Monday, December 20, 2010

Influence Is More Than Numbers

This week on the "Get Social" blog, we will be discussing online influence: what it is, why it is important to your social media strategy, and how to increase it.

What is influence? defines influence as "the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others."  In other words, when it comes to a social media strategy for business, you would ultimately like to compel or convince people to turn to your business website or brick and mortar location(s) to purchase products or services.

If you were to take a superficial look at social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, you would notice that many individuals equate influence with followers.  It is relatively easy to find individuals and businesses with ten thousand followers or more.  But, does this really indicate how influential these people are?  I would argue while having many  followers may increase your reach, it is only a very small variable of the influence equation.

The Harvard Business Review posted a story titled, "On Twitter, Followers Don't Equal Influence," which is an interview with Meeyoung Cha from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany.  She argues, quite convincingly in her paper, "The Million Follower Fallacy," that simply having a lot of followers on Twitter doesn't make a person or business influential.  I would say that also applies to Facebook, and any other social media website.

So what, besides sheer numbers of followers, measures your social media influence?

1.  Connections with the right people.  Following or being followed by anyone and everyone simply increases numbers, but not influence.  Connecting with people who are actively looking for information and contributing to the conversation is a far better measure of influence than being followed by a bunch or spambots or lurkers.

2.  Intelligent comments, responses and conversations.  When your comments and posts are receiving "likes," retweets, mentions and comments by a larger and larger group of people, this is reflective of your growing influence.

3.  Clicks on the links that you are providing.  If you use a link shortener, such as, you can track the number of times that people are clicking on links you provide, even when they are going to blogs and website that are not yours.  When people are clicking on links that you are suggesting, it is an indication of your influence.

4.  People who come to you with questions.  As your influence grows, you will see people who post questions addressed to you, expecting you to have an intelligent answer.

5.  Of course, followers who become ultimately become customers.

While measuring influence is far from an exact science, there are more elements to it than simply looking at the total number of followers and fans.  One website I use that indicates the level of influence that you carry on Facebook or Twitter is  Even Klout's numbers aren't a perfect measure of influence, but their rating can give you a good indication where you stand, and even break down some of the individual components of their measure of influence to let you know where you excel and where you need to improve.

In the next post, I will be discussing why being concerned with influence should, in part, guide your social media business strategy.  In the meantime, what do you think are additional indications of your measure of influence in social media?

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