Social media white paper: a formula to understand influence; what makes this actionable?


As requested, I have republished the white paper into separate blog posts so that each section can be commented on. This post focuses on the eleventh and twelfth sections – a formula to understand influence and what makes this actionable. You can still download the full paper by clicking the link: Distributed influence: quantifying the impact of social media (PDF).

Links to all sections:

  1. introduction
  2. why is it important to measure online influence?
  3. social media index
  4. defining influence
  5. is influence what we should measure?
  6. should marketers target influencers or the easily influenced?
  7. what can we be selling that is better to buy than impressions?
  8. what are the origins of influence?
  9. the move to micro communications
  10. be cautious 
  11. a formula to understand influence
  12. what makes this actionable?
  13. conclusion


A formula to understand influence

The final discussion topic at the roundtable was to see if there was a formula that could be created to measure an individual’s online presence. The following system was proposed:

Volume and Quality of Attention x Time
Size and Quality of Audience

This formula still needed a fair amount of work which we are following through at the moment. It is interesting to see that since the roundtable met, several popular web sites have all tried to create a new formula that also focused on time and attention to portray someone’s influence.

Whereas the initial social media index moved the argument forward by dismissing inbound links as the sole way to score an individual, by adding these variables it is hoped that a more realistic score can be achieved.

However, I recognise that this data is largely unavailable (although some sites like may be able to help with some of it). Unless this data can be readily and publicly accessible, it is hard to conceive how reliable any published results may be and therefore difficult for marketers to act on accordingly.


What makes this actionable?

Moving forward there are several questions and concepts that need to be answered and understood to help people maximise the impact of their online marketing activities, namely:

1. How does one use this information – such as the index, the identification of meme spreaders, adapters, commentators – to shape a communication strategy?

2. What role does traditional media play, particularly as they join the conversation with their own blogs, Twitter streams, Facebook apps, etc.?

Search is a measure of intent – Jeff Jarvis

3. Much of what has been discussed in this White Paper focused on people who create and shape ideas that become influential. However, these are just passing moments in time. The higher order bit is the influence these events have on the longer term through search.

This can be illustrated by showing how influential blogs, Twitter posts are indexed very highly in Google. For example, a Google search on Dell technical support will bring a negative blog post by Jeremy Zawodny as the third choice.

4. Continuing the earlier point of measurement, Walter Carl believes that more needs to be done to understand how to track influence where there is a digital trail and where there isn’t one, such as face-to-face conversations or in private online venues like email or chat. He believes there is a lot of opportunity to integrate social media analysis with other types of methods to understand how conversations spread in offline and publicly-accessible digital environments. 

5. Much of the discussion focused on the top of the pyramid. However, in the long tail, every vertical has a set of influencers. Further, as does every local market. How does this model hold in niches? How can it be applied?

Effective communications should evolve, from controlled messaging towards conversational collaboration… By aspiring to big ideas and helping to change the reality not simply the perception, we move along the continuum from Talk to Action – Richard Edelman

6. Richard Edelman explains in his blog that “corporations can’t buy reputation or brand loyalty any more. These are earned through performance over the long-term”.

He continues to explain that PR’s aim “is to educate when possible, build bridges when necessary, and respect the new market-based conversations always. We should start at the end point – to dream about where we would like our client to be – and then create a dialogue-based communications program to get them there”.

This philosophy should be the guiding principle for marketing professionals to engage with the online community. By following the theories and concepts mentioned in this White Paper, it is hoped that a greater understanding of influence and impact can be gained. However, unless the application of this knowledge is done in a transparent, honest and ethical way within social media then the end result will be damaging.


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