If you follow the procedures described in the above articles, you should be able to find the most powerful and relevant influencers. However, finding the influencers will only get you so far, because eventually your target has to make the final decision. This post examines the last two factors that affect a target’s likelihood to be influenced (e.g. where are they located and who do they trust most).
Alignment: Locate Your Targets
Last time, I showed you how to process social graph data so that the subsequent social network analysis can extract the most relevant influencer to your target. This requires that your influencer and target to be on the same social network. However, the target is a very large and heterogeneous group, so that some of your targets may not be on the same social media channels as your influencers. I call this misalignment (following the basic model that I presented in part 1 of this miniseries). Moreover, individual targets often use multiple channels, and their preferred channels may not be totally aligned with your influencers. With the long tail economy of the internet and so many different choices of social channels, it is likely that even though the largest group of targets are aligned with your influencers, the smaller misaligned groups may still sum up to a very substantial amount.
So it is important to know where your targets are. But traditional demographic data of your target audience is insufficient because it does not tell you what channels your targets use. Fortunately, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li at Forrester Research have created the Social Technographic Profile, which translates your standard demographic data into the social technographic data. Although it does not give you the precise channels where your targets dwell, it tells you how your targets use social technologies.
This is often sufficient, at least as a starting point, to infer where your targets spend most of their time. For example, if most of your targets are spectators, they are probably passive members of a community and the blogosphere. If they are joiners, they are probably on Facebook and Twitter. If your targets are collectors, they probably spend a lot of time on digg and delicious. If they are critics, they probably spend much time on review sites, like Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. Finally if they are creators, then they are probably active members of a community, the blogosphere, YouTube, Flickr, or other content sharing sites.
If we achieved channel alignment and have powerful and relevant influencers, then the last mile of social influence is the targets’ confidence. Confidence is the factor that is ultimately going to tip the balance and convert your target. So the important question is who and what do your targets trust? In terms of social media influence, there are three sources that are worth mentioning.
People Trust Friends: Data from many research labs have shown that by far the most trusted sources of information are friends and peers. Most of these are people who are directly connected to the target on a social graph. This is precisely the reason why marketers are interested in social networks and the social graph data. But in order to leverage these data properly, marketers must process these data in ways that give high temporal relevance and content relevance (see part 3 of this miniseries).
People Trust Known Authority: Next, people also tend to trust authority figures they already know. These are usually reputable individuals in a very niche domain. However, they are usually unknown to outsiders, so they can only be identified through a domain specific social graph. Since the target as a group often consists of very diverse individuals with very different interests, finding authority figures in each and every interest group is not practical. Therefore, even though authority figures are the next most trusted source of information, the market has not figured out how to leverage this fact yet.
People Trust Social Proof: Social proof is actually a combination of two factors. (a) Independent sources. (b) Many of them. People will trust voices of strangers if they are independent third parties, and there are many of them giving a consistent message. Now, don’t be tempted to release any fabricated reviews or stories. First, it will not work. You cannot possibly keep up with the overwhelming voices of the crowd that is out there speaking the truth. Second, people will find out. If you know anything about crowdsourcing, you will know that the crowd is usually very smart and very efficient. Because it only takes one out of possibly millions of user to spot the wolf among the sheep, you can very easily squander all of the good will you have built up. Third, it is not worth it, because the cost of repairing your good will is far greater than the benefit you can reap from the temporary confidence of your target.
The Final Touch Up
Now that we know how to locate the targets and we also know a bit more about whom they trust, how can we leverage this information? Clearly, if you already have a list of influencers and list of targets, you want to match the target with the influencer that has the greatest potential of influence. And these are either people that are close to the target on the friendship social graph or known authority figures for your target. Another simple way to align your influencers with the targets is by promoting your influencers, so they become more visible to your targets across different channels. This will also boost your targets’ confidence by enhancing the effect of social proof. Moreover, if you have enough influencers, the network effect of their influence will amplify and spread.
You can be creative in promoting your influencers, but this must be done with great care. If your target feels that the influencer somehow has a vested interest in promoting a point of view and that he is no longer an independent third party, the influencer’s credibility will be greatly discounted.
A simple way to promote your influencer is to make his credibility (e.g. his reciprocity data or reputation data) visible to your target. You can also help your influencers in a subtle ways that make their content more searchable, and therefore more influential. For example, tagging and labeling their works with SEO terms. Cross post your influencers' work (with permission of course) and link back to the sources. Tweet and social-bookmark your influencers’ reviews, blogs, videos, etc., and show others how many people have benefitted from them. These simple acts will help search engines direct the targets to your influencers more effectively without turning your customers into shills.
This concludes my miniseries on Influence Analytics. We have come a long way. We started with a simple model of social media influence and outline six critical factors for the influence process:
Timing (temporal) relevance
Subsequently, I’ve shown you the data and analysis that must be done in order to cover these six factors. I must emphasize that each factor is a necessary condition for influence, but none of them are sufficient! Therefore all six factors must be met to achieve true influence. Any missing factor is like a missing link that breaks the whole chain, and it will prevent the influencer from ever reaching your target.
Finally, you are now ready to embark on the journey of social media marketing. Next time I will show you how we have applied this knowledge in the community setting.