How the shape of influence changes social media strategy
Brands are investing heavily in social media “influencers”, but most are getting it wrong, because they don’t understand the shape of that influence, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Every big brand in South Africa is turning to social media to get conversations going around their products. For many, the heart of their strategy is to rope in “influencers” – people with a huge followings whose posts and shares generate massive responses.
So far, so expensive.
When the brands measure the effectiveness of these campaigns, based on the reach of the posts, they come away highly satisfied. But when they measure real impact – brand loyalty and sales in the real world – they are often underwhelmed. Usually, they have no idea what went wrong, since the campaigns look so successful on the surface.
A new research project set out to find out exactly what goes wrong – and right – and came up with a startling discovery: that influence has a shape. More than that, the shape changes for every brand.
Fifty major brands cooperated in the research, conducted by World Wide Worx, in partnership with social intelligence platform Continuon. They allowed access to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for three months, enabling the Continuon platform to collect 100-million pieces of data, generated by 5,25-million individuals who had interacted with the brands.
The result is a study called #OnlyConnect2018 – The Power of Brand Influencers.
“When looking into what the actual definition of influence in the real world is, it becomes clear what needs to be measured in digital influence,” says Richard Nischk, product manager for Continuon. “Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.”
When influence leaped over to social media, however, a new way of thinking about it evolved, by necessity. But necessity is not the mother of accuracy.
“The norm in social media and digital has been to take ‘reach’ and impressions as key variables in the measure of how influential people are,” says Nischk. “We saw that as a clear opportunity to redefine the measurements of influence, and rather take an approach that provides metrics that can be, in a quantifiable manner, used to increase return on investment.
“Reach is most certainly an important element of the equation. However, what really counts is having the ability to affect behaviour. In social media, this comes in the shape of sharing, engaging, interacting, tagging and gaining word of mouth from the people you reach.”
Continuon developed an Influencer Algorithm that uses the engagement types and behavioural data points to assign influencer scores to those who carry influence for a brand, but within those brands’ specific social media communities. They discovered they could identify thousands of influencers within these communities: influencers who cost nothing and are authentic.
They found that the best measure of social media influence, in terms of impact on brand loyalty, was the ability of an individual to extend the conversation around a brand or product beyond the original post or repost. This is called the velocity of social conversation and engagement, and it can be measured precisely.
Continuon asks three questions:
- At what point did an individual join the conversation and what impact did that interaction have on the conversation?
- Did it result in a reaching and impacting the right audience through the right channels and at the right time?
- Which individuals and clusters of people were responsible for this increase in velocity?
The Continuon platform then assigns a score out of 100. Based on that score, every influencer is clustered into a segment, and the segments add up to both the shape and quality of a brand’s social media community.
“Rarely do you ever see someone who has a score of 90 or above, and the overall shape follows that of a pyramid,” says Nischk.
The large majority of influencers carry low scores and exist within the bottom two tiers of influencer segments, which Continuon calls the The Herd and The Sharers. Next come The Trendsetters, with scores of 40 to 60, who start being influential. Finally we get the real influencers, with the Lighthouses having scores from 60 to 80, and the Icons – the cream of the crop – with scores above 80.
“Understanding this enables brands to understand the different levels of influence within their community, and how each level can be leveraged to build an army of authentic brand influencers,” says Nischk. “Brands can drill down and get granular to understand every single person as an individual and what their individual influencer score is. Now, from an impact point of view, influencer profiling can be granular, relevant and measurable within the social media universe.”
The ideal shape of influence is a standard pyramid, with a big base of Herd, slightly fewer Sharers, and a gradually tapering and reducing number of Trendsetters, Lighthouse and Icons. The reality is that most brands – and entire industry categories – have a flat and shallow shape that has no Icons and only a small proportion of Lighthouses. This means that their influencer strategies not only look flat, but are falling flat.
The top performers in each category have steeper profiles, with far more Lighthouses, but still very few Icons.
The category that stands out also offers a ley lesson to all brands: Non-profit organisations are the most likely to have Icons influencing their conversations. Because these conversations are not based on commercial campaigns, the conversations tend to be more authentic, and voices that extend this authenticity have the greatest impact.