Measuring influence online

People talk about your brand everywhere online. A search in Google would find hundreds if not thousands of places where people are talking about or commenting on your brand. You could be mistaken for thinking that the rise of social media has led to people being exposed to more discussions about your brand that you don’t control. And you might think this is dangerous and get concerned about each of those hundreds or thousands of discussions.

But the mistake in this analysis is to assume that every discussion is equal. They’re not. A blog that criticises your brand but is read by hardly anybody is of very little importance to you. In fact the majority of discussions about your brand will each only have a very small audience. You don’t need to occupy yourself with them all, but rather with those which are repeatedly discussing you, or those that have significant influence.

This raises the question of how you measure influence. Aside from a very small number of well read bloggers, it is difficult at first glance to identify how influential somebody is online. You could look at how many posts they’ve made on a forum – but if nobody is reading them then that’s not a great measure.

Of more use is to measure the network effect that an individual has. How many forums or blogs are they active on and how many people read their posts on these sites? How many social networks are they a member of and how many friends do they have there?

These measures are much more useful when it comes to measuring influence – if somebody posts something about your brand how many different people will see it and how much will they trust the poster?

To some extent these measures can be made into a simple formula. Take each social network that somebody is a member of and give it a weighting for importance – so one that is more specific to your brand or product might be weighted more than a generic social network. So, taking a brand that sells baby products, a social network specifically for mums might be weighted twice as heavily as a Facebook. You can then multiply this number by the number of contacts you have on each site to get a measure of influence by site. And sum them to get a measure for the poster overall.

For example, Poster A has 100 friends on a Mum’s site (weighted 2) and 350 friends on Facebook (weighted 1) would have a total influence measure of 550. Compare this with Poster B, with 150 friends on a Mum’s site but only 70 friends on Facebook. Their influence measure would be 370.

So Poster A is about half as influential again as Poster B.

This is a good basis for a measure of influence and a way of finding the people you need to track and engage online. The problem at the moment is that the data needed to make this formula work isn’t readily available. Back to the drawing board maybe.