate the effectiveness of this sort of comms.

    For me, one of the most interesting aspects of it is that as the grey line between advertising, DM, media and PR agencies blurs even further, all of the agencies involved will be looking at ways to justify their involvement (and the reason for their budget) to a client.

    Other agencies have traditionally used tracking surveys (for reputation) and some direct response mechanisms as part of ROI calculations. If we’re really honest about it PR has used coverage volumes and some sentiment analysis (but it’s always been impossible to put a value on “what would have happened if we weren’t involved”). Try as we’d like, coverage reports have never come close to competing with the big budgets involved compared to – say – media buying. But clearly the opportunities ahead, as reputations are increasingly made and then influenced online, make it in our own best interests to demonstrate the commercial (as well as reputational) value of involving us alongside (or instead of?) other marcomms agencies.

    As an industry we need to work together at making exactly this sort of analysis work transparently and in our favour – and this white paper is a great contribution to the discussion. Nice one.

  9. Hi Chris

    You make an excellent point. I believe that the next few years will see a convergence of above and below the line agencies as people try and manage the online influencers. At present I think that PR gets it best and that engaging with an audience as oppose to smacking them with ads is the best way to prompt action. However, until clearer metrics become available to prove this then budgets will always be biased in the other direction.
    Hopefully this paper moves the arguement forward so that we are closer to achieving our goal.

    Cheers, Jonny

  10. 10 Suresh Ramaswamy

    I can’t download the white paper “Distributed Influence…” I’m very interested in the topic and would appreciate you mailing me a copy or sending me an alternate link to download it.



  11. Hi Suresh

    Have emailed you a copy – look forward to hearing your comments.


  12. A nice compilation!

  13. Blogs are not out, they’re an extension of social media as well as a deeper outlet for the content that confirms how valuable an influencer the author is. This white paper is a great statement to further the conversation of where social media is going as it moves from early adopters to the unsuspecting public. It’s amazing to be participating in this wave as it builds.

  14. This is great. I’m completing my thesis on influence and persuasion and part of this project includes judging influence through social media and online presence. Thanks for the resource.

    – Richard
    Richard Wilson

  1. 1 » Distributed Influence white paper (or son of SMI) sixtysecondview: Sixty second interviews from pr, media and politics
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  3. 3 purrl.net |** urls that purr **|
  4. 4 CommentURL.com | A world of interesting web pages
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  6. 6 links for 2008-01-17 « Brendan Cooper - Your friendly PR social media planner
  7. 7 ViNT // Vision - Inspiration - Navigation - Trends » Sociale media dienen primair om het publiek te beïnvloeden!
  8. 8 Loving Links « The Rosemont Loving
  9. 9 Quantifying the Impact of Social Media « ryan moede :: social media
  10. 10 Strumpette
  11. 11 Wayne State Web Communications Blog » Blog Archive » [Friday Links] The Busy Week Edition
  12. 12 Measuring Intangibles - Making Impact the Bottom Line « Mission Driven Marketing
  13. 13 links for 2008-01-19
  14. 14 Social media white paper: contents and links to individual sections « Technobabble 2.0
  15. 15 Social media white paper: Introduction & why is it important to measure online influence « Technobabble 2.0
  16. 16 Social media white paper: social media index « Technobabble 2.0
  17. 17 Social media white paper: is influence what we should measure? « Technobabble 2.0
  18. 18 Social media white paper: defining influence « Technobabble 2.0
  19. 19 Social media white paper: a formula to understand influence; what makes this actionable? « Technobabble 2.0
  20. 20 Social media white paper: what can we be selling that is better to buy than impressions? « Technobabble 2.0
  21. 21 Social media white paper: what are the origins of influence? « Technobabble 2.0
  22. 22 Social media white paper: the move to micro communications, be cautious « Technobabble 2.0
  23. 23 Social media white paper: conclusion « Technobabble 2.0
  24. 24 Social media white paper: should marketers target influencers or the easily influenced? « Technobabble 2.0
  25. 25 ChatteringClass » Rapid Blog 6: Shameless Plug 2: The Social Media Index
  26. 26 Loughlin O’Nolan - taglines don’t come for free :: Links, 21.01.08 :: January :: 2008
  27. 27 Comunicazione, collaborazione e influenza sui social media « Marketing For Nerds
  28. 28 PR 2.0
  29. 29 St. Paul’s Reach » The role of influence in social media - where should the work be done?
  30. 30 renaissance chambara | Ged Carroll » Links for 2008-01-22 [del.icio.us]
  31. 31 Tensegrities » An advertising company recognizes change…
  32. 32 links for 2008-01-24
  33. 33 » Blog Archive » links for 2008-01-27
  34. 34 links for 2008-01-27 | SoulSoup: e-learning blog, elearning blog, knowledge management, e-learning strategy, learning experience design, usability
  35. 35 Bizosphere - Home of Carnival of the Capitalists » Blog Archive » Carnival of the Capitalists for January 29, 2008
  36. 36 Quantifying the Impact of Social Media: Where the Edelman White Paper Got it Right, Got it Wrong and What We Should Do Next : Ignite Social Media
  37. 37 links for 2008-02-01 « The Refine+Focus Blog
  38. 38 On the influence, independence and impact of IT analysts « Total Immersion
  39. 39 Session 1: The World of Social Media « Social Media and Cultural Communication
  40. 40 BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Google Ad Manager: It’s bigger than it looks
  41. 41 15 Free Social Media White Papers and Ebooks
  42. 42 1 year old today « Technobabble 2.0
  43. 43 VerbalKint - Le blog - Intelligence économique et Internet (sécurité, renseignement et veille stratégique)
  44. 44 A short history of the fail whale < life under electronic conditions
  45. 45 Sniki BETA: Social Media and Social Marketing E Books
  46. 46 Measurementcamp: Resources
  47. 47 Commentary on Steve Rubel's Google Page Rank post | Broadcasting Brain
  48. 48 top 10 tips for customer listening «
  49. 49 42 kostenlose eBooks über Social Media Marketing | Webdesign | News | Rock 'n' Roll
  50. 50 12 Ebook gratuiti sui Social Media e sul Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing
  51. 51 Distributed Influence: Quantifying the impact of Social Media | Las Maestras
  52. 52 marketingTwo » Bücher, ebooks, Social Media
  53. 53 Edelman Digital » Rethink How, Not Just Where You Spend Your Money
  54. 54 Women, Social Media and Influence (cont’d) « A. Fine Blog
  55. 55 Lesetipps « Dominik Schneider
  56. 56 Distributed Influence: Quantifying the Impact of Social Media | Social Marketing Spotlight
  57. 57 social media Zeit | ingotainment.com
  58. 58 Social marketing ebooks (free download) | Webdesign, CSS, Social Media, Tech News
  59. 59 56 de ebook-uri gratuite despre Social Media Nechita Gabriel
  60. 60 15 Free Must Read Social Media White Papers and Ebooks | Social Media Jamaica
  61. 61 The Debate Continues: What Is Influence?
  62. 62 PDA’s Newsbucket | Richard Hartley
  63. 63 Social Media: Blueprints, eBooks, Guides, Tutorials and Whitepaper - Kleckerlabor

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