When Monitoring Is Not Enough

Gary Lee

Situation Analysis: Right now, somebody you’ve never heard of—quite possibly someone who has never published anything and has no real mainstream “influence”—is influencing your market, perhaps your brand and maybe even your customers’ buying decisions. This influencer may not have a million Facebook friends or Twitter followers, may not get a byline in The New York Times. In fact, he or she may not even have so much as her own blog domain. Yet this influencer is talking on Facebook or Twitter (or somewhere), and people in your market—people you care about—are listening.

How do you know how important this person is? How do you know what to do? Do you engage with this person? Seek a briefing? Ignore them?

PR used to be a lot easier. It used to be about courting the journalists whose beats aligned with your stories, building a relationship with them and working the editorial calendar cycles to pitch stories and be available for comment on breaking news.

Now, however, as we’re being more diligent about monitoring conversations across social networks, people we’ve never even heard of are commenting and posting on our Facebook pages and those of our competitors. They are tweeting about our company and products. They are blogging and making comments. And those of us in PR are left wondering who these people are and—perhaps more importantly—how influential they are to our market, so we can do some triage and gauge our response.

To answer those questions, some folks are relying more and more on new influencer identification scores—scores that go up and down daily and assign a single number to social network users based on how often they tweet and how large their follower base is. These “raw influence” numbers measure some level of potential influence generically, and in theory offer a glimpse into how influential a person is in one’s market.

The use of these generic influence numbers in PR and marketing may, however, prove troublesome.

In PR, there is just no such thing as the generic super-journalist—the one that every single market listens to and reads, who covers every community, market and topic area. Similarly, there is no voice on Facebook or Twitter that is all-encompassing and therefore can have a single influence score that predicts that voice’s ability to influence all markets. Simply put, measuring influence generically does not really allow you to find the people that matter the most to your market.

Just as a good PR practitioner would only pitch a journalist after really understanding the topics he or she covers, it’s critical to also look deeper into who the people talking about you or your brand on social networks really are. Are they really influencers in your market? Is the market listening to them?

To uncover who these people are and begin to measure their influence specific to your market, it’s important to understand:

  1. How often are they topically relevant to my company, brand and market? Just like a reviewing the work of a print journalist, looking through someone’s posts on social networks is a good way to get a feel for how often they write on the topics that matter to your market.

  2. How large is their network? Do they have 2 followers or 2 million? While this is not the sole measure of influence, it is one factor used in understanding their place in the conversations ongoing on the Internet.

  3. When they post, what happens? Do other people retweet their tweets? Do others like their Facebook posts? Comment on their voice? Quote them elsewhere? This ability to look at someone’s authority is also critical.

These three core areas allow you to look at each person through the lens of your market, and see if they really have an influential voice within your market or not. In a world where potentially 2 billion voices are all talking on the Web at once, you have to have some methods to measure influence in the communities and markets important to you. The three core areas are a great place to start the process.

Gary Lee is CEO of mBLAST, Inc. Don't miss him at PR News' Aug. 9 Facebook Conference in San Francisco, where he will speak on the session "How to Identify and Monitor the Right Influencers." Gary can be reached at GLee@mBLAST.com.