In a recent article, The New York Times described how Walmart, a giant retailer, is under fire from pressure groups because of “its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers”.
According to the article, Walmart has hired leading political PR experts and Edelman, a PR firm, to help them in the battle for hearts and minds.
The article also singles out two pressure groups, “Wal-Mart Watch” and “Wake Up Wal-Mart”, as being one notch more professional than the rest.
I decided to try and quantify how much influence the two groups have on the dicussion of Walmart.
To find out who influence the debate on Walmart, I downloaded what I found to be free and publicly available on the Internet that made references to Walmart. I employed some simple restrictions but ended up with just under 20.000 documents, articles and web pages. (Hereafter commonly referred to as documents).
The documents where then analysed for references. A reference is, for example, when The New York Times makes a reference to Financial Times or Walmart Watch. The reference can be a textual reference or a link.
In the documents 35,464 entities (companies, organisations, government agencies, individuals, etc.) made 494,421 such references to each other in a context relating to Walmart. After disregarding self-references and a bit of noise filtering I was left with a total 1781 entities that had some direct or indirect influence. (Hereafter referred to as stakeholders)
The results of the calculations are summarised in the Table 1 and 2.
Table 1 shows those stakeholders who were referenced by most other stakeholders. From the table we can see that The New York Times was referenced by 87 of the other 1780 stakeholders in the documents analysed.
One of the pressure groups from the New York Times article, Walmart Watch, is among the top 25 shown in Table 1. It’s number 16 (tied with Salon) and referenced by 36 of the other stakeholders. The other pressure group, Wake Up Walmart, is number 30 (Tied with Fast Company and others; 25 references) and thus just outside Table 1.
So from this measure it seems that the pressure groups have some influence, but as we shall see, things are not what they seem.
The numbers shown in Table 1 are often used as a measure of authority, but in fact the quality of the measure is not great.
There are two main reasons why this measure is not great. One is that it assumes that the sources referring are of equal weight: a mention in my dog’s blog count for as much as a mention in NY Times. Except for my dog, no one agrees with that.
The other problem is that the metric fails to measure indirect influence.
The reason why I have included it is that is a metric still use by some search engines (e.g. Technorati) as a measure of authority.
Precise measurement of influence is somewhat trickier.
In the academic world it has long been a tradition to calculate the influence of academic journals and universities based on something called citation-indexes. (See what Wikipedia writes about citation indexes).
This kind of influence measurement is based on the conjecture that if an author of an academic paper cites another academic paper as relevant to the context, then the citing author is, to some degree, influenced by the article being cited (and its author).
To put it more formally, if person A cites person B, then A’s contribution to B’s influence can be expressed as the total influence of A divided by the number of people A cite in the context.
So if A’s influence is 2 and A cite B and 3 others (4 in total) in the relevant context, then A’s contribution to B’s influence is ½ (2 divided by 4).
A’s total influence is the sum of all the contributions made in this way.
So, the more people you cite as relevant to a context, the less influence each of them has over you.
Table 2 shows the Issue Influence Index™. The metric can be directly interpreted as influence (or structural influence).
It is calculated in the same manner as the academic citation indexes described earlier and is a very precise measure of influence because it does not treat every one as equally influential and it takes indirect influence into account.
The Issue Influence Index™ is linear (ranging from 1 and upwards) so a metric of 4 can be interpreted as “twice the influence” as 2.
Table 2 shows that Walmart is the most influential when it comes to the topic if Walmart with New York Times and Yahoo as close seconds.
As number 3 and 4 on the list we find Walmart Watch and Wake Up Walmart; the two pressure groups whose influence we set out to determine. We can see that they have about the same influence (each of them) as Reuters.
In conclusion we can see that the two pressure groups whose influence we set out to investigate have substantially more influence than their number of citations would initially lead to believe.
For more information on measuring influence, see our White Paper.