April 29, 2011
Back in the days before Facebook and Twitter, before crowdsourcing and clouds, media relations professionals turned to spiral-bound directories to identify which publications would best reach a specific audience. The outreach was based on readership surveys that purported to tell you who was reading what publications. But those surveys disappeared around the time that we stopped dialing telephones.
When online media came along, PR people scrambled to find new ways to assess which sites reached their target demographics. The alternative to the readership surveys were panels set up by Nielsen, ComScore, Compete, Quantcast or Alexa with opt-in systems to record what people are really doing on their computers. The numbers varied dramatically, but at least you could find data for most of the major online news outlets.
The rise of social networking
But then there was Facebook. Because it was a closed and diverse network, it was nearly impossible to accurately count “impressions.”
People created Facebook pages and started confusing influence and relationships with Likes, forgetting that they were just counting clicks. This doesn’t indicate whether there is an actual relationship with the brand. Never mind that most people hit Like because they were promised a 10 percent off coupon and never came back. Growing the number of Likes became the ROI of the day — except that it wasn’t ROI and wasn’t an effective measure of impact.
Along with Likes came another equally insidious metric: the number of Twitter followers. It became all the rage to grow your Twitter followers as quickly as possible.
So people figured out ways to auto-follow people and numbers grew faster than Justin Bieber’s fan club. Of course, most of those followers were faux followers, who essentially never pay any attention to what you’re doing, but the numbers were big and so bosses paid attention.
But, then, the numbers got too big. PR people, who were used to crowing over getting 50 great “placements” or increasing the numbers of “media hits” from 100 to 200 per month, were now seeing 10,000 or 20,000 “hits” in social media. At first it was impressive, but when people started digging into those pretty line charts and bar graphs and realizing how much of this information was irrelevant, they became nervous and overwhelmed.
So if you only want to measure what matters, how do you sort the good stuff from the trivial when traditional directories aren’t accurate and can mislead you?
Consider the following steps:
Step 1: Choose your words carefully. Influence is not reach. The leader in this misnaming contest is Klout, who says it wants to be the Nielsen of social media and the arbiter of influence. I applaud its ambition, but that assumes that its magic number will tell everyone how “important” a particular outlet is. The problem is that any given outlet may be important to me, but impotent in a different marketplace. And an outlet with anemic Klout scores may be incredibly influential in a niche marketplace.
Step 2: Behind all influence is action. Influence, according to dictionary.com, is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on the actions, behavior, opinions of others or the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions of another or others.
Please note that the operational words are actions, behavior and “produce effects” — in other words, Justin Bieber may have millions of fans on Twitter, but it’s a good bet that he is never going to produce any effect on my business. Now, if I was selling eggs and Bieber decided to go on an all “KDPaine brand eggs” diet, then it might be different. But the point is that influence is not reach, it’s the power to produce an effect or an outcome. So you need to measure a person’s influence score based on the impact on your business.
If you are a defense contractor, and there are only 200 people on the planet who can legally buy your product, then chances are it’s not the number of followers you have on Twitter that matters.
What matters is that you are reaching those 200 people and the 2,000 or so people who influence them. That means that the reporters and thought leaders who have always written about your business are still writing about your business, you just need to figure out what blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn group or Twitter handle that they are using today.
Step 3: Behind every influencer is a real live human. Influence is not a list, and it can’t be used like those old media directories. Influence implies a personal, persuasive relationship between the individual and the audience who is being influenced. Investor relations professionals would never dream of relying on mass emails to explain a new strategy to a financial or industry analyst. Today’s influentials aren’t any different. You can’t substitute personal relationships for electronic ones. Do not rely on computers to figure out who is important.
For example, a lot of publicists assume that because my blog is called “The Measurement Standard,” I’m interested in your new, more accurate scientific probing device. I am not.
Read what the person has written or posted and understand what excites them. Figure out who is actually producing content that is relevant to your customers — survey your customers if necessary to find out where they get their information. Go through your old contact lists and track down anyone you’ve lost contact with. And don’t just read blogs. Read the comments, follow the links and use analysis tools like Twitalyzer or Traackr to help determine the reach.
Step 4: Influence is not the Holy Grail. It is not some magical metric that will help you measure all of your results. It is not going to get you a raise or a gold star. If defined and used appropriately, then influence can help narrow the amount of chatter that you need to be paying attention to and help you focus your outreach efforts. You will still need to measure whether all of that influence resulted in any real outcomes.
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