The Cyber-Asylum: Measuring Impact of Online Influencers


The inmates are running the asylum. No, it isn't an epithet for Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but rather an acknowledgment of a tough reality for communicators: Customers - once the passive consumers of brands, products and services - now are taking charge of corporate reputations by breathing fire in cyberspace, thus burning anything that comes into their paths. Of course, communications executives have tamed the wild beasts in many contexts by using digital platforms to build relationships with elusive stakeholders, but a significant challenge remains: measuring the impact these online influencers actually have. First Things First Measuring online influencers' impact is among the most elusive capabilities for communications professionals, but before they can peg this skill, they have to know who their online influencers are in the first place. There are various strategies for doing so, including monitoring the number of comments on a blog, checking Technorati rankings and quantifying the number of links bloggers publish. Then, bookmark the Power 150 Top Marketing Blogs (http://www.toddand.com/power150/) - the list is as comprehensive as they come. (For a complete guide to identifying your online influencers, see PRN, 08-27-07.) According to Phil Gomes, VP of Edelman's me2revolution, "Your definition of 'influential' needs to change. 'Blogger' does not mean third-tier media. Your commitment to the medium must be sincere." Another way to help define your influentials is to develop a map that visually depicts various influencers/affinity groups in relation to the digital platform they use to communicate (see graphic). This gives the team a top-down view of whom they should be reaching, and it diminishes the likelihood of leaving someone out. Who, Then What Once you have determined who to look at, you have to settle on the "what" question - what are you measuring? "The first reality is that there are two completely different tasks involved in measuring social media: Measuring the effectiveness of a corporate blog, and assessing what others are saying about you," says Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners. When tracking your reputation in the blogosphere, she recommends homing in on the following criteria: Subject, tone and dominance; Depth of coverage; Positioning on key issues; Nature of the posting; and, Number of links. Eyeballs vs. Visitors vs. Authority Whether it's a blog posting or a YouTube video, the key in measuring social media is understanding the different levels of influence. Just as in traditional media, counting the number of mentions is irrelevant in quantifying the outcomes those mentions had on your brand's reputation. One challenge central to the new media measurement debate is differentiating between the number of visitors to the site as compared to the number of "eyeballs;" in other words, the number of visitors are hugely overstated. Organizations such as ComScore and Nielsen are working around this issue by using software to track consumer behavior in terms of engagement. "While it is certainly an improvement over page views, the focus of this metric is on Web sites, not blogs," Paine says. "As far as comments go, they're not even a glimmer in anyone's eye." And then there is the question of authority. You may have identified your online influencers in terms of their ability to impact audiences' options, but what is their authority over those audiences' behaviors? Technorati is an accepted tool for finding blog rankings based on number of trackbacks, links and comments, which the platform then converts into an authority ranking. But how does this long list of nearly every blog in cyberspace correlate with your niche marketplace? Good news on that front: Kineda (kineda.com) has taken the Technorati technology to the next level by letting users type in a blog URL and then spitting A-, B-, C- or D-list categorization of the blogger in question. Its system is simple (for other glimpses into the future of measuring authority, see sidebar): A-list (very high authority) = 500+ blogs linking in the last six months; B-list (high authority) = 100 - 499 links; C-list (middle authority) = 10 - 99 links; D-list = 3 - 9 links. User Beware Despite the ground gained in the new media measurement race, communications professionals must understand the limitations current tools have in delivering high-impact results. For instance, many of the measurement criteria cited above have inherent problems, as identified in the "Measuring Blogger Influence" 2007 white paper: Number of links: Could be all from one source that doesn't have any influence. Number of sites linking in: Again, this assumes that all sites have equal influence. Volume of Web traffic: Traffic in relation to what? Visitors could be important or completely irrelevant. However, while acknowledging these pitfalls, the white paper also offered a case study that speaks volumes on the power of online influencers on brand reputations (something few people doubted in the first place). For Dell, the dagger came in the form of Jeff Jarvis' blog Buzzmachine, on which he lambasted the company for a customer service meltdown. In doing so, he created a community for other dissatisfied Dell users, and analysis revealed that bloggers were turning to each other for news and commentary. So what's the take-away for communications executives? When measuring influencers' commentary, it is best to do so in the context of one "control topic" for the sake of consistency. Then, if a new issue emerges - a crisis, a product launch, etc. - you can benchmark online coverage and tone against that control. But always keep this in mind: As tends to be the case when the "inmates" take control, adaptability is key - it's hard to say what they'll come up with next. CONTACTS: Katie Paine, kdpaine@kdpaine.com; Phil Gomes, phil@philgomes.com Sites To Know (And Maybe Even Love) Clearly, there is no panacea for new media measurement, but there are a growing number of online features and services to give you a vague idea of your online influencers' impact on your brand. Keeping tabs on the following sites will give you a picture - albeit a foggy one, but a picture nonetheless - of how things are shaping up in cyberspace. (This is not a comprehensive list of every measurement vendor or provider; rather, it is a sample of the various offerings that exist to make your life a little easier - as far as measurement goes, anyway.) Technorati.com: The go-to site for blog rankings. Kineda.com: Gives a breakdown of blogger authority based on the number of links in the past six months. Marketsentinel.com: Offers services for both stakeholder analysis relative to your brand and a net promoters index, which measures how positive consumers are about your brand over time. The plus: It benchmarks these results against competing brands. Biz360.com: The vendor's Media Signal tool was used by the likes of Sun Microsystems to segment influential bloggers and track them over time to see what messages drive revenue. Alexa.com: Computes traffic rankings by analyzing the Web usage of Alexa Toolbar users. The upsides: Looks at more than just blogs and calculates traffic trend graphs. The downside: Only considers Alexa Toolbar users.

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