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Understanding Influencer Marketing and Tracking Social Media

Jason A. Metz, one of the pioneers of Influencer Marketing and founder of Brand Influencers in New York believes Mercedes is a brand that is getting its social media influencing right. It may not come as a surprise, but this well-known luxury car manufacturer has far more fans than it has people buying its cars, and potential punters talking about your product carries weight. This is of course especially true when your company has influential advocates like Kelly Brook, Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe and Sarah Jessica Parker behind it.  Mercedes can’t go that far wrong.

Social media and the internet turn ordinary individuals who command niche specific knowledge into influencers. In the past, we may instinctively have turned to our mate Dave when we had a problem with our car; now Dave could well be online sharing his extensive expertise with a worldwide following of loyal fans. If you know what you’re talking about, chances are somebody will want to listen to you. The difficulty for marketers is wading through the vast volumes of online noise to understand who really knows that they’re talking about and who is influential.

Overview of influencer marketing

In September 2010 HP Labs’ Social Computing Lab, released research on the nature of user influence on social media networks such as Twitter. Based on the analysis of 22 million tweets, Dr. Bernardo A. Huberman, devised a measure of calculating the influence of individual users on the social media network.  Over the last couple of years this technique has become particularly important to marketers. Now it is not enough to just measure how many people are talking about your brand, but also who they are, and how much they ‘influence’.

The problem is there are hundreds of sites online which track social media and they all work in different ways. This makes it really frustrating finding out which site is best to use, and understanding what the results mean. I have been through loads of trial and error over the years, attempting different options and never being fully satisfied by the results.  The difficulty is most sites monitor information in different ways: some attempt to count social mentions (this can be achieved by a number of different methods); others monitor mentions by ‘influence’ (again, this can be achieved by a variety of different methods); whilst others attempt a hybrid of the two. This means the results from all sources end up skewed in one particular direction, and no one site gives exactly the same answer.

Measuring social activity

As IDG Connect is a publisher, we tend to be interested in how a specific topic or theme resonates with our audience.  This means we’re interested in the granular level of interaction. However, when we’re looking for re-Tweets on a specific topic or article, the numbers supplied by different sites will vary enormously. This is incredibly frustrating and it is not always easy to tell which sites are most trust worthy. Here is an example:

On 8th August we published an article on opportunities in Uganda on our main IT website. The social activity was recorded as follows:

  • Icons on the site recorded 2 Tweets, 2 Shares and 5 Facebook likes and no Google + activity
  • recorded 3 Tweets for the full non-shortened link
  • Hootsuite registered 10 clicks for its shortened link distributed by Twitter
  • Social Mention revealed no activity
  • Google Analytics recorded a 4-part Google + conversation
  • Topsy showed 17 re-Tweets for one link; 2 for another and flagged one user as influential

This means anyone wishing to use free social monitoring tools needs to be aware of the limitations of the tools available. Here are my thoughts:
We generally use to shorten links. This supplies an overview of what is going on in the social universe and provides a nice breakdown of visits by country.  Overall, you can never fully trust this site; the numbers never quite add up. However, it is very reliable for Tweets using one of its shortened links because it operates at the truly granular level of link shortening.

We have found this platform to be better than any of its rivals. It is fantastic for organising social media and scheduling Tweets. The system even generates a rather nice report with country information that can be pulled out and turned into a PDF. However, whilst this provides good granular insight into how users are specifically interacting with the links it does not offer any intelligence into how content is performing generally.

Social Mention
Tagged as “real-time social media search and analysis”, I used to really like this site because it shows information that other sites don’t appear to track. However, the emphasis is very clearly on multi-media content. YouTube videos will always come out top of the listing, even if they are not especially recent.  It is always worth checking, as it paints a different picture of the social landscape, but the summary is incomplete.

Google analytics
Google analytics is clearly a daily tool for anyone in marketing. There is a lot you can do with this on so many levels that I won’t go into here. Not surprisingly though, the social conversations do appear to be weighted towards Google +. The benefit of this is it shows interactions that are not registered elsewhere.

Overall, I’ve come to prefer Topsy; this is because it records more re-Tweets than other sites and lists them by conversation. It also flags influential people by their follower/ following stats.  This site offers a nice hybrid between counting Tweets and providing granular influencer analysis.  The downside is, like everywhere else, some information that shows up elsewhere doesn’t appear.

Measuring social influence

Klout is a site that has received a lot of press attention over the last year or so. This began in earnest when Audi said it would begin offering promotions to Facebook users based on their Klout score. Unfortunately, the nature of influence is difficult to quantify. One recurring Klout complaint is that Justin Bieber was the only person who managed a perfect score of 100 – higher than Barrack Obama.

Changes made to Klout a couple of weeks ago are meant to rectify this, although the real lesson is that influencer scoring is still very much in its infancy.  On 22nd August, The Next Web contained a fairly heated argument about the value of algorithms on these sites, concluding that whilst these things are not ideal at present; this is an area which will have massive value in five years time.

The other site in this arena is PeerIndex, which works in the same way, grading your influence out of 100. In my opinion, Klout is probably the more useful of the two as it seems to offer the more value though both sites feel a little empty.  It seems more like something to show the boss, rather than actual use to improve. This said, some features are fairly useful. For example the option to compare your brand against another does provide a top line overview of what is going on in the social universe. Most importantly though, these sites are worth keeping an eye on as they are all changing so quickly that who knows how much they will improve over the next 12 months.

Influencer marketing is set to become more and more important over the coming years. There are numerous tools online to track social reach and engagement, but none are perfect. This means there is no really quick short cut to doing this properly. If you want to get a true picture of the social landscape you will have to use a variety of different sources and cross-reference them against each other. What tools are you currently using?

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