How To Define Influence In Social Media

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From Machiavelli to Robert Cialdini, the notion of influence has continued to fascinate the general public and professionals alike. Even thought leaders have analyzed and scrutinized the concept hundreds of times over, its definition is always dependent on the context in which it’s being used.

From Manipulation to Influence

Very early on, in the 1920’s, the main cultural and media industries started to build and develop on the basis of popularity. Box office films, lists of bestselling books, records on the hit parade as radio and television ratings, were all a part of industries that benefited from the tremendous appeal of charts as their main motivator for development.

On the other hand, this popular, cult-like fascination with popularity charts contributed to a perverse effect on the star system. Suddenly, scores were being fraudulently manipulated to increase sales. In 2012, the practice of a certain payola – much like the 1920’s disk and radio industries – has led corporations to buy web influence with false recommendations and fake followers in order to boost their social scores (see Infographic: Marketing vs. Manipulation by SEOBook/Lumin Interactive).

Taking advantage of the confusion and false user accounts, pseudo social media experts are sprouting up like weeds. Therefore, if the measurement tools can be manipulated – or even bypassed – in this way, how can we recognize and identify the real social media influencers?

Who is influencing who in social media?

Heather Armstrong (@Dooce) with Maytag / Whirlpool and Canadian musician David Carroll with United Airlines (“United Breaks Guitars”) are often cited as examples of social media’s influence on consumers. These previously unknown users suddenly revealed their influence to the point of undermining large corporations. They did so because they were able to meet three essential criterias: Initially, they enjoyed a certain range, or reach, in social networks which gave a certain resonance to their message. In this context, it’s the relevancy of their message that allowed them to exert their influence. (Read: Social Media Influence: Content is Key!)

As I already mentioned, in the current context, it’s not so much the definition of influence that changes but rather it’s the place where the two sides meet in the name of a common goal. As Neal Schaffer explains in the preface of my upcoming book, “…As I learned engaging with “mommy bloggers,” influence is always relevant to a subject. While some mommy bloggers might be more influential with newborn mothers, otherwise might blog about – and therefore yield more influence on soccer moms or mothers who specialize in organic cooking for their children.”

Influence in social media is not only based on numbers that measure a network’s range and the resonance of a message, but also, and most importantly, on individuals who inspire confidence and who can engage through the relevance and value of their interventions. However, this aspect of influence cannot be measured with algorithms, as complex as they are.

Nine Indicators of an Influencer’s Value

Last fall, in a posting on Intelegias site, I suggested exploring nine indications of value to define influence in social media:

Reach: The importance of the influencer’s network, in terms of size (number of subscribers), as by the potential level of influence of those who are a part of this network.

Resonance: The impact of the message generated through social media.

Authority: The validity given, within the network, to both the message and the messenger.

Credibility: Credibility is as much about the reputation as it is about the authority granted to the influencer.

E-Reputation: The digital “DNA” and “fingerprint” of the influencer throughout the network.

These first five indicators constitute the key metrics commonly used by measurement tools to gauge the influence within social media in order to assess the social influencer’s social score. However, the real leadership of an influencer is also based on other values that cannot be measured with algorithms:

Expertise: Recognition of the influencer through his or her achievements and professional activities.

Relevance: The accuracy and consistency of the influencer’s interventions and quality content related to the expectations of the network concerned.

Trust: A feeling of confidence as much about the relevance of the message as about the expertise of the influencer.

Engagement : The index value that is the most significant since it represents the final results of the influence used.

How to Define Influence in Social Media in 140 characters

In a report published in 2011, Brian Solis and VOCUS proposed their own definition of influence as, “…the ability to cause effect, change behaviour and drive measurable outcomes.” They also asked respondents to identify influence in social media in less than 140 characters. They listed the 25 most interesting answers. Here are a few:

–        The ability to inspire others to develop their abilities;

–        Provoke engagement and conversation with users;

–        Build a level of confidence that will encourage others to make the best possible decisions.

And, my personal favourite:

–        Influence is the power that earns the trust it is given.

Today, a year later, how does it changed? What do you think? Have your say and submit your own definition of influence in social media in 140 characters or less.

Raymond Morin
Raymond Morin contributes a monthly column on Social Media Influence. Raymond is a francophone author and speaker who has 20 years experience acting as a senior strategic consultant and coach for organizations, SMBs and independent professionals. Author of the books «Culture Web à la portée des PME» (2001) and «Comment entreprendre le virage 2.0» (2010), he has also contributed to several magazines and bloggers platforms over the years. His upcoming new book in French, entitled «Generation C et l’influence des consommateurs branchés», is prefaced by Neal Schaffer, and will be also published in English and Spanish during the next year. +Raymond Morin
Raymond Morin


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  1. says

    I wrote last week about a great tool called Awedience

    Awedience allows you to use the data from the Influencer networks, Klout, Kred and PeerIndex combined with time, location and context in a bid to add more relevancy to the influence score.

  2. says

    How about Mitch Joel’s way to define influence:

    “We (as a public) seem to believe that the influence comes from the sheer volume of impressions and connections that we have in the marketplace…It doesn’t. True influence comes from connecting to the individuals, nurturing those relationship, adding real value to the other [people]’s lives and doing anything and everything to serve them, so that when the time comes for you to make an ask, there is someone there to lend a hand. Worry less about how many people you are connected to and worry a whole lot more about who you are connected to, who they are and what you are doing to value and honor them.”

  3. says

    Genuine engagement speaks the most when regarding social media influence. I see a lot of so called experts with large “audiences”, but with little no engagement particularly on Twitter. Myself, I look at the engagement as the best gauge for an individuals true influence.

  4. says

    Interesting but I am not sure how Authority, Credibility, and E-reputation are really just different views of the same underlying truth. Seems this truth might actually be the wellspring of the idea of influence. Talking about leadership, folks sometimes tried to define charisma. Are we looking at Social Media charisma here?

  5. says

    Influence measurement needs to be much more targeted. The current measurement systems are highlighting “loud” voices, often in general fields as you need to be fairly general in order to hit top numbers. That doesn’t accurately capture the nuance and true power of specialized inluencers within their own circles. From an old-school marketing perspective, your goal was to reach the influencers — like reviewers or celebs — with the biggest megaphone. As social marketing continues to become more and more distributed, people are looking to the inluencers they know and touch. For example, my husband does not have a car blog or work professionally in the automative field. Yet, within his circle of influence, he’s the guy you call when you have a car problem or are considering which car to buy next. I think wise marketers need to recognize that reaching larger numbers of these niche influencers is the real future (and power) of influence marketing. The challenge is coming up with a ranking/tracking system that can find and capture this. (In my husband’s case, cars aren’t even listed on his Klout topics because they have nothing to do with his real work.)

  6. says

    I found your “nine indicators” most helpful, and especially your closing points about the ‘nitty-gritty’ of what it means to have influence. Many thanks.

  7. says

    It’s an interesting topic as I see many websites trying to “rate” one or more of the categories listed above. Seems like we are always trying to automate a scale where an automated scale cannot really tell influence beyond “really influential” and “no influence” Anything in the middle seems to be blurry by the automated standard thus increasing the “manipulation” category above the “influence” category

  8. says

    Thanks for the 9 indicators of influence here. I see some of them overlapping and – influencing another. For example, doesn’t expertise “influence” resonance? If you didn’t have some authority in your messages, then ideas might not resonate.

    Excellent ideas.

  9. says

    I always like to read the opinions of others, it can be an eye opener in many ways. This article has made me think about my messages and interactions with my followers in a more logical manner!

  10. says

    Loved reading this and seeing others in the industry drawing attention to it. Now with vanity metrics so prevalent, and people buying fake followers, we need to be measuring influence, not faux popularity. Popularity doesn’t necessary equate to influence, nor does it always equate to sales. Finding someone influential means going for relevance and getting creative with your targeting! Thanks for the good read :)

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