Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Measuring the Unmeasurable: Influencers

One of the most important ways to "get the word out" and have your message discovered is to have good relationships with key market influencers. However, while this is important, it can be notoriously difficult to measure.

We need a new way of measuring how engaged we are with each influencer in the market. Whereas historically, there may have been only a few influencers (the major analysts and media outlets), and maintaining relationships with them was the purview of the PR and AR groups, now there are a broader set of influencers and maintaining those relationships is the purview of everyone on the team. Measuring this effort, however, can prove challenging. The following framework is a starting point for assessing your ability to influence the market influencers.

1) Value of a Publication

The first step is to assess the publishers and publications you would like to influence. I use the term “publication” and “publisher” very loosely to refer to any writers, bloggers, thought leaders, and content contributors online. These are the individuals and outlets where influence is useful and interesting. Each publication that is of interest should be assessed (subjectively) and given a rating of one to three stars. 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

With this step complete, and knowing which publications you are hoping to influence, you next need to track how active you are in maintaining those relationships. As most, if not all, of these individuals are online writers, this activity can be tracked very objectively. Each blog comment, each Twitter conversation, each LinkedIn discussion that someone on your team has with an influencer is a relationship activity. Each is an opportunity to build awareness, convey messages, introduce new perspectives, or develop a deeper level of trust. Tracking this activity, across your entire team including subject matter experts, gives you a clear metric on whether those relationships are being actively maintained.

3) Relationship Strength

For each relationship, it’s important to also 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 three stars to show your assessment of the strength of each relationship.

4) Mentions

Now, with these relationships understood and assessed, you can 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.

5) Sentiment

However, 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.

It's not perfect, by a long stretch, but this framework at least provides a way to look at the challenge of measuring influencers and efforts to work with them. How are you approaching this challenge? Any different measurement frameworks you use?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Kathleen Schaub said...

Steve, I recommend starting with scoring prospective influencers on 4 items:

1-reach (how many people that I care about do they touch);
2-frequency (estimated number of high-value touches such as articles or reports and estimated number of low-value touches such as tweets)
3-Impact (how likely is someone to change their mind because of this person's view - this is somewhat subjective, but you can move towards objectivity)
4 - Trust (how credible is this person, which is partially due to their organization and affiliations - again subjective but a useful question to ask)

Then measure mentions and sentiment and other items of the top ranking influencers.

The main value of this effort is to get your organization out of the mindset that only mentions (or followers) count.

Steven Woods said...

thanks for the comment - great parameters to analyze. I suspect that we'll see quite a bit of work on #3 and #4 in the next few years - companies like PostRank and Engine140 are agressively investing in understanding influence, impact, and trust of an influencer within a particular space. That's the critical element. Will be a fun few years ahead!