Forget Everything You Know About Measuring Digital Influence

4 minute read
Marisa Peacock avatar

A recent study by Brian Solis and the Altimeter Group has challenged what we think we know about social influence, how it’s created and what it means. 

Measuring The Poetry of Words

The Rise of Digital Influence, which surveyed and examined a variety of vendors and brands about their ability to measure digital influence, posits that

many companies are looking at influence backwards, unknowingly or lazily relying on scores rather than understanding how influence is actually created and used."

The argument that outlines the “problems with measuring influence” is a familiar one. In fact, it reminds me of how Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets'Society describes the bogus act of measuring poetry.

You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world. … We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion."

These words just as easily describe social media as they do poetry. How do you measure words and language and social actions that can readily inspire revolution as they can contempt and outrage, acclaim and honesty? Certainly, your Klout score, whatever it is seems rather childish at the moment.

On the other hand, social media is hardly poetry and I would be misrepresenting the report if I were to maintain that it is. Rather, Solis claims that 

Influence as a score is imprecise, which is why the responsibility falls on brands to recognize the value of relationships as they apply to their engagement efforts."

And while you can’t fault Klout or PeerIndex for trying, the very act of measuring social influence renders it unreliable because it can be defined by a variety of acts and actions. Much like poetry (and pornography) -- we know it when we see it.

So what do we do with the scores we have and how do we to track our influence from here?

Learning Opportunities

Much to the chagrin of many MBAs, it’s a qualitative endeavor. If influence’s value is in the eye of the beholder, Solis recommends:

  • Don’t focus on the score. Focus on engagement goals, instead.
  • Redefine the characteristics of an influence in your community. What does that person say? What type of behaviors do they carry out? Why is it important to building your brand?
  • Define goals. Your social media strategy should indicate what you hope to achieve by engaging customers. Your metrics for success will vary depending on what you want to accomplish (revenue v. promotion/education).

Solis' Influence Action Plan highlights the objectives, steps and elements needs for an engagement strategy to provide meaningful results. 

influence action plan.png

Invest in the Social Sciences

If you’re already investing in a social media engagement strategy, The Rise of the Digital Influence reinforces a lot of what you already know or what you’ve learned: Engagement is about providing meaningful, valuable experiences for your followers. If there’s little incentive for them to share, discuss and otherwise like your content, then what’s the point? As well, brands must know what they want to get out of it. Asking questions for engagement's sake alone is silly and wasteful.

If you and your company still believe that everything worth doing must be adequately measured, it’s essential that you understand what it is that you want to measure and why. It’s okay to measure the reach of your audience, if you can justify exactly what that means for your brand’s success. However, be prepared that not everything that can be measured is worth measuring.

For good or for bad, social media is a fine art, akin to poetry, literature and painting. When it’s done well, the master’s formula reveals more passion than it does precision.