Influence is not just a numbers game

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Image courtesy of The Social Times

The concept of influence

Influence has long been the holy grail of social media, with the term being banded around and meaning many different things to different people. Most of the time, the concept of influence in social media is devalued, reduced to being synonymous with high follower numbers or page likes.

Isn’t influence “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”? Or so says the Oxford dictionary. If so, surely then it’s not just about how many people follow you but whether anything you say is likely to affect them.

Often enough the concept of influence is reduced to what social media listening tools provide, which at best is a cluster map of influence based on a number of quantitative variables. While there is nothing wrong with that, often the ‘why’ (i.e. why are these people influential) is missing.

I was therefore pleased to see Sysomos mention the concept of relevance within their presentation about social intelligence at Adtech London last week.

Social influence framework

We have long recognised and advocated the importance of using multiple inputs to decipher influence, first developing our framework within the healthcare sector, and having since applied it to other sectors including the tobacco and oil industries.

I was recently asked to identify influencers around the Scottish devolution debate; specifically, pro-union influencers. While I had our framework on hand, which involves looking at a combination of quantitative (Reach, Activity) and qualitative (Resonance, Relevance) measures, I still felt that we were potentially looking for needles in haystacks.

Why? Those users that were most active and potentially relevant had very limited reach, while those with a large reach, e.g. celebrity influencers, did not necessarily contribute to the debate having, in their majority, only expressed support for the Union once.

Clearly there were specific groups of contributors, so finding influencers among these specific groups seemed like the right approach.

Academics in particular stood out as an interesting group, with a number of contributors clearly making an impact. Tom Holland was an obvious influencer based on his social media credentials: followers (c. 38,000) and impressions (c. 280,000).

0005Offline influence also had to be a consideration though. As a broadcaster and writer, Tom Holland has offline clout, as well as Klout. His approach to “soft influence” with tweets highlighting why the UK’s countries are better together was interesting too.

Offline vs. online

In determining potential influence online, the person’s offline profile has to matter. Offline clout is very qualitative though, and therefore subjective.

Take Jill Stephenson, whom we identified as a potential influencer. Her media profile – she was previously featured in the FT and the Scottish Review, and recently railed against SNP MP Mhairi Black – combined with her relentless retweeting of other tweeters supporting the union (such as @ProfTomkins, another influencer) make her influential in spite of a low follower count.

The key aspect to consider here is that influence is about potential and about the future. While machines can identify some of the factors to predict this potential, actual foresight is still, in my mind, a human discipline.

Gaelle Bertrand, Head of Brand Insight, Precise