Flemming Madsen isn't much interested in buzz. He says buzz—the volume of the conversation—doesn't correlate to sales, but influence does. His London-based company, Onalytica, analyzes online media and influence for clients in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.
Correlating buzz and word of mouth to influence is a major piece of Onalytica's work, which includes monitoring and measuring online media and word of mouth. Distinguishing influence from popularity is the critical step in the process. Flemming talked about the history of influence measurement, going back to the work of Wassily Leontief and his input/output model. The established technique for analyzing media is citation analysis, which follows references upstream to identify influential sources.
Onalytica illustrates the distinction between popularity and influence in a paper on sources of information about avian flu (PDF). If you were to look up flu-related keywords on Google or Technorati, you would find popular sources, such as Google News and Engadget. Factor in citation analysis to measure influence and you'll find sources like the World Health Organization, OIE (World organization for animal health), the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control.
The popular sites rank highly in the results because of their many inbound links on every topic. The influential sites are cited more often on this topic. Influence analysis makes it possible to identify appropriate contacts along a chain of influence on the topic of interest. Stakeholders who are disproportionately influential vis à vis their popularity provide a particularly attractive opportunity, since they may be easier to approach than more popular stakeholders.
"Clients want as little data as possible, but they do want all the relevant information."
Onalytica began with government clients and still works on initiatives on topics like childhood obesity, youth crime, and child support, though a majority of their work is for corporate and agency clients. A typical engagement might focus on identifying influential stakeholders to prioritize PR efforts, or on identifying brand perceptions, challenges and opportunities. One of the major benefits of this kind of analysis is relief from information overload. Flemming also noted that social media analysis can serve as a substitute for surveys—in one example, Onalytica identified customer decision drivers for a financial services client.
What else have clients done with Onalytica research? One used influence analysis to determine the value of celebrity endorsements. Others have created key performance indicators (KPIs) for their PR agencies based on increasing influence. There's more here than defensively monitoring blogs for emerging issues, although they'll do that for you, too.
You can hear more from Flemming Madsen on the Onalytica blog and in interviews with Neville Hobson (July 2006) and Eric Mattson (September 2006).
Tags: Onalytica social media buzz influence reputation market research