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The 2 Pillars of Influencer Analysis

November 2, 2011

“The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret”. – Salvador Dali

With the emergence of new solutions and metrics for online influence, a question essential to marketing has taken center stage:

“Who are the good influencers, and how to identify them?”

We have given this issue a lot of thought and experiment. Over the years, this has inspired a unique vision of online influence, addressing what defines it, how to describe its characteristics, and how to analyze it. Here’s the gist of it.

There are several types of influencers (5 or 6, depending on who you ask, it is not really clear yet). In this post, we will not be covering the influence mechanisms at work among closed circles such as friends and family, or the influence mechanisms of celebrities (sports celebrities, politicians, and others). We are also well aware that geographical, cultural, or demographic factors have their role to play. As far as influence in the virtual world of social media is concerned, however, we believe this is only a minor one.

Let me start with these two short yet meaningful statements:

- You influence someone about something.
– Someone becomes influential as soon as they are trusted by a sufficient number of good people.

For eCairn, this translates into the following:

  1. Influence is, at its core, a matter of context and trust.
  2. Consequently, influencers must have both:
    – a deep expertise in the domain in which their influence is going to spread;
    – a broad network with whose members they have frequent and long-term reciprocal interactions in the context of their domain of expertise.
  3. Deep expertise requires a substantial investment in terms of time, and is developed over a long period of time (cf. Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule).
    A network consists of links between “close” members, “connected” members, and the rest. The domain’s experts are the ones who indirectly determine each member’s influence through cross-references.
  4. As a consequence, influence should be evaluated based on meaningful markers (of a certain expertise), over a long period of time (10,000 hour rule), while taking into account references within the community.

What do we need to produce a good analysis of influence (in social media)?

Expertise being the first important factor, we need to have a catalog of experts.

Networks being the second important factor, we need to have a map of the networks formed by the experts within their communities.

The good news is that social media is actually a gigantic network of networks of people with common interests (communities or tribes), in which content is exchanged, often as links, and where people interact with each other. It’s the ideal environment for spreading influence by hear-say.

Influencers make up the center of gravity of these networks.

It is worth noting that social media have allowed for the emergence of a new category of influencers, which is often called the “magic middle”. It is not a rare thing to find several thousand influencers in a given domain (such as in data, or running, just to take two examples far removed from each other). These new influencers act as middle-men in the cascade-like diffusion process of influence (ref:cs.stanford.edu/~jure/pubs/lim-icdm10.pdf).

Keep in mind that influencers need to publicize their expertise through a quasi-continuous stream of content (influencers are media), and through repeated interactions with their peers (influencers are social).

Expertise:

The world has become one of specialists. Gone are the days when an individual could have a thorough grasp of several domains at a time.

Here are important characteristics of an influencer’s expertise:

- a significant, long-term investment: An influencer needs to listen, learn, understand, and solve problems every day for several years.
– a limited number of domains of expertise: An influencer’s expertise cannot span more than one domain, occasionally two or three, most of the time on related topics.
– a dynamic approach to knowledge: Experts constantly need to update their knowledge to keep up with the fast-paced evolution of each domain of expertise. Experts are often “early adopters”.

Network:

Information sharing has now become second nature to us. It is no longer viable to try to acquire knowledge in a domain by yourself. It is much easier to do it with others. You need to share, read, write and converse with others in order to reach this goal. This collaboration is organized at first around the experts of a given domain. It constitutes the first layer of the network.

The second layer in the network is made up of the people looking to be influenced. “Influencees” are looking for influencers. They need them to gain more expertise. Conversely, influencers relish their own influence. They see it as a reward, be they moved by self-interest, or simply by a desire to share or to help further a cause they believe in. Popular bloggers in a given domain are not looking for subscribers. It works the other way around. A great deal of their worth, however, in terms of influence, is in their subscribers.

Here are important characteristics of an influencer’s network:

- topology: A measure of someone’s influence can largely be derived from the nature and the strength of their bi-directional links with other influencers. Another factor is the size of the influencer’s network and the number of times they are referenced by those they directly influence.
– investment: A relationship that is not attended to will always die. Relationships are time-consuming. In this day and age when everything seems to be just one click away, it’s easy to believe that we can maintain a relationship by simply clicking on a “follow”, “like”, or “invite” button here or there. Is it really the case, however? The easy-click strategy indeed overcomes certain real-world constraints. But a click is worth close to nothing. Value lies behind, within the relationship itself and its need for time, intellect, and even emotion.

At this point, I’d like to refer you to a post by David Armano, The six pillars of influence. I think it articulates the same concepts, in a different and possibly better way. The funny thing is that I picked the title of this post before reading his (yes, I’ve been at it for 3 weeks, devoting a mere 1% of my time to it). They are so much alike!

But let’s not forget this: “The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret.”

In practical terms, how does that work?

We will be going from theory to practice in a new series of posts, complete with examples. The implementation of our model is in constant evolution, as we take more and more markers into consideration.

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