Influencer Metrics Aren’t the Full Picture

Trying to measure social media impact is a worthwhile goal. However, many of the available tools that measure influence are looking at the low-hanging fruit – Twitter followers and retweets, Facebook friends and likes, or rolled-up singe-number rankings like Klout.

These are the equivalent of ad banner impression and click-throughs. They’re easy, but they don’t measure business goals. They don’t identify the individual customer experiences that need attention. And they reward running up these numbers, rather than working at building true influence.

Here’s an example everyone in social media marketing understands: American Airlines has a few thousand more followers and a slightly higher Klout score than Virgin America, yet there’s no contest in social media effectiveness: Virgin America. Take a look at some of the interesting campaigns they have spearheaded in social media. This has been done purely through Virgin America’s social media channels. Imagine what they could do in real time if it had a way to measure and connect the dots in their social graph in real time. It could know exactly what users were about to miss a flight via Facebook posts or Twitter, and alert both the passenger and Virgin staff.

Today, we aren’t quite there yet. But with the right data and social tools, companies will be able to impact the user experience directly, to create even more brand loyalty and keep customers satisfied — something American Airlines continues to struggle with.

It’s true for personal brands, too. Take graphic designer Calvin Lee and The Onion’s director of digital, Baratunde Thurstion. Both Lee and Thurston have nearly 100,000 Twitter followers. Klout assigns them identical influencer scores of 78, putting the two near the top of non-celebrity tweeters. Yet look further, and you’ll see that they’re by no means peers at social media influence. Thurston’s website is more highly trafficked, his links are clicked on exponentially more, he has his own ventures, a personal brand that he actively promotes, and he posts a great deal of original content. Lee is more likely to retweet items from other websites. If Klout scores were a more accurate measurement, they would assign Baratunde a higher score and measure him as more influential.

That’s the Achilles heel of these services. Any calculation of online clout needs to lead directly to the business impact of social media campaigns. How many customers downloaded an app, signed up for a service, or actually bought something in response to a tweet or a Facebook post? How many of those became repeat customers? How many were retained after the campaign was over? What did they buy? Did they tell a friend, and was that friend motivated enough to share or buy as well?

There are companies that offer more in-depth business analysis of social media initiatives. BuzzLogic and CalmSea track customers down the “purchase funnel” from brand awareness, to brand consideration, to brand preference. (Neither is a client of mine.) There are many companies providing data and analytics platforms, for measuring both the social graph and mobile activity. These make it possible for a moderately skilled developer to set up large-scale graphing of trends and patterns, and to identify problem areas. Once a system is set up, it’s not hard to see what works and what doesn’t.

Furthermore, look at who’s retweeting and resharing — and what they are saying. Do they just think you’re cool and funny, or are they recommending your business? It’s also possible that lots of retweets mean the people on Twitter think you’re entertainingly stupid – those Groupon Super Bowl ads come to mind.

For social media to be effective, it needs to escape the popularity-contest feel it has developed. Instead of just aiming for the most friends and followers possible, you’ll do better to curate your fan base to focus on qualified influencers and customers. Seriously consider making your Twitter stream private, and using Google+ circles to select who gets your messages. Think of it as foregoing the bullhorn of Twitter and Facebook for a medium more like a newsletter. You’ll have a much lower raw count of people subscribed to your updates, but those who do are far more likely to be hanging on every word.

And that, to me, is true influence.

Vaness Camones is founder and principal of TheMix Agency, a communications agency based in San Francisco. Follow her @vanessacamones.

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