Social media white paper: conclusion


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 final section – the conclusion. 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



If there’s one constant in digital media, it’s change. Every 12 to 18 months the landscape expands. New channels seem to join existing, more mature formats that only started to dot the horizon a few months earlier.

For example, consider that in 2005 blogs were the single most important emerging centre of influence. A year later this broadened as millions began to upload videos to YouTube, a site that didn’t even exist until late 2005. Finally, by 2007 the traditional media had fully embraced these channels. The New York Times as of this writing has more than 50 blogs, all of which support comments. Meanwhile, the Internet continued to grow as powerful new centres of authority, like Facebook and Twitter, witnessed dramatic growth. 

As we begin 2008, the lines have truly blurred between the mainstream sources that we have years of knowledge in how to engage and quantify and a digital landscape that is more dynamic. As the pace of change continues and the generation that grew up with the web enters adulthood, it ensures that measuring influence will continue to become even more complex and challenging.

Still, there is some basic truths have emerged that are grounded in human nature and can guide the PR professional accordingly. 

First, even as they use their digital presences to coalesce audiences into communities, the basic ethos of the traditional press remains grounded in information. People visit media sites to stay informed, even as the way reporter’s work is becoming far more open and collaborative. This means that, for now, that the traditional methods of measuring the influence of the media remain largely the same.

In the social sphere meanwhile, whether it is a dispersed community (e.g. blogs) or a more centralized one (MySpace), a different spirit has evolved. This one is grounded in open collaboration toward a shared outcome. The agenda here could include everything from information to entertainment to connections, social change and virtually thousands of others.

Communicators who desire to build and measure influence need to think about the ethos of each venue, devise the right kinds of appropriate programmes and set up methodologies for measuring the impact of their efforts. Edelman has devised a basic approach to help guide companies.

Arguably, marketing communications spans two different continua. Programmes are at one end or the other or somewhere in between. This is depicted in the schematic below. Programmes can either be closed or open (Y axis) or they can be designed for communication or collaboration (the X axis).

The result is four distinct quadrants:

1) Controlled Communication:
One-way tactics such as TV advertising, online advertising and media relations that are great for branding and visibility, but are seldom collaborative

2) Open Communication
Online initiatives, such as viral videos, that are designed to generate discussion, but not necessarily produce a shared outcome

3) Controlled Collaboration
Programmes that facilitate participation but are more controlled, for example numerous efforts to solicit consumer generated ads

4) Conversational Collaboration
Win-win initiatives that open a dialogue toward reaching a broader goal


Currently, most marketing communication programmes sit in on the left hand side of this matrix. However, as companies and organisations become more aware of the tenor of each venue and what works, we believe they will begin to mix in strategies and tactics from the right side. 

As a result, the outcome is that programmes on the left will measure online influence through metrics like impressions, conversations, in-bound links, friends and more. 

Meanwhile, the right hand side – particularly Conversational Collaborative programmes – will adopt entirely new methodologies that measure based on outcomes. For example, this could include ideas generated, donations or other means of measuring advocacy and so forth. This is fertile ground and one that has not been the dominion of marketers, but it will be going forward.

The future of communications is in the mixing of these quadrants and understanding how they work together to influence the public.

4 Responses to “Social media white paper: conclusion”

  1. Jonny, An amazing amount of work must have gone into getting the content into blog friendly format. Great job. Cheers, -carter j

  2. Thanks Carter. A few people suggested that publishing in html (as well as pdf) would be better – seemed simple I thought…
    Glad you like it. Jonny

  3. Very interesting paper, Jonny. I read through it this weekend. Lots to consider here…

  1. 1 Build the Echo » Blog Archive » links for 2008-01-29

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