Now that access to the high-speed Internet and free social media publishing tools are widespread, everyone can create their own content and have a voice about topics they love. The ability to create powerful content that moves through an audience is a legitimate source of influence on the web, and something that just could have happened now. Influence has been democratized!
Companies like Klout, Kred, PeerIndex, and Appinions are tapping into this powerful new trend and attempting to quantify this new source of influence — not ALL influence, but a very small, important sliver of it — Can people effectively create content that moves through the Internet and elicit a reaction (like a RT, a comment, or opening a link). This is another way of saying, “Who creates buzz?”
While assigning influence to celebrities and sports stars has been common for decades (E scores and Q scores), assigning some measure of word-of-mouth power to the masses opens up some revolutionary possibilities. As I describe in my book Return On Influence, these social scoring systems are still in the silent movie stages but the trend is significant and rapidly moving ahead.
This begs the question … Now what? What do we do with these influencers once we’ve found them? Where is the social scoring trend heading? Here are six developments to watch for in the next phase of this fascinating marketing trend:
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1. Moving out of the lab
I recently met with Azeem Azhar, the very bright and ambitious founder of PeerIndex and he noted that in 2012, social influence marketing and outreach programs are moving out of the “experimental stage” and into mainstream marketing budgets.
Frankly some of the early marketing efforts have stumbled out of the gate but companies are finding many creative ways to incorporate these algorithms in ways that find new customers and reward passionate brand advocates. This is being recognized as an entirely fresh marketing channel that will require its own research, measurement, and best practices.
2. Moving into the streets
One of the most significant development in this field in the past few months is Klout’s introduction of a mobile application. The current version is crude, but it is the first step toward making influence rewards ubiquitous.
Eventually apps like this will be able to push alerts to you when you are near any business that is interested in connecting with you and your power of personal influence. So, you can walk off a plane and receive deals, upgrades and special perks wherever you are — no check-ins, no emails, no need to opt-in to a deal.
So far, these “perk” programs have usually been limited to national companies and brands but this innovation will open the floodgate for small and local businesses.
3. Developing the channel
One of the healthiest developments is the number of blog posts I have been seeing that move the conversation from “is social influence real?” to “how do we develop this as a competency?”
Jay Baer recently pushed the discussion forward by challenging readers to better define influencers versus advocates. Chris Brogan wrote an interesting post from the influencer’s viewpoint of advocacy versus selling out. Appinions just released a report called “Why reaching out to Mommy Bloggers is a Broken Model” which is a sign that this conversation is moving forward beyond blanket mailings to anyone on an influencer list.
Now that we have found these influencers, what do we do about it? What new skills and techniques do we use to connect and nurture these powerful word of mouth influencers without being annoying? We need to recognize that even passionate advocates may not know how to best support your cause. How do we teach them to ignite our content? And how do we define influencers, advocates and friends and how do we relate to them differently?
4. Connecting online conversations to offline buying behavior
Many critics contend that online influence does not necessarily translate to offline buying behavior — but these dots are being connected very quickly. In fact, it’s already happening.
Smart phones are going to auto-publish content to your Facebook timeline and other platforms — where we are shopping, what we are listening to, what we are viewing. So it’s a simple matter of connecting your conversations with influencers to these actions.
For example, let’s say you love to post about your favorite music. These algorithms will be able to pick up when your friends add music purchases to their timeline that correspond to your recommendations. More and more search results are including recommendations from your friends, which will also support connections between online and offline behaviors. Over time, an actual dollar value will be assigned to your “influence power.”
5. Influence in context
Social scoring is rapidly moving beyond the Twitter-centric days of just a year ago. For example, Appinions, is leveraging 10 years of Cornell University research to plow through 4.5 million content sources for influencer clues. Instead of just tallying “mentions,” Appinions is using unique semantic software to put the influence data in the context of positive and negative sentiment. This is a sign of the future of social influence marketing — broad capabilities, powerful data-mining, specific market insight.
6. Internal uses of social influence measures
Nearly every social media pundit at sometime or another has pontificated about “the social business” that unleashes employee power in a way that creates many individual beacons shining for the company or brand. If they’re serious about this, why not use these social scoring measures to benchmark the efforts?
I recently wrote about a global consulting company using Kred scores to determine which employees are most effectively representing the company on the web. The results were surprising! Salesforce.com is also identifying and rewarding their “Chatterati” — employees who are the most helpful online influencers, regardless of their title or job role. This is really an enlightened and promising view of the emerging importance and recognition of online influence.
Those are a few tends on my radar screen. What are you seeing out there? Are you exploring practical applications of social influence and influencer outreach?