measurement and influencers

I’ve been immersed in the world of measurement and influencers since the beginning. I wrote the first book on the subject.

There has been a tremendous amount of progress in testing impact — a lot of money has been devoted to attribution models. But when it comes to finding relevant influencers, especially in the B2B space, it’s been disappointing. Today I will lament that we have made almost no progress in the last ten years.

Influence based on breadcrumbs

The first company to attempt assessing influencers was Klout. Around 2009, Joe Fernandez had his jaw wired shut after an operation and had a lot of time on his hands to watch how the emerging social media streams worked. He noticed that certain people could spark actions on the web better than others and wondered if there was a way to track it and assign influence value scores to certain individuals.

Joe hired a bunch of Ph.D. statisticians and social scientists and came up with a rudimentary system, scoring every person on social media from zero to 10.

The idea was met with outrage. How could Klout possibly measure a person’s influence? After all, they had no insight into our homes and workplaces!

But what the critics missed is that influence ONLINE comes from one thing: The ability to spread content and ideas to a relevant audience. If you look at this one slice of the world, Joe Fernandez was on to something. By analyzing the vast spider web of social media interactions, he could track how effectively content spreads. And that means a lot to brands seeking to spread content!

Klout’s use of social media “breadcrumbs” to assess influence was a blunt instrument, but it was a start. It highlighted tendencies and potential opportunities for brands to connect with the best information spreaders.

The problem is, the assessment of many digital influencers, especially in B2B, has not progressed.

Influence in a rut

A few days ago, one of the top platforms for assessing digital influencers made a splashy announcement about their innovations in measurement. I won’t mention the company … it’s not important.

But when you cut through the hype of the announcement, the basis of their measurement tool is still primarily follower counts and engagement levels on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Here we are, more than a decade past Klout’s early attempts at measurement, and the system is basically the same — and arguably much worse because in the early days, Klout also tapped into the data sets of YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms that have since pulled back on API access.

I am mystified that any company would still be offering such a blunt instrument, let alone be able to sell the service, after this length of time and so little meaningful progress on assessment.

What’s the problem here?

Ignoring true influence

On the social web, there is a continuum of influence.

Generally speaking, the lowest form of influence is social media engagement because these are weak relational links. When somebody engages with a post on Twitter or LinkedIn, it’s like a follower waving at you. They might be saying, “good job,” or maybe, “Hi there!” It doesn’t necessarily mean they will buy anything from you or ever see you again. And sadly, social media engagement can be easily gamed.

Although a weak signal of influence, follower numbers and social media engagement are important because they represent potential. A social stream is an opportunity to connect to relevant people who you can move into the second stage of influence — subscriber audience.

When people subscribe to your blog, podcast, or YouTube series, you achieve reliable reach. You’re no longer sending out messages into the wide ocean of a social media platform, hoping for a connection. These folks have opted-in to you. They’ve decided to follow what you have to say because they believe in you and they want your content.

A creator/influencer certainly has a tremendous amount of power over their subscribers/fans/audience.

The third and highest level of influence is community. Not only are people subscribing to your ideas, but they are also actively part of the process. A community collaborates, co-creates, and surrounds a creator with energy and ideas as a team.

Here’s the problem. The leading measurement platforms are stuck in a rut by obsessing on the lowest level of influence — social media engagement.

The next level measurement and influencers

Here’s my frustration. Nearly all the influence is happening in audiences and communities, and it’s not that hard to figure out.

Is it difficult to know that I have a blog? Is it hard to assess whether people are sharing or commenting on that blog?

Is it impossible to see that I have a podcast? Can you see reviews of the podcast? Can you see people discussing it online?

Does an influencer have a YouTube channel? It’s too bad YouTube hides all that information. Oh, wait. They don’t, you say? Right! Anybody can tell how many videos are posted and how many subscribers and views they have in a channel just by looking.

It’s just not hard.

An example: Noah Smith is a former Bloomberg Opinion columnist and assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University. He has 26,000 Substack subscribers paying $99/year for his newsletter on business and world events. He does not have a LinkedIn account. Should we overlook him as an influencer?

It takes more effort to acknowledge audience and community platforms to super-power an influencer grading system, but after more than a decade, isn’t it time to figure it out? Shouldn’t the industry demand to move beyond the breadcrumbs of influence offered to us by Twitter and LinkedIn?

The next problem

The influence measurement problem is about to become much worse.

Younger generations aren’t hanging out on Twitter or LinkedIn at all — the bread and butter of the B2B influencer crowd. They’re on Twitch, TikTok, Fortnite, Roblox, and hiding out on private messaging services. If you’re trying to find a B2B influencer under the age of 30, the current measurement platforms are totally useless.

The response

I asked the marketing leader of the company that made this under-whelming announcement for a response to my criticism. It’s not the first time I’ve presented these concerns to this company and its competitors.

She responded with a detailed message, saying:

  • “We’re 100% with you,” and
  • “It is absolutely one of our priorities to get better at capturing the communities and networks that influencers own themselves – i.e. email subscribers, podcasts etc. We are working away in the background to take these lists to another level.”
  • She pointed to the manual work involved as a major obstacle.

I can understand that. But aren’t we overdue for one of these platforms to drill down to where influence is actually taking place in this digital world?

I need to acknowledge that I made some sweeping generalizations in this post to make my point and keep it short. There are exceptions to everything. It is possible to have a community on social media, you can have an audience better than a community, and there are wide variations in how influencers are assessed, for example.

I wrote this because I care about the marketing industry and want to encourage our company partners to do better. A lot better.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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Illustration courtesy of Unsplash.com

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