The Rise of the "Influence" Peddlers

| 8 Comments

As the measurement clubs start to work out their competing standardization efforts for measuring social media, the battle to define influence is flaring up in all the usual places. And while I won't attempt to settle the debate over how to measure influence, I want to point out that the topic is more interesting than whether Klout scores mean anything. A growing group of companies is experimenting with different approaches. Influence, apparently, is the new gold rush.

At Defrag this year, I saw several new companies with new variations on analyzing influence and profiling people. One startup founder described an entirely new—and promising—approach that he's about to take into alpha testing. To his credit, he preferred that I not use the influence buzzword to describe his business.

We call it influence, because that's what it's not

Dance like no one's watching. Sing like no one's listening. Tweet like no algorithm is coldly deciding your social worth.
—Chris Sacca (@sacca)

I'm not comfortable with the influence label, because it's not really what anyone measures. Influence—the real thing, not the black-box metric—isn't hard to define, but it's practically impossible to measure. So everyone uses proxy data, and the proxies vary by company.

A few years ago, I heard Barak Libai speak about the use of agent-based modeling to calculate the value of word of mouth, and I suspect that influence is essentially the same question. But I haven't heard anybody going down that path in the commercial market. It's probably too hard for practical use. Instead, everyone uses some combination of network connections, topic analysis, and audience reaction, which—obviously—equals influence when combined with pixie dust in the correct proportions.

As I started this post, I reached the chapter on influence in Duncan Watts's recent book, Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer, and he fairly demolishes the whole idea of measuring influence. In all but the most trivial, contrived scenario, influence is just too complex. It seems the influence controversy isn't limited to the social media discussion. Even in the sociology lab, they use proxies.

If people want "influence," let's sell it to them
If we dial back the expectation that metrics represent precisely what the label says, we might find some use in the growing crop of "influence" tools. We have a selection of single-purpose tools, of course, but it's also common for these companies to provide hooks to connect into other programs. They provide a filter for finding people who have more followers, or whose words seem to lead to more action online, and so one or more of the influence proxies frequently shows up in social media tools.

Here's what I've seen so far. Where available, I've linked to useful information about APIs, FAQs, and how the scores are generated for each company. As always, once you start looking for more companies, you find that they're different in interesting ways.

  • Appinions
    Find and profile influencers relevant to topics defined by Boolean queries. Uses text analytics to understand statements by, and about, influencers and specific topics. (api, faq)

  • Connect.Me
    A reputation-scoring system based on individuals recommending each other. Tags link recommendations to specific topics. Connect.Me promises not to mine or sell user data, so it's not an option for developers looking for influence scores.

  • Fluencr (new Mar 2013)
    Perks for consumers, endorsements for marketers.

  • Identified
    A career-oriented marketability score based on how well Facebook profiles match what employers search for on social network sites. (how)

  • Klout
    A single-score influence metric based on social network activity. "The standard for influence," at least in the sense that it's the one everyone's arguing about. (api, faq, how)

  • Kred
    PeopleBrowsr's single-metric scoring system based on online influence and outreach. (api, how, intro)

  • Little Bird (new Oct 2012)
    Identify influencers on a topic—both established and emerging—and also followers, compare specific people's connections with the influencer set, and see what the influencers are sharing. (intro)

  • PeekYou
    A search engine for people with a single-score influence metric based on online activity. (api, faq, how)

  • PeerIndex
    Influence analysis with scores broken out by topic and activity, audience, and authority subscores. (api, faq, how)

  • PeerReach (new Mar 2013)
    Influencer scoring within broad topics, audience analysis, upstream influencer topics. (api, how)

  • PROskore
    Business-oriented reputation and experience score based on social network activity, career profiles entered on the site, and on-site engagement. (faq, how)

  • Spot Influence (now SpotRight )
    Contextual influencer identification and analysis based on reach, topicality, and impact. (api, faq, how)

  • Tellagence (new Oct 2012)
    Predict the spread of information in social networks to identify the critical members to reach. But don't call it influence, because they don't. (intro, faq, how)

  • Traackr
    Influencer search and profiling based on reach, resonance, and relevance. Traackr can also monitor and measure online activity by influencers for campaign management.
In addition to the specialists, influencer analysis and profiles are a common feature in social media analysis platforms. Have you seen my directory of companies in that business?

Lack of a standard never stopped companies from selling their stuff. If we're going to argue about the value of "influence," let's at least consider more of the options.

More posts in the "Build or Buy?" series:


8 Comments

Hi Nathan - good post & along these lines you saw this Social Proof puff piece http://tcrn.ch/sKOtc5

PS - Defrag was terrific and now reading Duncan Watts book !

Thanks, Steve. I have to confess that Social Puff was one I had skipped until you pointed it out. Regardless of the foundations of the metrics, it's useful to understand what people want to do with these tools.

In most cases, I don't think it actually matters how well the metrics correspond to actual influence, because influence is just a means to an end. If the end (sales, message pickup...) is achieved, then the tactic worked.

Defrag is always terrific, including the books. :-)

Fab piece. What i like is, whether intentional or not, you set Klout in its industry context. It is not "the standard" rather it is one of no less than 10-11 proposed standards. As you write, the game is still very much on and very much unwon.

Thanks, Lisa. I actually think Klout's interesting, but it's more about what they're doing with their metric (Perks, etc.) than the metric itself. The usual complaint boils down to a semantic argument that's less interesting than what we might do with these new toys (as shown in Steve's link above).

Great article Nathan - thanks for the posting. It will be interesting to see how the "influence" market matures. I do think that using multiple tools for research - more so then proxy - is the best way to currently go. For example - the one area (okay, one of a few) that I think Klout really falls down on is Topics. And, given that Topics are related to Perks >> advertisers, that is a real issue for them. As you may know - I am the #1 influencer on Judge Judy, though, I never even once watched her show. And, what kinda perk is that going to get me? A discount on my next trial? (That would actually be cool.) I just started playing with Connect.Me. Interesting approach. Need to spend more time with it. Also, ProScore sounded valuable from what I've read - how do you like it? And YES - I have shared your database :)

Hi Nathan:

Yes, Duncan Watts fairly demolishes most established "influencer" and "viral" marketing theory.

It is still interesting and important to understand who loves your brand most AND who can help you move the message or product. (Advocates & Influencers).

@tomob

Nathan,

Thanks for including us on your list. Appinions is powered by opinions from not only content creators but the people they're covering so we think it offers a comprehensive view of the landscape. The ability to create topics based on keywords is something that we see as a differentiator because it provides flexibility based on a specific interest.

cheers, Larry

Anne, I think the key takeaway is to step back from the buzzword and think about objectives and how well the available tools support them. I'm much more optimistic about the whole thing if we start there. PROskore strikes me as something I won't bother with—I've already entered my work experience in enough sites, thank you.

Tom, I think we probably agree, as long as people don't get the idea that the labels we use for convenience are necessarily literal. Though advocacy is a lot easier to tie to observable behavior than influence.

Larry, Appinions deserves more than a one-sentence description, but then the post would be entirely too long. Thanks for adding some detail.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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