The magnitude and reach of social media conversations can make analytics overwhelming, complex and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be.
Instead of trying to analyze every person’s posts, in every community, on every media channel, focus your measurement on the influential but mighty few.
Evaluating influencers is not only more effective than tracking the universe of social media, but also less time-consuming and less costly.
Influencers are those coveted people who have the reputation and power of persuasion to sway others with their opinions. They represent opportunities to shape perceptions about your corporate and brand reputation, along with your products and solutions.
This approach underlines the old saying, “It’s quality, not quantity that counts.” Often phrases become adages for a reason—they remain true over time.
Finding All The Right People In All The Right Places
Pitching quality influencers has long been in the PR toolkit. A major tenet of media relations always has been to target influential print and broadcast journalists, analysts, newsmakers, subject-matter experts, academics and other thought leaders. So it’s not surprising that the same best practice applies to the additional influencers in social media.
But first, you have to find them.
Start with research to learn where your key audiences are engaging in social media. If you already know this, you are one step ahead.
Next, determine who are the influencers leading conversations about your key topics in these channels. Analyze competitive brands to determine their influencers and the subjects discussed. Not surprisingly, areas of expertise are more important than demographics or geographies in social media.
Keep in mind that influence is more than the size of someone’s social footprint. The subjects of conversation and the frequency and engagement of those discussions also factor into the identification process. Finding influencers who have the most significant voice, and are passionate about your brand or your industry, is ideal.
There are many tools that can help you: identification tools such as Traackr and Appinions, or listening platforms such as Brandwatch, NetBase, Radian6, Sysomos, Visible Technologies and Zignal, to name a few.
Harnessing The Power Of Influencers
Once you’ve identified influencers, the next step is to get to know them. There are some key steps to take.
1. Listen to Their Conversations: Don’t just jump in and pitch. Spend time observing their opinions about topics that are important to them.
2. Participate in Discussions: Share your views on their topics before telling them about the topics that are important to you.
3. Reply: Engage with people who talk about those subjects.
4. Share: A huge part of social media is spreading content to others [see the book Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green]. Share influencers’ relevant content with your audiences.
One way to approach initial engagement with influencers is to act in the same way that you do with strangers at a networking event. When you see an animated group of people whom you don’t know but would like to, you proceed with caution. You usually avoid jumping right into the conversation and giving your opinion. You wait, listen and eventually provide anecdotes and insight. The same holds true for influencer engagement.
Or think of social media as a corporate cocktail party. Your influential guests will stay only if the conversation is valuable and interesting.
Analyzing Influencer Conversations
At the same time you are building rapport with these influencers, conduct a media analysis of their conversations, and use the baseline findings as a benchmark to measure results over time.
After you have cultivated strong relationships, it’s time to evaluate their social conversations again. Develop a measurement program to capture what they are saying about your company, your brand and its products, in addition to their opinions about your competitors.
Create a consistent plan of monthly measurement, so you can analyze results and outcomes, and use these findings to adjust your messages, craft content, refine your strategies and engage further with them.
An ongoing influencer measurement program follows the same ten steps as any other measurement program [please see my column of October 26, 2015]. The only difference is that you are analyzing a smaller group of influencers instead of what could be an overwhelming and complicated universe of social media conversations.
Influencer analysis provides a strategic road map to the media landscape, but beware, directions might change frequently. New influencers enter the scene, existing influencers move in other directions and topics of interest shift. Ongoing measurement helps you stay current with these changes; you also should update your influencer lists every quarter, if not more often.
In summary, the volume of posts and tweets to measure and analyze need not be complex, time-consuming or overwhelming. A successful solution is to measure the impact of your social media effort with the few but mighty influencers in your industry.
CONTACT: In addition to her position at Hill & Knowlton Strategies, Margot Savell is N. America Co-chair, International Association For The Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the December 7, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.