The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.
Jun 20, 2011

As creatures of habit, we needn’t look too far to find examples on how much we resist change. We once:

  • called automobiles horseless carriages
  • called refrigerators iceboxes
  • and we still call the act of capturing moving pictures “filming” or “videotaping–” even though we’ve eliminated film and magnetic tape from all of our solid state recording devices.

And if these examples don’t prove how unimaginative we are in naming new things, just look at the lengths that we go through to avoid using them.

Take public relations for example. Today’s PR firms who define their role solely in terms of earning media attention are simply retracing the footsteps of those whom we now look back upon and chuckle. They’re stuck in a rut. Just as the old saying goes: “If all you have is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail,” myopic PR firms can only see social media as yet another way to place their client’s messages in front of yet another audience. They fall in love with social media guy and his 100,000 Twitter followers. They gush over social media gal and her 50,000 blog subscribers. Yet, after lackluster “campaign” results (meaning their media alerts or press releases weren’t tweeted or blogged about sufficiently) the firms come to one of two conclusions: either social media doesn’t work or there’s something more to it than the summation of readership numbers.

Those who conclude the latter soon stumble upon the oft-used buzzword, influencers. “We need to get your brand message in front of influencers,” they’ll say, before turning to services like Klout to help find them. Klout calculates someone’s influence based on a collection of metrics that includes audience, channels, and the propensity for people to share that influencer’s content. Klout does a great job of creating comparative indices for successful online content creators, yet it doesn’t identify those who are most influential on topics that your customers care about. Specifically, Klout can’t help identify nichefluencers, those whose opinions are respected by specifically the people who care about your products and services. Think about it. Even though Guy Kawasaki has a Klout score of 85, Ashton Kutcher an 84, the New York Times an 86, and the Wall Street Journal an 82, what do these numbers mean to a company that is trying to sell synchronous demodulators to users of rotary variable differential transformers?

A company called Traackr is attempting to solve that problem. Based on a premise that influence is more complicated, the company is also studying who’s responsible for delivering content to the audience that your company cares about. Traackr’s mission is to help companies “…find the influencers who matter most to you.”

Both companies, Klout and Traackr, illuminate pathways to online influencers. Both can assist PR firms to earn influential media. But herein lies the rub. Considering all of the ways we gather information today, can  these services always identify the most influential people in our respective industries?

What about those who share their valued opinions using private networks such as:

  • telephone
  • email
  • text messaging on their mobile phone
  • instant message on a social network

What about those who share their expertise through semi-private networks such as:

  • A Facebook account with its privacy parameters set conservatively
  • A Twitter user who listens more than tweets
  • or in-person events (family gatherings, the golf course, church, the daily train or bus ride).

It’s likely that the most influential people in your industry are hidden behind their private and semiprivate personal networks. But before jumping to the conclusion that invisible nichefluencers are irrelevant, let’s consider how well they’re respected. Have you ever asked a friend for an opinion on an upcoming purchase? Did they send you a link to more information? Was this this conversation available to search engines, Klout, or Traackr? If not, you’ve identified your own invisible nichefluencer.

The past has taught us to not define today’s games by yesterday’s rules. So, in addition to the traditional methods of earning access to other people’s audiences, companies must also build their own.  Audience-building starts with publishing great content that appeals to niche of audiences, where it’ll be found and subsequently shared by nichefluencers–both visible and not. If done correctly, your company will increase it’s own Klout score and Traackr ratings.

Which brings up a very interesting twist on the technologies:

How would your communications activities change if your company earned a higher influence score than its most influential influencer?

Filed under: Audience is an Asset


Really enjoyed the post, Ron. Thanks for the mention! Love the “nichefluencers” – might have to use that term.

In regards to the off-line influence topic – you’re completely right. There is really no scalable way to include this type of influence via computer, so it’s really up to the professionals to gauge this. One important feature that we included on our tool is the ability to customize your A-list (what we call the product that delivers the influencers). With this feature you can add people to the list, so if you’ve been able to identify influencers who are much more active off-line you can add them to ensure you’re monitoring and engaging with them as well as the online influencers that are much more easily identified through algorithms like ours.

Interesting question you closed out the post with as well. With Traackr you’ll never have a company identified as an influencer because we believe that people are what influence – not URLs or large companies. Something to think about…

June 22, 2011

Good post, Ron.  Especially the close.

Mike Kilroy
June 28, 2011

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