Tag Archives: engagement

Bringing Some Clarity to Social Media Influence

10 Dec

The emphasis on influencer marketing in social media has reached a fever pitch in 2011 and with it a flood of tools and opinions on how to navigate the influence waters. This is interesting in that one of the most powerful aspects of social media marketing is the ability to establish connections and relationships directly with prospects and customers and not have to go through an intermediary to communicate. But we’ll leave that to the social strategists to reconcile and justify. Influencer marketing is hardly a new strategy. Through the years, much work in traditional public relations utilized influencer targeting (e.g. market analysts, financial analysts, KOLs, other customers) to help amplify and endorse a brand or a company’s products and services. So why is there so much discussion and confusion about influence in social media? Let’s explore.       

Influence Basics

A definition I like for influence is: effecting change in another person’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs and/or behavior. I believe the most overlooked word in this definition is change.  Without change influence has not truly occurred. One challenge here is influence can happen without any resulting short-term observable action. Influence takes hold primarily between the ears, not necessarily with hand on mouse or wallet. This creates fundamental challenges when trying to measure the degree to which influence has occurred.

Another challenge we face is that influence is contextual not absolute. People who influence others do so primarily in areas where they have specific expertise or authority. It is common to be influential in one area but have little or no influence in others. One of the main issues with current influence tools are they do a relatively poor job of establishing contextual relevance.

The distinction between creating influence within a target audience and who/what has influence over the target has a tendency to get muddled. To clarify, determining who has the potential to influence the target audience, (the influencers), is a targeting question. Have we created influence, (changed attitudes, opinions, beliefs and/or behavior) is a measurement question.   

Influence is purposeful. In real life or digital life, when we set out to change the opinion, attitude, beliefs or behavior of another person or group, we do so with a downstream motivation – for them to take a specific action. The list of possible actions is lengthy – buy a product, visit a website, tell a friend, vote, wave a sign and donate to name a few. Of course, not all desired actions are equal in terms of amount of influence required for change. Opinions might be easier to change than an attitude. An attitude is easier to change than a belief. Behavioral change can range from relatively easy to nearly impossible depending on the specific behavior. In marketing, the ultimate behavior or action we try to influence is purchase behavior. It is important to think through the specific actions you hope the target will take as a result of being influenced. This is also the sweet spot for influence measurement.

While creating an action/behavior change is the ultimate reason for influencing someone, it is helpful to think of the process of influence as two stages – opinion, attitude or belief change – and then, because of this change, did an action occur or was a behavior changed. Stated another way, the opinion change is an intermediate or micro outcome and the desired action is a final or macro outcome. Depending on the type of purchase decision there may be a time lag between the micro and macro outcomes that make it difficult to connect the dots. In his book The Business of Influence, Philip Sheldrake presents a concept called the “Maturity of Influence Approach”. Basically it melds two important concepts to use when thinking about influence measurement – focus on the influence, not the influencer (Philip refers to this as “influence-centric), and to start at the macro outcome/action and trace the path of influence back to the source(s) of influence. One simple example of this in a B2B context would be to ask the prospect at the time they are ready to make a purchase, “what sources of information or opinion were most valuable to you in making your decision to buy our product?” A similar question or two can be asked using a pop-up survey in an ecommerce situation. 

Influence and Engagement Confusion

A primary source of influence confusion is failing to distinguish between a simple act of engagement and the process of being influenced. If someone in my Twitter stream sends out a tweet and I retweet it, have they influenced me to retweet or have I simply engaged with that individual’s content? Many who have written about social media influence have suggested that in RTing the tweet, I have been influenced to do so. I do not believe that is the case. I have engaged with the content, but have there been any true changes in my attitudes, opinions, beliefs or behavior? Again, the operative word here is change. Does the act of RTing constitute a behavioral change? Probably not. Engagement – yes, influence - no.

Engagement is a necessary pre-condition to Influence. (This social media measurement model addresses the distinction) Without engagement you don’t have the opportunity to influence. Influence, however, only occurs if that engagement leads to a change in attitudes, opinions, beliefs and behavior.   

Influence, Popularity and Celebrity Confusion

There also seems to be some confusion about the difference between influence, popularity and celebrity. Although related, and in some cases overlapping, they are three distinct concepts. In my opinion, at least some of the confusion stems from Klout and other influencer tools that seem to measure popularity but call it influence. So what is the difference?

Popularity is the state of being popular – widely admired, accepted or sought after.

Celebrity is a famous person, renown and fame. 

If popularity is about being well-liked and celebrity is about being well-known, influence is more about being well-respected, with associations like knowledge, persuasion and trust. Some of the confusion lies in the fact that some celebrities do have influence over the types of behaviors that make the cash register ring. Oprah comes to mind. Other celebrities, while very popular, don’t really have the ability to create meaningful influence. They can get content re-tweeted (WINNING!) but do they have any influence over the types of actions brands really value?

Keeping Online Influence in Perspective  

As we discuss the intricacies of digital influence we should also keep in mind the majority of influence occurs in the analog world. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 70 – 90% of influence occurring by offline WOM. It’s personal. It’s about real family and friends and not Twitter friends. Influence is about a relatively small number of people (Dunbar’s Number suggests humans have a finite cognitive capacity to have around 150 social relationships with other humans), and not mass influence. The fact that most influence happens offline presents another significant measurement challenge.

In summary, I’ll leave you with a few sound bites on social media influence:

  • Influence is about change
  • Engagement leads to influence
  • One can be popular but not influential
  • Measure the influence not the influencer
  • Don’t forget offline when measuring online influence.

Thanks for reading.  See it a different way?

What Is That Hit In The (insert major publication name here) Worth? Nothing, Unless it Creates Engagement.

7 May

A few months back someone posed a question in a Linked-In discussion group wondering how much the major hit in USA Today he had just got for a client was worth.  Obviously he is not the first PR practitioner to ask this question.  Before pondering the answer, there are several questions we should address first:

  • How many people in our target audience had an opportunity to see the placement?
  • How many actually saw it?
  • Of these, how many actually read the article?
  • Of those reading it, did it change their thinking in any way?
  • Did they forward it on to others?
  • Mention it in a phone conversation with a friend?
  • Visit a website?
  • Digg it.
  • Tweet it?
  • Blog about it?
  • Buy it?…

While one must have Exposure before Engagement, much like Awareness must precede Purchase Consideration, true value creation begins at the Engagement stage.  Using old school language, value occurs with Outcomes, not Outputs.  Seems simple enough yet the majority of PR professionals are still relying on output-oriented metrics like clip counts and ad value equivalents (AVEs) to judge success.  PR pros who are savvy about social media seem to be further evolved.  They understand that true value is not in the content (an output) per se, but in the level of engagement caused by the content.

Are you looking for value in all the right or wrong places?

A New Model for Social (and traditional) Media Measurement

29 Aug

In November 2007 I suggested the current Outputs, Outtakes, Outcomes model and taxonomy for public relations measurement was confusing and therefore often misunderstood and misapplied (Let’s put Outputs, Outtakes and Outcomes in the Outhouse).  At that time I suggested a simpler, more descriptive approach was in order and offered the following:

“What we need is a metrics taxonomy that is easier to understand and explain.  Perhaps simple and descriptive enough that we could skip the need for explanation altogether.   I propose the following three terms:
* Exposure – to what degree have we created exposure to materials and message?
* Influence – the degree to which exposure has influenced perceptions and attitudes
* Action – as a result of the public relations effort, what actions if any has the target taken?”

Since November, I have given a lot of thought to the E-I-A construct and how to improve upon it.   Some of the feedback to the model was the gap between Exposure and Influence was too great, and perhaps there should be an interim step called Understanding or Relevance.  There is also the social media dynamic to consider since the measurement model should be flexible enough to work for both traditional and social media.

What seems to fit best between Exposure and Influence, and adds richness to social media measurement, is the concept of Engagement.  Not only is it one of the hotter topics in social media, it is consistent with the desire to have more descriptive and easily understood metrics.   With Engagement we now have an category that nicely contains such emerging key metrics as view-thrus, duration spent with content, repeat commenters and comments/posts ratio.  It also works well for old school metrics like recall and retention.  Engagement is what helps set the stage for Influence to occur.  Engagement is necessary for communities to form.  Engagement is fundamental to brand.

Here’s a graphic that shows the new model and sample metrics that might be used at each stage:

Would love your feedback on this new Exposure — Engagement — Influence — Action model.

There are still a few challenges in adoption of the model, not the least of which is that there is no consistent definition of Engagement.  Current definitions range from the simple comments to post ratio used by BusinessWeek in their Reader Engagement Index, to the 8-term formula for Engagement offered by Eric T Peterson.  The next year should bring more clarity and consistency to our understanding and use of Engagement.  At least there is modest agreement on the specific metrics contained within the category of Engagement.

Thanks for reading, Don B 

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