The tricky issue of influence

Influencer ranking tools have been a hot topic of conversation lately. Last week when Klout, the original influencer-ranking tool, changed its ranking algorithm there was a sharp backlash on social media. What emerged was that some individuals had been adapting their online behaviour to try and ‘game’ their Klout score, and now they were angry that the rules had changed. To us this seemed to be a lose-lose situation. For the individuals it showed a huge lack of authenticity, and for Klout it demonstrated how its data can be flawed.

With this in mind Headstream were pleased to be able to listen to Azeem Azhar (@azeem) the founder of Klout competitor, Peerindex, at yesterday’s #dellb2b event in London. He provided his take on just how good the current tools are, and how he thinks influencer rankings can be used.

Headstream’s view is that the current tools (the third competitor in this market is PeopleBrowsr’s Kred) are blunt instruments that should only form one small element when assessing influence. And this appeared to be shared amongst the gathering of social media, technology and business thinkers at #dellb2b.

When Azeem asked the room ‘Who believes influence can be measured in a single number?’ just one hand was raised amongst the sixty people or so present (@bejaminellis you know who you are!). The consensus was that there is a huge problem when applying a single influencer ranking for an individual when influence is such a subjective area. For example one person’s influencer could be another person’s non-entity, or an influencer in a certain subject in one geography could be irrelevant to those in another.

Azeem admitted that ‘There is no single accurate definition of influence at the moment’ but he believed that one could emerge over time, moulded by market forces. “There needs to be a standardized definition of influence. That will emerge from the to-ing and fro-ing of the market, and for that there needs to be competition.”

As luck would have it one of those competitors, Kred, in the shape of PeopleBrowsr’s Andrew Grill @andrewgrill, was in the audience. He agreed that the definitive influencer ranking doesn’t exist, and questioned if it ever would. Andrew said: “We have a really big responsibility. We are scoring humans, can that ever be definitive? I think it’s important that there are three or four companies out there doing this to give healthy competition.”

So is that the future? A ‘basket’ of different influencer rankings that gives an aggregated picture of how the individual scores in terms of online influence? That solution is probably little better than the single rankings.

From our practical experience in mapping influencers for clients the best solution is to use human analysis, rather than automated rankings. By using monitoring tools to gather data about a particular topic, then diving into that data and tracing relationships and information flows between individuals we establish if individuals have reach, relevance and respect around the brand (or issue) we are working with. These insights can then be used to create comprehensive profiles of each influencer, and to map the links between them.

Three elements of influence - reach, relevance, respect

We do use automated influencer ranking tools on occasion to double check named individuals. Most often though we use them to fuel some banter within the team along the lines of ‘my Klout is bigger than yours’ !

2 thoughts on “The tricky issue of influence

  1. Julius, great post!

    I agree that tools such as #kred will only ever provide a part of the picture.

    Our aim by having 2 scores, being transparent and looking within communities for the local influencers will help you do your job and find these real rock stars more quickly and with more precision.

    The next step in social is always to pick up the phone/tweet and reach out to people in the community that may be of interest to one of your clients.

    It is great to see collaboration on the definition of influence and this will be a hot topic into 2012.

    • Hi Andrew! Many thanks for the comment, we completely agree that influence will continue to inspire debate in 2012, and beyond! That human interaction/analysis you talk about is absolutely crucial, but we’re also confident that products like Kred and Peer Index will keep evolving, and increasing the value-add. Really looking forward to seeing the next #kred developments as they release. All the best, Jules.

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