Beyond Social Media: Why Influence Can’t Be Measured Against A Single Indicator
If an influencer doesn’t tweet, are they still influential?
Perhaps the better question would be: If we benchmark influence based only on social media profiling, then who might be missing from the influence equation?
By most personal influence standards, the answer would largely leave most offline influencers in the dark. As such, this is where many debate whether a reliance on social media profiles as a core indicator of influence is largely flawed.
Why Social Media Influence is Only Part of the Equation
Social media influence measurement tools generally capture and rank data attributed to a influencer’s social media presence, meaning their profiles are the primary data resource. And most meausrement tools require permission from users to access social profile data, which further limits measurement visibility and ties your influencer outreach strategy to the social preferences of potential influencers in your market.
The second limitation is a reliance on surface-level indicators to measure influence. Metrics such as audience size, number of mentions, follower ratio, and keyword semantics limit measurement depth by leaving contextual data out of the picture.
The final piece of the puzzle harkens to the overarching challenge presented by both of the above limitations: If these tools can measure only what is visible across social media channels, then where does that leave offline influencers who aren’t as socially engaged as their online counterparts?
The Role of Offline Influence: The Missing Billionaires
Perhaps the most popular example of where social media influence measurement fails to address offline influencers is in the case of Warren Buffett, a man with more than his share of clout in the real world.
There have been several articles examining Buffett’s notoriously low social influence score (such a score may actually be non-existent – there are multiple Klout profiles for “Warren Buffett,” and it’s unclear if one of them is real), which is of course attributed to his lack of social media presence. But would anyone actually argue that Warren Buffett is any less influential in the world of finance and business just because he doesn’t tweet?
A similar example was addressed in Aaron Biebert’s post on offline influence and Klout, where he questions the validity of his social influence score outranking Jack Welch – former CEO of GE and a well-respected business leader – by a whopping 19%.
The common denominator here is that while social media-based influence has its place, relying on it as key indicator of overall influence is a risky proposition.
The Need for Context
In the world of influence, credibility within a topic isn’t fostered by just social media presence alone; we have to look at all public activity – online and off – to get a true idea of how a person’s opinion or efforts around a particular topic may influence others.
Which brings me to the need to look at the context that gives dimension to a person’s influence. Brandon Evans’ article in Ad Age on true influence tackles this element of influence really well, namely the need to understand influence within the context of the influencer.
If you’re a respected thought leader in the 21st-century business environment, then the value of your offline relationships and the networks that you’ve built and fostered in real life are just as crucial (perhaps more so) as the content you produce, the size of your social audience or blog subscribers, and any other indicators of online influence.
When we look at true relevance of a potential influencer’s content, we’re really looking at who’s talking about something relevant to our particular industry, not just who’s talking the loudest.
The challenge is, and probably will be for the foreseeable future, that marketers and brands have to remove the same blinders for influence measurement that we do in other marketing disciplines. There is no quick-drying or out-of-the-box methodology for effectively measuring influence; it’s a long-term commitment and process.
What are your thoughts on the role of social media as a key indicator of online influence? How do you reconcile offline influence in your influence marketing strategies?
Image credit: Gee Ranasinha