Social media, with the global rise and mass usage of websites such as Twitter and Facebook, has played a major role in reshaping the landscape of interactive communication. The ability to interact with another individual on the other side of the planet – regardless of their celebrity, status or position of power – is an attractive feature of such platforms and one that has created sets of “influencers”.
1. Keeping track of one’s personal brand in the social media landscape has evolved to a stage where users are not happy with just their number of "followers" and "likes", but want to understand how they engage their audience. While there is no fool-proof way to measure influence, tools have sprung up to measure an individual or organisation’s social media influence. Shubho Sengupta, digital consultant for brands like Coca-Cola and The Times of India notes that it is critical to keep track of their online influence. He explains, “There are many parallels between brand-consumer and individual-individual dynamics on social media. Current research/analysis is heavily biased towards ‘Likes’, an incorrect measurement. The layers need to be explored.”
Lakshmipathy Bhat, vice president, Draftfcb+Ulka, who also blogs regularly about trends in social media, points out, “Social Media influence metrics were in vogue when blogging became popular. Remember Technorati ranks? Even niche blogging subjects like Advertising & Marketing have their own ‘influence metrics’. And then there are various blog ranks. The trouble is there was never one ‘accepted’ standard of influence - so they never became standard practice.”
2. Notable among these social media influence monitoring tools are Klout and Peer Index, which compute the "score" or "social capital" of a user using a complex algorithm comprising of the person’s usage of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Based on these scores, these services can help marketers identify top influencers in a specific niche market.
Noting that such influence metrics are usually adopted by geeks and tech savvy net users and not the regular folk, Bhat feels that with Klout, he sees a possibility of it going beyond the geeks as it uses social sites like Facebook to measure influence. “When Klout had some database problems today it displayed faulty rankings and it was much debated on Twitter! So it has potential to become the ‘standard’ by which one measures online influence. Unlike other ‘influence analysers’ this one seems to go beyond just providing a badge or a widget to display. There seem to be some real life rewards for influencers through a perks programme,” he added.
3. Influencers are being tapped by marketers to increase their chances of engaging with the right audiences. "It’s easy to fool people by cherry-picking data," Sengupta said. "Impressions, for example, mean nothing beyond a point. Brand custodians need to be clear where that ‘point’ is, for their brand. I have seen very few brands who have a long-term plan that goes beyond ‘Likes’."
Klout has launched ‘Klout Perks’, a service which allow brands to filter, target and engage user profiles with relevant influential traits. Brands like Audi, Nike, Disney and others are already using the service for their targeted social media campaigns.
“I think brands can make use of it in several ways since it is based on ‘interests’ and what a user is passionate about. For a mobile phone handset brand or a car brand, it could be about testing a pre-release model among users. For a movie or music brand, it could be exclusive previews,” Bhat pointed out.
4. However, services like Klout have its share of detractors. "Klout is a step in the right direction - acknowledging the power of the influencer. Having said that, I am surprised to see some areas of influence Klout claims I have - I don’t agree at all," pointed out Sengupta.
Since these services use algorithms to compute scores and assess people’s influence, that number does not reveal the context of that assessment. Moreover, there have been instances where these services could rank bots higher than actual people, which provides no help for the marketers in the long run.