Influencer identification and tracking tool Traackr didn’t feature in our social media influencers report so we thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with Traackr’s CEO and Co-founder, Pierre-Loïc Assayag, about the tool and, more generally, the value of social media influencers to brands and businesses…

So Pierre, to kick things off, what do you feel is the most accurate definition of an influencer?

All of us are influencers and have been for a long time. What’s different is how we define influence in this new online information age.

For me, an influencer is a person who has a disproportionate influence on others – the influence they exert on others is greater than the influence others have on them. Influencers cause a voluntary change to someones behaviour.

There is no “trick” to influence and the best influencers are open and upfront in the way they engage their audience; if brands don’t interact with influencers in the same way they will fail to engage.

Do you think influencers are valuable to brands and businesses?

In short – yes. Our client, Honda UK , used our tool to identify and engage with influencers to launch their first hybrid car, the Honda Insight.

Honda originally set out to engage with influential people in the motor industry space. However, Traackr helped them discover that only half their influencers existed in the motor industry space; the other half where people who were interested in environmental issues surrounding cars and hybrid vehicles.

At first Honda engaged with both sets of influencers in the same way – by treating them like journalists and focusing on the PR side of things. They were offered free rides, VIP treatment etc. While this worked for the motor enthusiasts, this did not appeal to the environmental influencers. So Honda reached out to these people and appealed to their interest in the environmental impact of cars in general not the launch of the Honda Insight per se. Honda gave their environmental influencers direct access to their research team in order to discuss long-term environmental plans for Honda.

By learning to talk to different influencers in different ways, Honda managed to develop a long term relationship with their influencers. What’s more, Traackr’s reports showed that mentions of ‘Honda Insight’ among the top influencers increased by 300% and estimated coverage increased by 675% as a result of Honda’s influencer engagement.

But why is this story valuable to brands? Brands need to play inside an influencer’s story and must show flexibility with their marketing efforts in order to succeed with influencer engagement. From a brand and business perspective influencers are much more valuable than just for marketing and PR: influencer discovery can be used in recruiting/HR, Politics, research, etc…

What do you think is the most accurate way of identifying influencers?

There’s no tool out there (including us) that can identify the top influencers with 100% accuracy. Influence is such a rich concept that I don’t believe we’ll be able to truly do is with 100% technology and 0% human input. Influencer identification is always going to be a mix between a skilled user, a meaningful, relevant search string and good technology.

With that caveat, Traackr’s influencer platform allows you to locate, qualify and track online influencers within any market, conversation or topic in real-time. The tool covers all platforms (ie, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc) and our authority score (our measure of influence) identifies individuals wherever they publish online and ranks their influence in a specific conversation based on our proprietary scoring engine.

Traackr uses 3 scores to measure influence:

  • Reach – We measure the size of an audience across various data points and platforms. Influence is fluid and so we measure continuously over time as someone that got 7,000 hits to their blog 1 year ago may only get 7 today.
  • Resonance – this looks at the number link backs, retweets, comments etc. The tool looks for signs that a person can engage users around their content. We also include things like ratings and reviews on Amazon, Facebook likes, and YouTube comments and favourites.
  • Relevance – I love my brother very much and he does influence my life but not when it comes to financial advice!! Influence is highly contextual and identifying influencers that are relevant to your needs, market, sector, focus or whatever is vital for success. We use keywords and search strings to help measure relevance over time.

We’re going to be adding in 2 new scoring systems during Q2 of 2010. One will be based called “Relationships” and will be based on the social graph – it basically looks at who your connections are, how tightly you connected to them or whether your connections are influencers themselves. We’ll also be looking at a “Reputation” score and how people are percieved online by other people.

So why do you believe that Traackr is an effective tool for identifying influencers?

Traackr has been built solely to identify influencers. And our algorithms and measurements are so much more than just a popularity contest – context and relevance are quintessential to everything about Traackr.

The other difference is that we track a person not a platform. We follow the breadcrumb of a user across platform different platform types. Even if a person uses different names on different platform our search engine has been programmed to not only look at user name but also real name, keywords, location etc. However if a person is trying to keep certain channels separate or anonymous, Traackr won’t force the channel reconciliation as it’s usually a sign that the person doesn’t want brands to reach out to them on their personal channels.

We also use human validation if we find 2 channels that may or may not be from the same person. This process has been conducted internally at Traackr so far and will be opened to our user base in our next release next week.