Defining Influence

Marketers are always asked to go after “influencers.” Whether it’s traditional media, where that audience would be reached through the placement of a story in a they’re believed to read or social media, where it’s the writer/podcaster/whatever that is the one seen as doing the influencing, it’s a common target for most programs. It’s also one that’s as elusive as can be.

That’s because what determines influence is never all that clearly defined. Twitter seems to think they can add influence as a factor in their searches, but how that will be done is not yet clear and is complicated that the idea of influence on Twitter doesn’t seem to mesh with any of the available metrics of popularity.

One of the things we try to impress upon client partners is that influence is very much in the eye of the beholder and is not necessarily analogous with the extent of someone’s reach. If you’re talking about X product then there are going to be blogs, sites and Twitter users who are super in to that and are going to be much more influential for any of a number of reasons – they work in the industry, they have a very specific focus on their blog, etc – than someone with a million-plus Twitter followers or RSS subscribers.

That’s why we emphasize constant listening and evaluation when it comes to client programs. That enables us to surface what’s going on and get a read of the landscape that goes beyond numbers and instead provides insights into who’s actually guiding conversations. Response strategies can then be developed around those insights.

The communication between agency and client needs to be clear as to why this or that publication is influential and why the other is not for any particular program. When someone comes in and sits across the table from you with a set of expectations, including that you’re going to be targeting the biggest players in the space, and you fail to deliver it can lead to some awkward conversations. So explanations and rationales are necessary to have in hand.

More than that, though, it’s becoming more and more important to not just pitch influencers but to create platforms that will attract them naturally and result in positive program gains. It’s a better tactic, in other words, to build a high-quality blog that is then managed effectively and which is used to convey regular useful messaging and which will pick up an audience of both casual and influential readers than it is (and this is a broad generality but it’s not far off) to keep pitching story after story, becoming an annoyance in someone’s inbox.