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How to Measure Social Influence: Three Social Media Research Tips from Cision

2011-05-25_18-29-37It’s been a year since, on May 27, 2010, Cision announced its release of new software that integrated “traditional” media monitoring and research with social media tools

After that day, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube presences – along 100 million blogs, social networking sites, microblogs, online forums, etc. – could be tracked by Cision clients alongside more aged media

Each “clip” also came with a report on related comments, views, unique commentators and Twitter followers. As inheritor of the Bacon’s tradition, Cision has decades of experience in deciding on who should be monitored and listed in databases

Whether the company continues to lead will depend how they handle the fact that just 20 percent of leading bloggers today are traditional journalists, with the remaining 80 percent made up of business people and consumers.

Social influence, with its changing landscape, requires that communicators make sure they are engaging with the most influential people at a given moment. Are you building a media list when a Twitter-based list is called for? On the flip side, is your blog or Twitter feed designed to rank for influence according to the latest database metrics?

Heidi Sullivan (@hksully), vice president of Media Research at Cision, leads a team that adds 100 or so new blogs to the database each week based on new, and in some cases automated, measures of influence.  She wrestles with questions like, who has more social influence; Brian Solis (@briansolis) and Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) with their armies of unique visitors; or Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge) and Jay Baer (@jaybaer), who have fewer new visitors but more return visitors that stay longer?  Use the insights provided by Heidi to benchmark your efforts at social media influencer analysis as you ready your next outreach.


Go Ahead and Specialize

Social media research pivots around the one percent of social web participants that create content, and perhaps around another 9 percent that share content, according to a post by Rohit Bhargava (@rohitbhargava) on his Influential Marketing Blog. The other 90 percent are really hard to reach except through influencers, says Heidi.

Even Cision’s large research teams cannot list 100,000 people in a database, so they strive to be truly selective based on influence. Social influencer list builders, on the other hand, now have the ability now to drill down into niche topics like never before, which gives database clients the ability to target more specifically than before.

There has never been a magazine for people with disabilities that enjoy travel, or for vegan footwear enthusiasts, but there are blogs for both, Heidi says. Her team recently found that there are six blogs for the automotive adhesives industry alone.

Keyword research, and then listening to conversations around them, remains the best way to learn about communities, that is until the “semantic web” becomes fully realized. In one example, the term “shape-ups” (a best-selling Skechers brand) is hotter right now than “gym shoes,” a recent development, says Heidi.

New Tools Matter Less Than New Practices

Even with database and analysis tools more powerful than ever, the changes in how the tools must be used are more profound than the changes in the tools. Social engagement is much more important than outgoing messages today, and communications teams must commit resources to listening to communities with a growing list of “awesome” tools, Heidi says.

Influencer engagement must be shaped by the specifics details of their interests, and based on relationships built over time.  Social media intelligence gatherers must resist the urge to listen only to conversations about their brands, Heidi says.  Influencer measurement is about following people, not counting impressions, which is especially true for an industry with a traditional addiction to simple, but some might argue, partly artificial results numbers (e.g. ratings, circulation and impressions).

The danger is to settle for measuring the number of Twitter followers or the number of unique followers per month, as important as they are, and leaving it at that. To truly measure new media influence requires researchers to determine the sites that get people to change their behavior, to act and interact in a measureable way (change political opinion, decide to buy).

The public relations industry is still working toward a full understanding of the value of reaching out to communities instead of audiences, Heidi says.

No One Measure Good Enough

Media relations specialists can get an edge by following the Cision example, which is to combine in-depth media research experience with new technologies to create more thoughtful outreach efforts.  Cision, for instance, built a tool internally that automates the process of letting the research team know which blogs have not posted in the last month (which have gone under), to keep the database up to date.  This represents one more reason to post often if you want your blog to be influential.

Klout.com is a strong influencer research tool, as are Pure Index and Edelman’s TweetLevel, but no one metric will suffice, says Heidi. After these starting points, Facebook makes a good next stop in the search for influencers.

Look at a communicator’s Facebook group and number of fans, and next at their blog posts, how many votes the posts receive and the unique commentaries they engender. Heidi’s advice: mix as many useful metrics as possible.

About the Guest Blogger

Greg Williams (@gregscience) is a consultant specializing in public relations for medical, science and technical companies. After beginning his career as an editor for the Associated Press, Greg has since served as a public relations strategist for two international public relations firms and two university medical centers, and as a writer for institutions including Eastman Kodak and the National Academy of Sciences.

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