Wednesday, February 17, 2010
5 Part Framework To Assess Influence In The Social World
By Steven Woods, CTO, Eloqua
Managing influencers, such as analysts and the press, has long been a part of the role of marketing.
By carefully managing and cultivating good relationships with influencers, you would find your perspectives known and understood by the writers, you would be included in mentions, and you might even find a slightly more positive perspective on your company than without such a strong relationship. In today’s social media dominated world, the core benefits of good relations with key influencers remain, but the approach that we need to use to manage influencers has changed significantly.
More But Smaller
The first major change is that the influencers have changed in number and in size. Historically, there may have been a handful of analysts and publications worth focusing on. Now, due to the ease with which anyone can publish, there are many, many more publishers in the form of blogs, content sites, and magazines. This explosion in the number of publications is matched by a corresponding decrease in their individual size. Many only have a few thousand viewers, or focus on a highly specialized niche that would have been unprofitable for a major news outlet.
With this change in size comes a change in how relationships are maintained. Major news and publishing outlets forced structure on the process in order to manage the volume of communication. This led to formal briefing processes, embargoed news releases, and the use of news wires for the release of news. Now, with an explosion of publishers, the process for interacting with each one is not necessarily as formal.
These new publishers – bloggers, independent writers, and niche experts – neither want, nor need, to follow the formalized briefing processes of yesterday. What they want are the direct relationships with the key subject matter experts, executives, and thought leaders, who are of relevance to their area of interest. These key people within your organization, rather than the PR group, must now maintain a larger number of relationships with industry influencers.
Making this easier, however, is the fact that the dynamics of these relationships are changing significantly. The technologies of social media make it easier to maintain a large number of “low intensity” relationships via an occasional conversation, periodic micro-communications (such as Twitter interactions), and familiarity-building tools such as status updates. Many relationships can be developed this way while only meeting face-to-face once or even not at all.
With a broader set of people in your organization maintaining relationships with a larger number of smaller influencers, the way we look at our effectiveness also must change. As the concept of influence remains very amorphous, it is difficult to measure it directly. We must measure the indicators that surround the various relationships, their strengths, and the activity we put into them in order to see if we are being as effective as needed.
The following five part-framework is helpful for measuring influence:
1) Publication Value
First, assess the publishers and publications you would like to influence. Each publication that is of interest should be assessed (subjectively) and given a rating between one and five. This is based on their readership, reputation, presence, and whether they appear in the search results for key terms your buying audience is looking for.
2) Relationship Activity
Next, track how active you are in maintaining those relationships. Each blog comment, each Twitter conversation, each LinkedIn discussion that someone on your team has with an influencer is a relationship activity, and can be tracked objectively. Tracking this activity, across your entire team including subject matter experts, gives you a clear metric on whether trust, awareness of key messages, and knowledge of perspectives are being built.
3) Relationship Strength
For each relationship, assess whether you feel that the relationship is a strong one. This is a subjective measurement, and can only be done by the people involved in each relationship. Use a similar scale of one to five to show your assessment of the strength of each relationship.
Next, look at whether this effort is bearing fruit in terms of mentions of your company, your solutions, and your views on the market. This metric is only useful when viewed as a trend over time, as different publications with different niche focuses will naturally mention company and product names in a wide range of frequencies. An upwards trend in mentions is generally a good thing and shows a positive influence.
Mentions are usually only good if they are neutral or positive mentions – that highlight your strengths, key aspects of your reputation, and your views on the market. Although there is some good progress happening in the realm of technology solutions for sentiment analysis, this is often quicker and easier to do in a B2B environment using a subjective assessment.
With each of these dimensions analyzed, you can begin to gather a picture of how your overall team is influencing the key influencers in your market. Over time, these relationships will develop and grow, and can become an extremely effective way that your message reaches your intended audience.
Steven Woods has been a leader in the current transformation of marketing since 1999 when he co-founded Eloqua. In his new book, Digital Body Language, Steven distills his insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by today’s marketers into a framework of thinking about their audience, and their role, in a new way.