The Elements of Influence
Many current discussions of online or social influence are focused on the “how” of measuring influence, exploring how the ever expanding wealth of digital data sources can be mashed-up to provide accurate estimates of a person’s ability to persuade others. These are valuable discussions for our current position on the social intelligence technology curve, and large investments are being placed behind efforts to program a better influence calculation.
The smart money in this race (or more likely slow climb) to accurately measure influence in order to better drive business results surely recognizes that “influence” cannot be measured on a single, universal scale.
In my understanding, influence consists of five elements; an agent, a source, context, a subject, and an objective. In any example of influence, an agent seeks to leverage a source of influence in context to direct a target toward an objective.
Any of these five elements can shape the level of influence. The President of the United States would be generally considered a person of great influence in conventional terms; an influential agent. However, if that President has had stagnant or falling poll numbers and very vocal detractors, the source of their influence (the support of a majority) will be eroded. Then, if the target of a Democratic President’s attempted influence is a largely Republican House, the expected influence might wane further. The expected influence would wane even further if the objective the President sought to influence was to expand government’s role in Medicare. But then, if a Republican candidate has just lost a special election that centered around Medicare, that context might help to restore some influence to the President’s position on this particular topic.
There is no such thing as “general” influence, for the President of the United States or for anyone else. The best methods for accurately determining or estimating influence will not be algebraic, they will require calculus which incorporates fluctuating variables across the five elements of influence.
Marketers, the objective you seek is clear; increase market share and revenues. Your targets should be already segmented. If you wish to leverage influencer marketing to pursue your objective with these targets, please ensure that your understanding of influence considers the sources of influence (i.e. expertise/credibility, affinity/liking, power) that will or won’t provide your agents (self, advocates) with influence over distinct targets within specific contexts (competitive/market, economic, cultural)
There are certainly general qualities of influence; a larger than average network/reach, a power over targets or shared affinity with targets (see Machiavelli’s ‘feared vs. loved’ question), and an ability to provide value. There are currently some data points that indicate these qualities; specifically social network counts, levels of engagement and aggregation (likes, comments, mentions, listings).
For more accurate measures of influence, these general points of measurement must always be considered in context. What creates an influencer for any specific marketing objective will vary by market, by product category, by country, by sub-culture, and will be shaped by current perceptions of the brands versus competitors, consumer sentiment, and multiple other factors. There are currently no apps that I know of (comments welcome) that incorporate a full range of variables for all five elements of influence defined here, but I believe they are coming. (I also believe that over time, much of the insight they will use will be willingly shared by consumers with marketers within a semantic web as opposed to being mined from the splinternet.) Until then (and actually, even then), effective strategy will result from merging what can be quantified from social data with other qualitative and quantitative measures that allow an understanding the conditions that shape your business, the motivations of the people you wish to reach, and the ways in which these interact. (As noted in a prior post, Tesco and Walmart are leading the way in giving this a try).