Influencer programs, influencer marketing, influencer outreach… with influencers increasingly providing the gateway to consumers and decision makers, more and more marketing and communications activity is focused on the notion of influencers and influence. But what exactly is influence? And how can marketing and communications professionals identify their key influencers in order to build effective influencer engagement programs?

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Know the score

There are a number of methodologies out there for calculating influence online, such as Klout, Kred or PeerIndex, each of which give people an influence “score”. While an individual’s score can be a quick and useful way of gauging their propensity to influence, there is no real way of knowing how this translates into achieving the objectives of your influencer program – whether this be increasing sales or changing brand perception, through to more tactical wins such as driving earned media attention through link-sharing, propagating key messages and increasing brand awareness.

Socialization vs. Actual Influence

The key to successful influencer engagement comes down to whether your influencers are actually changing the behaviour or actions of your target audience as opposed to simply re-publishing content on the Internet. This is the acid test of how you can differentiate between who is an influencer and who is a key influencer.

See the Influencer vs. Key Influencer diagram below for a breakdown of how engaging with key influencers can have a much greater impact on your earned media attention. There are also some great articles which we recommend you read by MetricsMan and Philip Sheldrake which address this in more detail.

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Influencer Identification

This stage is crucial – if you target the wrong or sub-optimal influencers you are not likely to achieve your desired outcome.

What is interesting about the market at the moment is that, even when industry minds come together and create these ethereal definitions of influence, many brands still default to more crude measures of influence.

A Multi-faceted Approach

There are many approaches to identifying potential ‘key influencers’. While we don’t necessarily agree with them all, they are free and so accept that brands will continue to use them until the market matures or the methods improve.

Social Scores:

  • People with high social scores (number of followers, unique visitors, re-tweets, link sharing etc.) who have shown an interest in the topic, market or brand
  • High Profile people such as celebrities who typically have a large Twitter following

Stakeholder Network Analysis:

  • Stakeholders who are well connected to other stakeholders (topic agnostic)
  • Stakeholders who are well connected to other stakeholders within the context of a specific topic
  • Stakeholders who are key ‘Connectors’ between different stakeholder groups (for example, the tech and education sectors)

One of the ways in which we believe the propensity to influence should be measured online is to assess an individual’s potential to drive earned media attention beyond their primary network of connections. This measure identifies which influencers have the largest networks and are therefore likely to exert more influence than others.

A key influencer could be linked to by several high profile bloggers, whose content is then picked up by prime news media and then shared within many forums, communities and social bookmarking sites thus driving up the number of impressions and reach of the original key influencer’s content. On the other hand, an influencer with a high social media score may garner a lot of attention for their content amongst their Twitter following, but their networks may not extend deep enough to drive the kind of earned media attention you should expect from your influencer engagement activities.

Influencers vs. Key Influencers, and their impact on earned media attention:

The credibility of each approach can be debated ad infinitum but the real challenge comes with how to manage influencer engagement at scale.

If one person could engage with 2000 influencers per day, then would it matter if 10 of the influencers had a high social score but weren’t as influential as your top 200? The challenge with online engagement therefore becomes a question of time and money, and how to integrate influencer engagement with your day-to-day priorities.

Measure what matters

When running influencer programs it is less important to determine how influential someone is to a number than it is to determine whether they are influential enough to engage with or not.

The key then is to set out credible measures of success which are linked to your desired outcomes, and start to understand which activities and which influencers are making a real difference.

Get in touch with us if you’d find out more about how to identify your key influencers, measure the right outcomes and run influencer programs at scale, or take a look at our step-by-step guide to creating an influencer program if you’d like some more tips on the subject.

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