Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

2013 and the secret weapons

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

I can’t help but mention that in addition to a rocking good batch of client work that continues apace for at least the next five weeks, and the start of a new semester and its associated teaching responsibilities, I’m again sick.

I caught some sort of dread bug back at the beginning of December. It morphed into a sinus problem, consumed the drugs that save us all from the fate of our ancestors in such matters, but now has turned into yet a different sort of plague.  If it were 1850, I, the Esteemed Spouse, and several friends and family members would be hauled out of the neighborhood ala the old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Ring out your dead!!!!)

It’s not fair. I’ve done my sick routine for far too long, and it’s distracted me from matters both prosaic (it’s a new year! I should write something profound about the state of measurement/internal comms/ what have you!) and more important (the US election! Congress! Taxes!)

Oh, well.

The secret weapons of 2013, actually, are found in the presentation I’m giving about online influence at the International PR Research Conference. The IPRRC is a fave, it’s academic as all get-out, fraught with Ph.D. students and their profs, and a few practitioners who get treated REALLY WELL. OK, it’s kind of a head trip to publish a paper and present to people whose material I teach in grad classes (Hazelton, Botan, and Smudde, to name a few from past conferences). But it’s also the frickin’ bleeding edge of PR research. More people in the practice should attend, if only to call BS on some of the less practical research (though there’s blessed less of that these days – everyone is pretty interested in what’s actual rather than ideal.)

I just did a lit review and came up with an idea to use qualitative research to help shed some light on online influence. There’s so much total BS out there!!!

The secret weapons aren’t just in my work – I’m an egomaniac, but only a little.  It’s on that knife-edge of research that our PR academics are honing. I still feel a bit like the 13-year old sitting at the adults table at Thanksgiving for the first time!

Spend a few bucks, come to Miami in March (a dreadful hardship for any northerner, I know), and drink from the firehose of knowledge.  And, find the secret weapons!

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Do we have too many conferences?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Basta!  I had a pretty thick queue for speaking engagements this fall: PRSA’s employee communication section conference was scheduled for Sept. 10-11, but got moved to next year due to low registrations. I was planning to sponsor a speaker, introduce a couple of them, and generally boost my PRSA profile and meet some new folks. I decided not to attend the international conference in San Francisco because I was doing #prsaec.

No prob – the IABC Heritage Region Conference beckoned. I sponsored, and wound up facilitating a breakout session and speaking on the end of conference panel. Sweet! Plus, the IABC PRIME Global Strategic Communication & Measurement Conference was coming up Nov. 12-13 in NYC, and I was speaking on internal communication measurement. Now, that one is cancelled too. WTF?

If I were a baseball player, a .333 batting average would get me into the All-Star Game, but 1 for 3 on speaking engagements isn’t very good. Why is this happening?

It sure seems like there are a lot of conferences. IABC’s world shindig is in June (and in NYC ’13), and PRSA’s big dance is in October. Both the big shows alternate regions, but I know that if they’re in California, I typically pass due to time away from the office and expensive airfare. I like the Heritage Region conference (four years in a row) – it’s a great program and is close enough to drive. With both Heritage and PRSA virtually the same weekend (it was pretty interesting when IABC was in Philly and PRSA in DC), and budgets under pressure — maybe trying to do a September and November gig is a bad idea.

The smaller conferences that focus on a specific domain of knowledge or functional area should have a lower nut to crack on attendance – I’d think 75 attendees in NYC or Chicago should be doable. But IABC is also running a conference the first week of December on “strategic communication for executives.” Then there’s Ragan, PRNews, ALI, WOMMA, all the social media gigs…We’re conferring a lot. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if some fetes are failing to fill.

The irritating part is booking myself into some things, and therefore missing others — the Conclave on social media standards, for one, and an Institute for PR Measurement Commission meeting, for another.  Plus, I’ve worked on planning several of these conferences, and it’s no picnic. You’d hope that PRSA and IABC would have their act together on how to market these effectively.

What’s the answer?

I have no idea.

 

 

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IABC Heritage conference is Oct. 14-16 – See you there!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The international conferences for both PRSA and IABC are epic gatherings. I attended several of them, but found the scale rather overwhelming, especially when trying to network. It seems like everyone is hustling to their next session, and there are few opportunities to connect with the same person across the days. That’s why I’m a big fan of the IABC Heritage Region conference – the scale is smaller and the ability to make personal connections better.

Besides, the quality of speakers is outstanding, the social aspects entertaining and this year’s conference is a mere two hours down the road from me in Pittsburgh. No cross-country flights, no rental cars, no tsuris. I’m a sponsor this year, and will have the honor of introducing a couple of speakers.

If you’ve wanted to shoot the breeze a bit on PR, measurement, internal comms, reputation, influence or anything else, come to the conference and find me. Hope to see you there.

Here are just a few of the sessions I’m looking forward to:

Andy Warhol: Marketing the Man and the Museum

Nicholas Chamber, Curator, Andy Warhol Museum

From Campbell’s soup cans to colorful portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol’s pop art celebrates the artistic expression, celebrity culture and ad-centric focus of the 1960s. As a renowned and often controversial artist, Warhol took the world of marketing to its limits in both his professional and personal life. The Andy Warhol Museum, which is the largest museum in the United State dedicated to a single artist, contains an extensive collection of Warhol’s art and archives. This session will take a closer look at Warhol’s early career in the advertising industry and the museum’s marketing efforts to engage with a diverse international audience about the artist’s life and work.

Best Practices in Engaging and Empowering Colleagues Through Social Media

Heather Young, Senior Manager, Corporate and Colleague Communications, Pfizer, Inc.

At the companies who do it best, no one person or department “owns” social media. Instead, they create advocates of their employees and train and empower them to speak on behalf of the company. This unique approach to social media requires hands on community management, policies that protect the company and its employees and a certain bravery and willingness to  accept risk. The payoff is an authentic, two-way, social media conversation that helps to positively shape and influence a company’s reputation. In this session, learn about these lessons through Pfizer’s Think Science Now program.

Setting Quantifiable Objectives: The Key to Proving PR Value

Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research

In every business case – whether the organization is large or small, for-profit or nonprofit, local or global – there is an objective. But the best objectives in the world aren’t good enough if they can’t be measured. Corporate communicators increasingly are being required to provide proof of real value in the programming they plan and implement. An effective public relations program is rooted in research, which is used to set objectives, develop strategy and design tactics then moves through program execution and evaluation. This session will take attendees through a proven process for setting objectives that are measurable as well as address how to communicate with the C-suite about the process.

The New World of Communication: How Social Media, Games and Behavioral Economics Have Rewritten the Rule Book

Adam Wootton, Director of Social Media and Games, Towers Watson

The session will explore the new tools available for communicators to use to engage their audience with a focus on behavioral economics, social media, games and game mechanics. Participants will learn why these new tools are important, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to talk to senior leaders about them. Easy steps to get started for each will be shown along with firsthand practical examples for use.

 

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Considering the state of online influence

Friday, April 27th, 2012

How do we measure influence?

If you read these humble musings semi-regularly, you know that I’m rather suspicious of most so-called measures of online influence. Too often, it’s black-box, secret sauce, cloak-and-dagger, and one really can’t judge the veracity of the claims.

I don’t want to single any company out, so suffice to say that whatever science is behind those claims, I have been looking for independent, scholarly research that might back it up. Conceptually, I ask myself: “Is online influence different from offline influence? How might we measure it if so? If not?”

This pondering, and the requirement to write a literature review for Dr. Danielle Coombs’s qualitative research class, pushed me into examining research from several different disciplines, including marketing and communication, psychology, sociology, information technology and even the hard sciences. In so doing, I believe I’m building a foundation for my eventual master’s thesis.

I am interested in the influence process as qualitative in nature, rather than strictly quantitative. Predictability isn’t necessarily what I’m striving for (thus guaranteeing I won’t get it published…), but rather trying to understand the process as it is.  You’ve heard the claims — retweets and @replies as evidence of influence (Kaushik’s RTs per 1000 followers), shares and likes on Facebook, etc.  We know that it’s quite variable according to who you are and what industry you’re in, who your audience is, and so forth.

In short, where’s the beef in this influence sandwich?

I’m unsatisfied by publications from research firms and others with a vested interest, which is a huge challenge. I have found so far that there’s not all that much in current scholarship that is directly related to the online space, and much of what there is dates from three to five years ago, an eternity in internet time.

So, stay tuned – I have no intention of abandoning this effort, and to the extent there is interest in what I’ve found so far, I plan to share.

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Surprise! Innovation is a Change Issue

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

As part of my Knowledge Management class, we’ve been looking at innovation, specifically the twin paths of evolutionary innovation and disruptive innovation articulated by Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. The base concept is that incumbent companies always win in an evolutionary innovation race (a sequential improvement or step-change – think hybrid cars), while new entrants always win in a disruptive innovation race (think iPods.)  But I could see how even evolutionary innovation could be considered disruptive.

This casts the innovation cycle as a change management issue, and that made me think of Harold Innis, the Canadian political scientist whose landmark collection of essays, The Bias of Communication (1951), precede Marshall McLuhan (the Medium is the Message.)

I wrote a paper on how Innis, who saw almost all technological improvements in communication as the path to decline for societies, might view Facebook (answer: not happily.) This material came back to me as I thought about the concept of disruptive innovation, which gets written about favorably nearly all the time. After all, do we want to give up discount retailers, community colleges, cell phones and doc-in-the-box medical clinics?

Christensen likes disruption — he sees it as the only way we move forward. But I can think of the dark side of such changes fairly easily.  Ask Kodak about digital cameras. They had the technology well in place for eons, but failed to grasp how it would change conventional photography.  Of itself, digital photography is more of an evolutionary innovation, but ever-smaller chips and other, seemingly less important innovations shrunk the cameras, improved the quality and let Canon and others rule the space.

Innis would call that shot — he’d have seen the negatives early on.  It’s a change issue, and in a change, only infrequently does everyone win. Usually, someone loses. We have cheap cameras, and professional photography is going the way of the iceman.  I’m now looking at innovation as a problem, and suddenly the reasons why companies grapple to make the creative, innovative and inventive processes cogent and repeatable makes a lot of sense.  So too the difficulty of organizational learning, and of knowledge collection and application, and the issues around losing talent.

Innis said:

Mechanization has emphasized complexity and confusion; it has been responsible for monopolies in the field of knowledge; and it becomes extremely important to any civilization, if it is not to succumb to the influence of this monopoly of knowledge, to make some critical survey and report. The conditions of freedom of thought are in danger of being destroyed by science, technology, and the mechanization of knowledge, and with them, Western civilization.” (Innis, 1951, p. 190)

Just thinking out loud here.

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Engagement as an ‘Objective’

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Gotta hit the bullseye (creative commons)

True or False: The point of social media for business is to engage with people.

That statement is being used as a club to pummel the reluctant into the social media world. Remember the glory days of the dawn of the World Wide Web?  Businesses needed Web sites because customers who weren’t on the Web now would be soon… Because people would look up your business on Yahoo! or Alta Vista or AOL to try and learn about you…Because it was so cool to be on the Web!

It took a while to get there, but now the idea that a business could be viable without a website is ludicrous. It may well turn out that way for social media too.  But back to the first sentence — there’s a defensible body of wisdom that says social media for businesses isn’t about direct selling (Southwest Airlines excluded, as well as other online businesses), it’s about engagement.

So how do we know if our audience/stakeholders is/are engaged?

It could be blog comments, Twitter @ replies and RTs, Facebook “likes” or any number of seemingly independent activities. But do those activities really constitute engagement in a meaningful way?

I surmise that there needs to be more independent research to answer that question. As well, I wonder whether engagement really matters to the business, which is the pregnant elephant in the living room in measurement circles. I’m most concerned with what happens as a result of engagement than of engagement itself.

But I am comfortable with the notion of engagement as a goal, a weigh station on the way to a business objective. To use the academic vernacular, it’s likely an outtake — a measurable step on the way to business results — rather than a business result of its own.  Though some folks have averred that those who engage with a brand are more likely to spend and spend more than those who do not, the research is self-serving — it’s coming from firms who have a vested interest.  Open up the methodology in that black box and let’s have the math types run it through a wringer!

In the meantime, go ahead with your plans to engage publics — just be sure that engagement is in service to something that matters to business results.

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When You Don’t Need to #MeasurePR

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

No Measurement!

Being a measurement evangelist feels like really hard work sometimes. On the one hand, I haven’t been at it long enough to complain — witness the indefatigable Katie Paine and Angela Jeffrey, who’ve been toiling in the trenches for, well, a long time.

But there surely are situations where measurement is unnecessary, right?

For example, you’re, I don’t know, Walmart. Your stock is suffering, there are employee lawsuits, and one of your stores has been destroyed by a tornado. How much measurement do you need to do to know you’re media coverage is, well, tortuous?  It’s likely that no amount of proactive management is going to turn your story around — at least not meaningfully.

Or, you’re a big money center bank — yep, the titans of capitalism currently getting the lion’s share of blame for the financial crisis (some of which is just wrong.) Can’t you make an educated guess about your coverage?

Aside from my personal financial stake in getting Walmart or a big bank to hire me to help them with measurement, I’ll give you three reasons why you should not measure – and three reasons why you should.

Forget Measurement When:

  1. You cannot make a difference. Sometimes business will hand you a dirt sandwich, and you have no choice but to eat it. There’s no need to weigh the sandwich, examine the types of dirt , evaluate the sandwich-maker, etc. Just eat it and move on.
  2. You’re unwilling to do what it takes to make things better.  Often, the worst media situations are when you’re “making tough choices.”  Layoffs, facility closures, moves from one city to another, hiring more executives. The path to turning the story around leads through the organization revisiting its management decisions — deciding not to outsource, keeping the plant open and operating, renovating existing headquarters rather than pitting your incumbent city against somewhere else.  See #1, above.
  3. It’s more expensive to measure than the program your measuring.  Advanced statistics are miraculous. We absolutely can measure the specific impact of public relations/communication activity on the bottom line. We just need a lot of data to isolate our impact from everything else that influences the bottom line.  That costs money (not as much as you might think, but still,) so let’s spend wisely.

Do Measurement When:

  1. You care about whether what you’re doing is working or not. You have objectives, and hopefully, they’re specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) They have a benchmark, target and timeframe. So, if you don’t measure, how do you know whether you’re making progress?
  2. You know you need to change.  Make data-driven decisions! Your intuition is flawless, of course, but as I’ve said many times, the days of PR/Communications being able to wave a hand and say, “trust me” to the c-suite are over.  A former boss told me, “facts and data win the day,” and that’s good advice.
  3. You need numbers to share with the numbers people.  Qualitative, quantitative, no matter. There are times when the people you need demand numbers. Measure to give them what they need.  Share of voice/discussion, peer comparison of tone of mention, trends in coverage overall, message presence/absence, correlation of coverage to Web traffic. Do measurement when you need to do it!

There is one other reason to do measurement — though more accurately, it’s research we want to do, not only measurement.  It’s the right thing to do. It puts us on a firmer foundation. It informs our opinions and enhances our credibility.

What’s your view?

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Video for Internal Communications Is Still Relevant

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Kodak Zi8

Image courtesy of Kodak

We’ve heard all the declarations. Internal Communications is corporate propaganda, and employees get the real story through the media. The media is dead, buried by social media. Employees care only about their pay and benefits, not about the organization and its business. Employees don’t want to read; we’re viewers. Employees won’t watch company video, and if we let them access YouTube, they’ll waste time all day.

Steve Lubetkin -- Photo by FrankVeronsky.com

There’s just enough truth in each of those statements to make people believe them. And it’s the video question that animated #icchat 19 May, with @PodcastSteve, audio/video expert Steve Lubetkin, as special guest.

The overriding theme of the chat, which extended more than 20 minutes after the scheduled one-hour time frame, was that lower-cost and higher-quality equipment is making video in the workplace more effective. That’s whether it’s professionally produced or user-generated. Even Steve’s equipment of choice has improved in quality while lowering in cost.

@PodcastSteve: A1 Biggest change is drop in cost & increase in quality of lowend equip. I srtd out using Sony VX-1000 SD cams. #icchat

@PodcastSteve: A1 …now I use Kodak Zi series and PlayTouch for much of the work. #icchat

@MikeBrice

Participant @MikeBrice noted that IT departments are now making bandwidth available for video, what he called the biggest change he’s seen.

@podcaststeve: Bandwidth and server space issues are IT bugaboos. But with YouTube, Blip, Vimeo for hosting, I dont see why. #icchat

@CommAMMO: Agreed — if GM can distribute a full-on news program to a factory in Ecuador, why can’t we get 90 sec to Nebraska? #icchat

However, accessing the video has presented some issues, @Mike said:

@MikeBrice External sources like YouTube and Vimeo raise firewall issues. My corps block access to external options. Security a concern #icchat

@PodcastSteve:  Best way 2 get video 2 NE, IMNSHO, would be to host externally, create pages on internal (intranet?) & embed player. #icchat

External hosting but internal access is a compelling argument — especially because most material shared widely with employees must be considered “public” anyway.

@PodcastSteve: @mikebrice They usually block ppl from visiting sites, true, but maybe U can get them 2 open ports to allow embedded vids to stream? #icchat

@PodcastSteve: there r other alternatives like BrightCove, but frightfully expensive for most companies. #icchat

I’ve looked at a number of distribution solutions — Kontiki, Cisco’s digital signage, for example — and indeed, the costs can be significant. However, I’ve also had success engaging the usual constituencies with a goal of finding a solution.

@CommAMMO: @podcaststeve @mikebrice so much of  “security” concerns are abt control – I’ve gotten traction talking abt EE expectations #icchat

@CommAMMO: @podcaststeve @mikebrice Employees expect the internal resources to match what they have at home – search, audio, video… #icchat

@PodcastSteve: @commammo […]Key issue IT needs to understand. Emps can’t be engaged w/customers if socmed blocked. #icchat

Steve says costs can vary — the do-it-yourself route, with Flip cams or his fave, the Kodak Zi series, is less expensive and offers acceptable quality. A production company and professionals may offer good value at higher cost depending on the situation.

@ArchanaVerma

IABC’s @ArchanaVerma asks:

@ArchanaVerma: @CommAMMO @podcaststeve Q What’s the balance betw having professionally produced versus amateur videos for internal/external use? #icchat

@PodcastSteve: Int Comms ppl can do themselves w/o spending a lot. I do a lot of interview clips w/just Kodaks. See http://ow.ly/4YhB2 #icchat

@PodcastSteve: @commammo @archanaverma Doesn’t have to be “amateur,” but certainly doesn’t have to be high-end pro produced unless needed 4 b’cast #icchat

@PodcastSteve: My point, u can learn pro techniques and use them with lower end equipment. Doesn’t have to look bad because you’re not @NewMediaJim #icchat

I use 4 Kodaks, edit in Sony Vegas Pro. We sync extrnl audio, looks like I had a 6-person crew. #icchat Example – http://ow.ly/4YhPd

Steve also notes that internal communications people enhance their credibility when they can DIY, especially because as internal resources, we can cover our organizations better than anyone else.

@gypsyNits

@GypsyNits: me thinks every #intcomms person becomes at pro at self serve, qlty improves with time #icchat

@PodcastSteve: @commammo Few cos have luxury of hiring b’cast pros for internal video any more, but almost not needed for daily video. #icchat

@GypsyNits: in the midst of doing a production myself.everyday is a learning and i know next time i will rock at it #icchat

@GypsyNits: not to mention the goodwill and the employee connect from having attempted it myself.everyone is more accomodating #icchat

Returning to employee expectations, @GypsyNits makes a good point: With more and more user generated content available alongside the professional stuff (and in some cases considered more creative and interesting), useful video isn’t limited only to top-notch, broadcast quality.

Judy Gombita

When it comes to length of video, what’s the right time?  @JGombita offered her view:

@JGombita: (As end-user, not producer) make sure yr videos are SHORT (UNDER 2 minutes). And make it a supplementary comms channel, not only one #icchat

@PodcastSteve: @jgombita I agree with short up to a point. For daily news blips or features, yes. Sometimes longer is called for. #icchat

@PodcastSteve: Examples of longer form video: keynote speeches, conference panels, storytelling documentaries used for fundraising #icchat

@CommAMMO: @jgombita @podcaststeve re length: But we still watch TV, films, news-topic, presentn drives viewership. Talking heads, not so good. #icchat

@JGombita: @podcaststeve in terms of amount of material it may be called for, but I can tell you, you’ve lost most (or all) of my attn. at 2+ m #icchat

Where is video going, more, less, or the same?

@GypsyNits: Q3: more video.it opens up the channels of using mobile to send msgs & podcasts too where folks dont have to read lengthy emails #icchat

@JGombita: A3. Supplementary video! Example: a video featuring HR or legal rep, indicating the rationale behind a company social media policy. #icchat

@GypsyNits: Q3:But thin line between too much video and too little.essential to gauge audience receptiveness from time to time #icchat

@PodcastSteve: @jgombita Intl comms ppl shud be like thos journalists, understand how to tell a story with images, video, etc. Not just heds. #icchat

@PodcastSteve: @jgombita Making videos the aud wants means ASKING them. Research! #icchat

Hallelujah! We should start with research to ensure we address the need of the audience as well as that of our organization. Otherwise we’re going to fail.

There’s more in the transcript — which is a bit less attractive than in past chats owing to the demise of WTHashtag. However, thanks to @JoBrodie, www.searchhash.com was able to give us a transcript. It doesn’t archive, and the output contains a lengthy numerical identifier for each tweet, but it’s usable and I’m grateful!

The next #ICChat is June 16 – I’m considering whether to change the time of day from 10 a.m. Eastern — I did a Twitter poll on this question last month, but only four people voted!  What time would be best for you? Follow me at @CommAMMO for updates.

 

 

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Is Blogging Commercial Speech?

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Courtesy of FBI.gov

Here’s a little brain-teaser for you.  Not too long ago, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued regulations saying that bloggers who get into product promotion have to tell us if they got compensated for doing so. How does that ruling affect the free speech rights of the bloggers?

I’m going to do some research as part of the class I’m taking — Law of Advertising and Public Relations — and after I turn in the paper (and get a grade on it) I’ll return to this topic. I found a really interesting article in the American Business Law Journal that explores this topic, mostly from the perspective of the company and its own blogs, but the discussion on what constitutes commercial speech is rich indeed. And, it offers a lot of other articles and legal opinions that will help my research immensely.

But, in the meantime, what’s your view?  Is a product review paid for by the company commercial speech, or individual speech not subject to the FTC’s rules?

 

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Measuring Influence: 4 Learnings

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Measurement isn't just bells and whistles

Measurement for its own sake is a waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s got to be in service of a strategy.

You might say that the foregoing statement is a canard; no one is beating down our doors asking us to just measure something, anything.  But there remain a feisty few, particularly on the social media side of the equation, who keep offering up horsepuckey in the guise of gold bullion.

Witness “4 Ways to Measure Social Media…,” a well-intentioned piece from last summer on Social Media Examiner. Author Nichole Kelly subheads the article with “exposure,” “engagement,” “influence” and “lead generation” — the “4 ways.”  Kelly’s on firm ground about exposure, pointing out the difficulty of a) getting good data and b) ensuring you’re counting only once, though equating reach to awareness is a colossal mistake.  Engagement,  too, is solid (if output-based), covering @replies, DMs, links clicked, comments and subscriptions. Good stuff.

Influence is listed third and lead generation fourth, showing exposure, engagement and influence as the top of the funnel leading to conversion.

The section on influence is underdone, and erroneously says tone (positive, negative, neutral) IS influence.  In fact, according to Yahoo!’s Duncan Watts, Winter Mason, and Jake Hofman, and the University of Michgan’s Etyan Bakshy, influence can’t be credibly determined from content analysis. Read all about it.

I heard Watts speak on this topic during the snowy last week of January at a meeting of the Institute for PR Commission on research, measurement and evaluation, of which I’m a member. Influence is a huge question, and Watts, et.al.’s work made me recall the somewhat hoary idea that understanding your specific audience (whether final audience or intermediary) is a lot more important than trying to calculate the exact number of impressions represented by friends of friends and retweet followers.

I pick on influence because it’s the biggest question in social media.  In fact, it’s been a big question in communication in general since the days of Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet and the two-step flow. Who are the “opinion leaders” and how do we calculate their effectiveness?

Here are four questions that hold promise when considering how to measure influence:

  1. Does the opinion leader “play” in the right sandbox for our intended audience/stakeholder?  Chris Brogan and Brian Solis have lots of followers, tribes that hang on their every tweet. Are their tribes our tribes?  They’ve got awesome scale by sheer numbers, but it’s anyone’s guess how involved they are or whether their followers in turn reach people we care about. We could get Brogan or Solis to talk about our service, product, leader or whatever, but to what end if their followers aren’t the right fit for us?
  2. Can we create a solid chain of links from the opinion leader’s actions to our desired actions?  If we’re working on building corporate reputation, retweets, Facebook “likes” and blog comments should have a relationship to opinions voiced by our final target audience. Simply passing along a leader’s statement (tweet, post, comment, etc.) shouldn’t be construed as adoption! Here’s where content analysis shows promise, especially in blogs and perhaps during Twitter chats. The opinion leader’s output should have some effect if he/she is truly influencing others. Note that this is a qualitative effort and suffers from lack of scale.
  3. Are we mistaking popularity for influence?  Celebrities routinely land atop the Twitter rankings, and there are brands on Facebook with upteen hundreds of thousands of “friends.” But having a lot of friends/followers just makes you popular. See #2 above.  We’ve long wondered about how to judge the effectiveness of influence in conventional relationships, but I don’t think many of us think the most popular student in high school was necessarily the most influential.
  4. Are we inappropriately drawing general conclusions from narrow findings?  Influence is personal and specific.  We make assumptions about readers of newspapers, TV viewers, etc., and have a body of research to back those assumptions up.  In social media, the appearance of influence may be mere output, or outtake at best. Outcomes outside of e-commerce are tough to come by, though clear objectives can solve this problem quickly.

The best measurement starts with research up front, which informs our strategy and objective-setting, followed by more research to determine effectiveness and progress toward objectives.  It’s not just tactical measurement designed to cover our butts or justify our budgets, especially when it’s trying to measure influence.

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